Category Archives: Duke Football

Shaquille Powell breaks a tackle

Game Preview: Duke at Tulane

Shaquille Powell breaks a tackle
Shaquille Powell breaks a tackle
Duke at Tulane
9:30 PM ET
Thursday, September 3
New Orleans, LA
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: Blue Devil IMG Sports Network

Duke in 2015: 0-0
Tulane in 2014: 0-0

DUKE INJURIES

OUT – Jela Duncan
OUT FOR SEASON – Bryon Fields

TULANE INJURIES - not available at this time

Duke and Tulane last faced each other on September 20, 2014 in a game Duke won 47-13 at Wallace Wade Stadium. The overall series is tied 2-2. CBS Sports ranks Duke number 52 and Tulane number 106 of 128 FBS teams.

HOW DUKE CAN WIN

Executing on special teams, establishing the running game early and playing solid defense will be the paths to success for Duke on Thursday evening
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The Blue Devils are positioned to excel on special teams in 2015 behind experienced and talented specialists Will Monday (P), Ross Martin (K), Thomas Hennessy (LS) and DeVon Edwards (KR). Identifying who will handle punt return duties is the only question requiring an answer on special teams. Winning the third phase of the game will give Duke an advantage on offense and defense through superior field position.

Establishing the running game early is a must for the Blue Devils. Duke has a big, experienced offensive line with talented runners lining up behind them. Pounding away at the Tulane defense early will pay dividends late. A base strategy for this game will be to utilize superior depth to create an advantage. Once the running game is clicking, the play action pass becomes a lethal weapon.

On defense, Duke will look to keep plays in front of them, while looking for opportunities to harass the Tulane offense with pressure. There is not a magical formula or secret strategy to discuss here, it is the basic defensive philosophy Duke has adhered to in recent years - don't give up big plays but be opportunistic.

HOW DUKE CAN LOSE

Turnovers and untimely penalties are always a concern in the first game of the season. Duke has minimized both the past few seasons and that trend needs to continue in 2015. In last seasons win over Tulane, Duke was Plus 3 on turnovers with penalty yards being a wash.

Tulane is a much improved team due to the experience gained by their young players last season. The Green Wave played 23 freshmen in 2014. The Blue Devils must avoid turnovers, while simultaneously creating them in order to avoid an upset in New Orleans.

Failing to contain QB Tanner Lee is another way Duke can lose this game. Lee is a talented athlete who possesses the skill sets to burn the Blue Devils if left unchecked. Duke must mix up the defensive looks to confuse Lee, while creating pressure. Pressure will be the difference between Lee making mistakes or making plays!

Failing to prevent Tulane from successfully running the ball is another way Duke can lose this game. Tulane has a trio of talented running backs in Sherman Badie, Lazedrick Thompson and Dontrell Hilliard who combined to rush for 1673 yards in 2014. If the Green Wave achieve success running the ball on 1st and 2nd down, it will prevent obvious 3rd down passing situations shifting stress off interception prone QB Tanner Lee onto the Blue Devils defense.

True freshman running back Devin "Jet" Glenn is another player who could pose a problem for the Blue Devils. Glenn is extremely fast, "dag gone fast" according to Tulane Head Coach Curtis Johnson, has earned rave reviews in practice and projects to be an immediate factor on kick-off and punt returns and possible in the passing game.

WHY DUKE WILL WIN

Superior depth will be a significant advantage in the heat and humidity of New Orleans in early September. Duke will look to play a lot of players early in order to have the starters fresh in the 4th quarter. Duke's better overall talent level will be evident throughout the game and make the difference after halftime.

Special Teams! The Blue Devils will have a decisive advantage in the kicking game with talented and experienced Punter Will Monday and Kicker Ross Martin, and Coach David Cutcliffe will use that advantage to win the field position battle. Duke will convert favorable field position into touchdowns.

Finally, the Blue Devils will win because of more experienced coaching. Head Coach David Cutcliffe and his talented staff will have their team primed and ready to go on Thursday evening. Solid preparation will be a factor.

BOTTOM LINE

Duke's superior talent and depth will take a toll on the Green Wave over the course of the game. Tulane is improving their talent level, but they are still a year or two away from being able to upset a Power 5 team. This game will be tightly contested for three quarters before Duke opens it up in the 4th quarter to win by two touchdowns.

Duke 31, Tulane 17

Game Preview: Duke at Tulane

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Football Friday: Tight End Preview, Assorted Notes

DSC_0289Tight End is projected to be another position of strength for the Duke Blue Devils in 2015. The return of All ACC Braxton Deaver, who missed all of 2014 season due to surgery to repair a torn right anterior cruciate ligament, is highly anticipated. Deaver was Duke's second leading receiver in 2013 with 46 catches for 600 yards and four touchdowns. Add in returning starter David Reeves and Duke has the most experienced Tight End tandem in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Braxton Deaver: (RSr, 6'5", 245) As mentioned above, Deaver was extremely productive in 2013 and his return to action is highly anticipated. Deaver will be a big, reliable target and should provide new starting quarterback Thomas Sirk with a comfort zone. Deaver is a proven performer in all aspects of the tight end position being a talented blocker in support of the run game and comfortable lining up tight or split outside.

David Reeves: (RSr, 6'5" 255) Has started 26 games at tight end in 2014 and 2012, during the absence of an injured Deaver, Reeves has 34 career receptions for 263 yards and seven touchdowns. Blocking is a strong skill set for Reeves so he is invaluable to the running game and two tight end sets. Reeves and Sirk hooked up on jump passes for touchdowns multiple times in 2014.

Erich Schneider: (RJr, 6'7" 240) Practice reports indicate Schneider looks like a different player. He has been impressive over the summer and is playing like a player who has seen the light click on. Schneider has played 661 career snaps with seven receptions for 32 yards and one touchdown.

Dan Beilinson: (RJr, 6'5" 255) Has zero receptions so far in his career that has been impacted by injury and limited mostly to special teams action. Beilinson missed all of 2014 season with a ruptured pectoral muscle, which required surgery to repair. He is reported to be healthy heading into this season.

Davis Koppenhaver: (So, 6'4" 220) The rising sophomore has not participated in either of two scrimmages thus far in practice and is considered a candidate to redshirt in 2015.

Moving on to some Assorted Notes or Random Ramblings Part II...

Another Injury:

Starting cornerback Bryon Fields will miss the 2015 season after tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament in practice on Tuesday. This is terrible news for the junior who started 14 games during his freshman and sophomore seasons. The silver lining is he did not redshirt so he has two years of eligibility remaining for 2016 and 2017 seasons.

In his absence, look for sophomore Alonzo Saxton to step in and start at cornerback. Saxton played in eight games last season as a true freshman recording 12 tackles in 124 snaps. Sophomore Zach Muniz also played in 12 games as a true freshman in 2014.

Versatile safety/cornerback Evrett Edwards is another candidate to step into the starting line-up in place of Fields. Additionally, redshirt freshman Johnathan Lloyd and true freshman Jeremy McDuffie are turning heads in practice.

Second Scrimmage Notes:

Coach Cutcliffe spoke about the requirement for consistent performance at wide receiver in his post scrimmage comments. Specifically, he talked about Johnell Barnes saying, "He's going to have to understand if you are going to play here, at that position, you are going to be consistent." Barnes had several catchable balls bounce off his fingertips.

Coach Cutcliffe also discussed Nico Pierre's performance at running back stating, "I thought Nico ran the football well, he is a physically tough competitor who is still learning. I get him a little lower and he is not going to be fun to tackle."

Coach Cutcliffe also talked about 10 scholarship athletes who were held out of the scrimmage and expressed hope most would be back available prior to the trip to New Orleans. He specifically mentioned running back Shaun Wilson as a player he desires to see back on the field.

More Position Changes:

As preseason practice continues to move toward preparation for the season opener in New Orleans, team make-up is evolving with several more players undergoing position changes. Freshman Keyston Fuller has moved from cornerback to wide receiver. Coach Cutcliffe stated Fuller has "great top end speed" in comments at the conclusion of the team's second scrimmage last Saturday. Rising Redshirt Sophomore Quay Mann has moved from safety to running back.

Zone Read Offense:

There are a couple of items to keep an eye on in the early season games. First, will Duke run a true zone read offense? In past seasons, the offense looked like the zone read but in reality the quarterback's decision to hand-off to the running back or keep the ball himself was called in advance the majority of the time. With Thomas Sirk's skill sets, the opportunity to run a pure zone read is available. Second, will Duke add a pitch play to the mix? The option for the quarterback to pitch the ball outside, to a second running back or a receiver in motion, after keeping the ball on the zone read, adds an explosive element to the running game.

The second point is probably more wishful thinking than a realistic expectation. While both the true zone read and the outside option should be a part of Duke's offense in 2015, there has been no indication from the staff or in the plethora of articles and interviews written and read, over the spring and summer, that the two plays would be combined into a triple option play.

Friday Night Lights:

Brittain Brown rushed for 267 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries as Cherokee High School defeated Chattahoochee 51-23 in Georgia high school football action. Blue Devil Nation coverage of prep gridiron action will pick-up steam in the coming weeks.

Weather Report:

Looking at the 10 day forecast for New Orleans, September 3rd is expecting partly cloudy skies with a high of 92 and a low of 77. Chance of precipitation is 20 percent. Tropical Storm Erika has formed in the Atlantic with current track models showing little chance of the storm heading into the Gulf of Mexico.

That's All Folks!

Football Friday: Tight End Preview, Assorted Notes

Thomas Sirk breaks a run

Football Friday: Random Ramblings

Thomas Sirk breaks a run
Thomas Sirk breaks a run
Wallace Wade Stadium Renovation:

The new turf field looks great with lines being painted on the field as this article is being drafted. The new field level seats are installed on both the East and West sides of the stadium along with field level benches in the North end zone. Artificial turf has been installed on the sidelines and behind the end zones. The new video scoreboard is huge so fans will have a great view of replays during the upcoming season. There is a lot to be excited about at renovated Wallace Wade Stadium.

Preseason Camp Info:

Jela Duncan's partially torn pectoral muscle and Nico Pierre's subsequent position change to running back are the dominant stories to date; however, there are several additional tidbits available. More on that in a minute. The team scrimmaged last Saturday evening and after the scrimmage, Coach Cutcliffe stated, "This isn't scheme heavy or about moving the ball it is about personnel...Identifying who is going to make plays."

Zavier Carmichael made plays in the scrimmage with an interception and causing a fumble. His performance at Middle Linebacker will be key to the success of the defense as he steps into huge shoes vacated by David Helton and Kelby Brown.

Wide receiver competition is wide open with veterans Johnell Barnes and Max McCaffrey leading the way. Redshirt freshman Chris Taylor projects to be the third starter. There is a laundry list of receivers competing for playing behind the starters including: T.J. Rahming, Trevon Lee, Ryan Smith, Anthony Nash, Terrence Alls (when he returns from suspension), Quay Chambers and Aaron Young.

Depth is always critical so the good news is several redshirt freshmen who were dinged up a year ago are reported to be healthy and ready to go. Cornerback Johnathan Lloyd, defensive end Taariq Shabazz and offensive guard Trip McNeill are examples.

Multiple true freshmen saw snaps in last Saturday's scrimmage including: linebacker Ben Humphreys, receiver T.J. Rahming, defensive end Marquies Price, cornerback Jeremy McDuffie, cornerback Keyston Fuller and receiver Aaron Young. Time will tell if these or other true freshmen see playing time in 2015.

The team will scrimmage again Saturday morning before the Meet the Blue Devils event.

Early Season Schedule:

Duke opens the season on the road for the first time in the Coach David Cutcliffe era with a trip to New Orleans to face Tulane on Thursday night September 3. Duke defeated Tulane 47-13 last season in a game where the Green Wave turned the ball over five times including two Pick 6 interceptions.

Quarterback Tanner Lee has a year experience under his belt now plus he operates behind an experienced offensive line which returns four of five starters. Lee is mobile and dangerous, but prone to throwing interceptions so it will be imperative Duke dials up the pressure to attempt to harrass him into making mistakes. Lee threw 14 interceptions and 12 touchdowns as a Redshirt Freshman in 2014.

The Blue Devils offense rushed for 256 yards on 42 carries, for a 6.1 yards per carry average in 2014, so fans should expect to see Duke come out intent on establishing the running game early in this rematch. Once the running game is clicking, the pass play will be available.

NCCU visits Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium on September 12 for the first of four straight home games for the Blue Devils. The Eagles will be overmatched and barring a complete disaster the Blue Devils should easily win their fourth straight home opener.

Northwestern is dangerous. Although the Wildcats finished up 5-7 in 2014, they beat #17 Wisconsin and #18 Notre Dame along the way. Any Duke fan who has already chalked this one up as a victory is making a mistake. September 19 will be an early season litmus test as a win over Northwestern is going to have to be earned on the field.

The quarterback position is in flux in Evanston with three players vying for the starting job. Senior Zack Oliver, Sophomore Matt Alviti, and Redshirt Freshman Clayton Thorson are all being looked at by Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald. Thorson has the most talent but the least experience.

Duke finishes up September by hosting Georgia Tech on September 26. The Yellow Jackets will arrive in Durham seeking revenge after Duke upset them 31-25 in Atlanta in 2014. Quarterback Justin Thomas rushed for 119 yards against the Blue Devils last season; however, the dominant statistic was his two interceptions.

This contest will be one where Duke has to finish defensive possession by denying Georgia Tech 1st downs. On offense, take care of the ball and make every possession count.

Recruiting Update:

When will "Bang Bang #DukeGang" ring out on Twitter again? Perhaps very soon as decision time fastly approaches for Javon Jackson and Dylan Singleton, two defensive backs who have Duke on their short list.

Javon Jackson (5'11" 180) is a 3-star safety out of Sandy Creek HS in Tyrone, GA. His decision will be between Duke and South Carolina.

Dylan Singleton (5'11" 184) is a 4-star safety, and the brother of current Blue Devil Deondre Singleton, out of Archer High School in Lawrenceville, GA. His decision will be between Duke and Georgia. Singleton is scheduled to announce his choice later today.

Some additional players Duke continues to pursue include:

Prince Sammons (6'7" 260) is a 4-star defensive end from Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy. He has a plethora of offers and list Duke along with schools such as Oregon, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Penn State and Cincinnati as schools he is interested in attending.

Parker Braun (6'3" 250) is a 3-star offensive tackle from Osceola, FL who will be transferring to Texas to finish his prep career. He has offers from Ohio State, Auburn, Miami, Georgia, Ole Miss, Tennessee, South Carolina and Stanford.

Eric Burrell (6'0" 174) is a 4-star safety from McDonogh School in Owings Mills, MD. He has offers from Duke, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa, Rutgers, Virginia, Virginia Tech and other schools.

Football Friday: Random Ramblings

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Football Friday: 3 weeks to kickoff, special teams preview

When I feel that chill, smell that fresh cut grass
I'm back in my helmet, cleats, and shoulder pads
Standing in the huddle, listening to the call
Fans going crazy for the boys of fall

Kenny Chesney

THREE WEEKS...

...to kickoff, boys and girls!

Coming off back-to-back winning seasons, and three straight bowl appearances, the Blue Devils will look to compete for another Coastal Division Championship this fall, and it all begins with a late-night rendezvous with the Green Wave in New Orleans. Duke routed Tulane, 47-13, in week 4 last season. The key to that game was turnovers, where Duke held a 5-2 advantage and scored 21 points off the Green Wave miscues. Aside from the takeaways, the Duke defense actually struggled to contain then redshirt-freshman Tanner Lee and the Tulane offense, giving up 375 yards of total offense, including 231 yards on the ground. Carlos Wray and the Duke front six will have their work cut out for them as they try to contain the speedy Lee and company in the swampy heat.

You know who might be looking forward to seeing the Green Wave again? Thomas Sirk. He scampered for 94 yards and a touchdown on the ground a year ago in Durham.  But all eyes will be on his arm, not his legs, as he lines up under center on September 3rd. I bet Braxton Deaver is equally excited, as he will see his first game action since 2013.

Running Backs, revisited

Our Bob Green put together a brilliant preview of what most considered to be the strength of the 2015 Blue Devil offense - the running back #STABLE. That strength turned into a question mark in the course of one practice this past week, as both Jela Duncan (upper body) and Joseph Ajeigbe (lower body) went down with injuries. Neither has a definitive timetable for returning at this stage, though the staff is optimistic both will play this season. Shaun Wilson continues to nurse a hamstring injury as well, leaving the Blue Devils with one healthy scholarship running back in senior Shaquille Powell. Ruh-roh.

If only Duke had landed Johnny Frasier or Nyheim Hines...but that's in the past. Winning football teams take adversity or injury and turn it into opportunity. The Blue Devils are hoping to do just that, and I see three potential solutions.

For starters, Shaq Powell has demonstrated that he can be an elite running back in the ACC, and has at times dominated football games. In his final year in Durham, Powell may have the opportunity to become essentially an every-down back, or at least warrant a consistent 10-15 carries per game.

Second, Duke has two extremely mobile quarterbacks in Sirk and Parker Boehme. Behind a strong offensive line, there is no reason Scottie Montgomery won't be confident in calling designed runs for his two signal callers.

Third, the move of Nico Pierre to running back is intriguing. Pierre could bring a new dimension to the Duke running game. While Powell and Ajeigbe have proven to be strong, physical runners, Pierre brings an element of size that has been lacking from the Duke ground game in recent years. At 6'2" and (according to Coach Cutcliffe today) nearly 225 pounds (though listed at 210 pounds), Pierre could try to replicate some of the "big-back" success of a guy like James Conner (6'2" 240 pounds). As a quarterback, Pierre is more than comfortable with the ball in his hands and has an exceptional understanding of the Blue Devil offense. He was likely at least a year away from seeing snaps at quarterback, and the injuries at running back have created a golden opportunity for Duke to try and get another athlete on the field with the ball in his hands. We'll get our first look at Pierre as a running back on Saturday night under the lights, during Duke's first scrimmage.

New uniforms unveiled

Count me in the group of people who do not get excited about these things, but Duke did unveil their new Nike uniforms today. The shoes look cool. Uniform updates and combinations have proven to be popular on the recruiting trail, so it is good that Duke continues to stay current.

Special Teams Preview

With a senior punter, kicker, veteran long-snapper, and an explosive return man in DeVon Edwards, expectations for Duke's special teams are deservedly high in 2015. That being said, it will be up to the supporting cast that will determine the ultimate success of this unit in 2015. As a unit, the Blue Devils ranked 1st in the ACC in punt returns and punt coverage, and 3rd in kickoff returns in 2014.

Senior Ross Martin returns as the all-time scoring leader in Duke Football history. Let that sink in for a moment. He still has an entire season left to add to the record books. Throughout his career, Martin has proven to be a reliable weapon for the Blue Devils, nearly perfect on both extra points (154/155) and field goals (19/21 a year ago). Martin appears poised to cap off his record-setting career with an All-American senior campaign.

Similarly, Duke returns one of the top punters in the country in redshirt-senior Will Monday, who averages over 43 yards per punt over his career. A year ago, Monday downed 17 punts inside the 20-yard line, a number the Duke defense hopes to see increase in 2015. And in the good-to-know category, he's a perfect 4 for 4 in passing attempts in his career, another weapon for Coach Cutcliffe to toy with.

The Blue Devils do have two key positions to replace on special teams, namely punt return and kickoffs. Coach Cutcliffe has said he does not want the punt return unit to drop off with the graduation of Jamison Crowder, and that will certainly be hard to do. While Max McCaffrey has proven sure-handed in fielding punts, he lacks the explosiveness of Crowder, and that will open the door for Ryan Smith or even freshman T.J. Rahming to get a look in some live action this August. Ross Martin is the likely replacement for the departed Jack Willoughby, who admirably manned kickoffs for much of the past two seasons.

While the specialists themselves have proven to be quite, well, special, throughout their careers, Duke's kickoff coverage unit will need to take a step forward in 2015. The Blue Devils ranked 13th in the conference in coverage in 2014. Improved depth in the secondary should help this unit, but it remains to be seen if Duke can avoid lapses like we saw late in the Sun Bowl.