Category Archives: Duke Football


Duke Bowl Champs to be Honored

DSC_0098-002DURHAM, N.C. – The 2015 Blue Devil football team – champion of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl – will be honored at halftime of Duke’s home men’s basketball game against Notre Dame tomorrow afternoon.  Tipoff at Cameron Indoor Stadium is set for 2 p.m., and the game will be televised live on ESPN2.


Representatives from the New Era Pinstripe Bowl – including executive director Mark Holtzman – will join head coach David Cutcliffe for the recognition on Coach K Court.


Behind the performances of co-MVPs Thomas Sirk and Shaun Wilson, Duke defeated Indiana, 44-41 in overtime, at Yankee Stadium on December 26 to cap an 8-5 season.  The victory also put a lid on the most successful three-year stretch in Blue Devil gridiron history, a run that included 27 total victories, three bowl game appearances and the 2013 ACC Coastal Division championship.


Sirk, a quarterback from Glen St. Mary, Fla., accounted for 318 total yards and three touchdowns against the Hoosiers.  He completed 17-of-37 passes for 163 yards and one touchdown while rushing 20 times for a Duke bowl game record 155 yards and two scores.  His five-yard touchdown run, accompanied by Ross Martin’s extra point, tied the game at 41-41 with3:41 remaining in the fourth quarter and forced overtime.


Wilson, a running back from Charlotte, N.C., totaled 282 all-purpose yards highlighted by an 85-yard touchdown run and a 98-yard kickoff return for a score.  The 85-yard jaunt from scrimmage matched the longest rush from scrimmage in school history, equaling an effort by Charlie Smith against Virginia Tech in 1951.


Martin, a native of Solon, Ohio, finished the game with 14 total points by connecting on all three of his field goal attempts while converting five PAT tries.  His field goals covered 52, 34 and 36 yards while his final boot provided as the game-winning points in overtime.  For his efforts, Martin was named to the 2015 Associated Press All-Bowl Team.


In addition, Martin, Sirk and Wilson were joined by teammates Lucas Patrick, an offensive guard from Brentwood, Tenn., and Matt Skura, a center from Columbus, Ohio, on ESPN’s All-ACC Bowl Team.

Duke football mugsphoto by Jon Gardiner/Duke Photography

Roper is a Duke Family Hire

Duke football mugsphoto by Jon Gardiner/Duke Photography
Duke football mugsphoto by Jon Gardiner/Duke Photography

Duke most recently lost offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery to East Carolina who will become their head coach.  That set into process a search for the next person to run the offense.  There was much speculation during that time on who might interview and take over the reigns.  During that time you didn't hear Zac Ropers name that much until the end of the process where he was named the new Baxter Associate head coach and coordinator today.

While there was plenty of interest in the position, Duke coach David Cutcliffe opted to stay in-house with a man he was familiar with.  The Blue Devils have had success keeping their hires from within the family that  Cutcliffe and others around the program refer to as Duke Gang.  While some may point to a lack of experience calling plays for Roper, one has to remember that Montgomery was fresh in the task as well.

If one is to take a deeper look with Roper, they will find that he comes from a strong football back ground.  His brother, Kurt, was an offensive coordinator at Duke and currently will run the offense at South Carolina.  Roper has also coached pretty much every position at Duke and has had a relationship with Cutcliffe since 1999.  That means that a decision was made after knowing Roper for 17 years from Cutcliffe.

"I could not be more excited.  What he's (Roper) done with our special teams, tight ends and running backs and his role with the offensive line and route running, I am really excited in Zac taking the reigns," said Cutliffe, who also stated he would coach the quarterbacks.

Continuity played a big role in the hire.  "When you make a coordinator hire and associate head coach hire, you can't just look at that position.  You look at how this affects the offensive staff and whats the best fit for the entire staff.  We are very systematic and value driven and the values will never be compromised here," said Cutcliffe.

Roper actually learned defense first as a youngster growing up.  "My background in football started a long time ago.  My dad was a defensive coach and I picked up a lot of foundation type things."  But Roper also gained some experience from working with his brother, Kurt. "One of the things he used to say is you've got to start with the right eleven people on the field and we have to end with the football. We are going to continue to do things here offensively where we don't beat ourselves."

Cutliffe mentioned that Roper had worked with players on both sides of the ball when working with special teams.  He stated that Roper had coordinated meetings, schematics and took on duties that would prepare him for running the offense.

With concern to next season, Roper has already started to share his vision for Thomas Sirk next season.  "There are definitely things we are going to look at this off-season schematically and personnel wise." Roper mentioned he will seek replacements for the starters lost and that he looks forward to players fighting for the positions.  As for Sirk's injury late in the bowl win over Indiana, Cutcliffe said he thinks he will be fine and that he will be looked at soon and  they could then give a better answer.

What Duke gets with Roper is a man of high character.  I have been around the program since Cutcliffe arrived in Durham and the Ropers have always stood out as jgood people.  Roper has earned this opportunity and Duke will remain a tight knot group of like-minded individuals with his hiring.

In the end it was the best move for Cutcliffe in his view to hire from within and to do so from the Duke Family.  Cutcliffe expanded a bit on Duke Family when asked to elaborate on it, "We have a lot invested in each other at Duke.  If you look at our staff and staff history, I don't think there is anybody else quite like we are.  When you have great people within your organization you want to see those people grow and we have been able to do that."

Cutcliffe continued by explaining more about "DukeGang," and what it means after speaking to the emotion involved within and around the program. "We are close as families.  Our players are invested with their coaches and I want to our players to always know that the coaches are invested in them.  They come first.  The program is our players.  When you develop this type of atmosphere, family hiring is a great thing."




Staff Changes for Duke Football

16-672x372DURHAM, N.C. – Headlined by the promotion of Zac Roper to Baxter Family Associate Head Coach and offensive coordinator, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe announced on Friday changes to the Blue Devil football staff.


As Duke’s primary offensive play-caller and quarterbacks coach, Roper replaces Scottie Montgomery, who accepted the head coaching position at East Carolina University last month.

Roper, who joined Cutcliffe at Duke prior to the 2008 season, has served as the program’s special teams coordinator for the past three seasons while coaching the tight ends.  From 2008-12, he mentored Duke’s running backs while assisting coordinator Ron Middleton with the special teams units.


“We felt like we had the guy in Zac Roper,” Cutcliffe said.  “We’ve all seen what he’s done with our special teams, but we have a guy that has across the board coached defense, he’s coached a multitude of positions offensively, he’s run our special teams.  People don’t understand that a special teams coach is the closest thing you’re going to have to a head coach; he’s done an incredible job with that.  Functionally, I don’t think we could find a better football coach.  I also know that his value system is in place.  Zac Roper is a great husband; he’s a great dad.  I’m really excited about where we are in this process, and now we’ll have to do another hire because we’re adjusting things on the inside.”


At Duke, Roper has mentored five All-America selections in kickers Ross Martin and Will Snyderwine, punter WillMonday and return specialists Jamison Crowder and DeVon Edwards.  In addition, Roper has coached six Blue Devil running backs (Re’quan Boyette, Jela Duncan, Shaquille Powell, Desmond Scott, Josh Snead & Juwan Thompson) who eclipsed the 1,000-yard barrier on the ground in their respective careers as well as tight ends Braxton Deaver, who was an All-ACC choice in 2013 after catching 46 passes for 600 yards and four touchdowns, and David Reeves, who is the only player in Duke history with touchdown receptions in multiple bowl games.


Prior to his stint in Durham, Roper worked on coaching staffs at Oklahoma, Ole Miss and Cornell and holds both undergraduate (2001; political science) and graduate (2003; higher education/student personnel) degrees from Ole Miss.  Roper’s older brother, Kurt, served as Duke’s offensive coordinator from 2008-13 and currently is the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the University of South Carolina.


“It’s an exciting time for my family,” Zac Roper said.  “I come from a football family.  Obviously, my dad and my mom were certainly excited for what the future entails.  I had a chance to talk with both of my brothers.  It’s an exciting time in the Roper family, and I certainly look forward to this opportunity being the Baxter Family Associate Head Coach, along with the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.  I look forward to scoring some points for the Duke Blue Devils.


“Personally, it gives me an opportunity to delve into the offense with the guys,” he continued.  “I think that’s the most important thing about coaching; the relationship that you have with the players.  That’s what I want to see going forward, is continuing to build those relationships with all of the guys.  That’s what’s most exciting; seeing the development of a young Duke football player’s progression.  That’s what we’re excited about.  We want to win games, but the best thing about coaching is the relationship you build with the players.”


The Duke offense will return six starters from last year’s unit that averaged 439.4 yards and 31.5 points per contest as the Blue Devils went 8-5 and defeated Indiana, 44-41 in overtime, in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.  Duke currently ranks third in the ACC in both total first downs (310) and total offensive yards per game while ranking among the nation’s leaders in fewest tackles for loss allowed per game (6th), total first downs (24th), fewest sacks allowed per game (27th), third down conversion percentage (33rd), total offensive yards per game (36th), rushing yards per game (37th), passing yards per game (45th) and scoring offense (48th).


The 439.4 total yards per game average posted this past year marks the fourth highest single-season mark in Duke history while the Blue Devils have put together a stretch of four consecutive seasons averaging 30-plus points per contest for the first time in school history.  Duke’s combined offensive scoring balance over the past four seasons has yielded 189 total touchdowns – 95 on the ground and 94 through the air.


Quarterback Thomas Sirk, a rising redshirt senior who started 12 games in 2015, returns to the fold after completing 251-of-427 (.588) passes for 2,625 yards with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions.  The Glen St. Mary, Fla., native also led the Blue Devils in rushing with 803 yards and eight touchdowns.  Sirk, who earned co-MVP honors of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl along with running back Shaun Wilson after totaling 318 yards and three touchdowns in the victory over Indiana, set the school single-season record for rushing yardage by a quarterback while his 3,428 total offensive yards marked the second highest single-season total in school history, trailing only Anthony Dilweg’s total of 3,713 yards in 1988.


Three other scholarship quarterbacks return in 2016 including redshirt junior Parker Boehme, redshirt freshman Quentin Harris and redshirt freshman Daniel Jones.  Boehme saw action in 10 games last fall and completed 43-of-78 (.551) passes for 579 yards with two touchdowns and one interception while rushing for 181 yards and five scores.  Boehme made one start under center in place of the injured Sirk, and completed 23-of-42 passes for 248 yards with one interception while rushing 11 times for 80 yards and one touchdown in a 31-13 loss to Pittsburgh on November 14.


Joining Sirk as returning starters in 2016 are redshirt senior tackle Casey Blaser (started all 13 games in 2015; HM All-ACC selection), redshirt junior Gabe Brandner (started all 13 games), redshirt senior wide receiver Anthony Nash (32 receptions, 475 yards, 1 TD), sophomore wide receiver T.J. Rahming (43 receptions, 571 yards, 2 TDs) and redshirt senior guard Tanner Stone (started all 13 games).  Additionally, running backs Jela Duncan (67 attempts, 460 yards, 4 TDs) and Wilson (84 attempts, 424 yards, 3 TDs) return.


In addition, Cutcliffe announced that James Harrell, a member of the Duke staff since 2013 as Player Personnel Coordinator, elevates to Assistant Director of Player Personnel to replace Ethan Johnson, who joined Montgomery’s staff at East Carolina.  Former Blue Devil letterman Lex Butler, who has worked in the Duke Football sports performance realm since graduating in 2013, moves into the slot vacated by Harrell.


Duke will outlast Indiana

12331363_453785051486127_663817368_nTwas the night before the bowl game and all through the house, Duke fans patiently await tomorrows match up with Indiana.  The Blue Devils have an opportunity to get their first bowl win since 1961 when they knocked off Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl and the program is hungry to do just that.

In order for Duke to come away with a win, they will have to put points on the board.  Scottie Montgomery will be making the calls one last time before he heads to East Carolina to be the Pirates next head coach.  Under his guidance, Thomas Sirk has blossomed to lead Duke in passing and rushing which is a rare thing indeed.

While Duke has been good on offense at times, their defense was a mess down the stretch and that bodes well for an Indiana team that can put points up in bunches.  In fact, it's the best offense Duke will have faced save North Carolina who scored 66 points which started the late season plummet.  Duke will also be without their leader in Jeremy Cash on the defensive side of the ball.

The Indiana offensive engine is started by Nate Sudfield who guided the Hoosiers to a Big Ten leading 491 yards a game.  But the true threat for the red clad bunch will be RB Jordan Howard and All Big Ten First Team selection who is a game changer.  The bottom line is Indiana can flat-out get on a roll on offense and they scored on everybody they played no matter the competition.

The Hoosiers are also coached by UNC alum Kevin Wilson, but while his team has been good on offense, the defense has been suspect. They are led by LB Marcus Oliver but they are not especially intimidating and this is where Duke needs to take advantage.  For that to happen, Duke needs to establish their running game and hit on some big plays while not turning the ball over.

As we approach the game, it will not be as cold as it normally is in New York this time of year, so that means no sloppy field.  Both teams will have to adjust to the atmosphere as well in Yankee Stadium which is unique in every way.  Duke sold their full allotment of tickets with the lat 1600 or so going to military and first response families.

The game shapes up as a good one where folks are expecting a track meet and lot's of scoring.  The over/under in the game is a whopping 72 points which is the second most of any bowl game played per projection.  Duke also comes in as a 3 point underdog.

Anything other than a win would be disappointing for Duke and the same can be said for Indiana.  The Hoosiers have the momentum coming in but Duke has historically done well in bowl games with time to prepare.

With that said it's time for the game prediction and the feeling here is that Duke will outlast Indiana and raise the trophy at day's end in the Bronx, New York.

Duke 41 Indiana 38



Duke vs Indiana – Early Take

12049550_10206816510725398_728020460820336930_nThere is no further proof of progress for the Duke Football program than the fact they accepted their fourth consecutive bowl bid under David Cutcliffe.  The Blue Devils have become a main stay on bowl selection Sunday and the future remains bright.  But Duke will once again face a very tough match up, this time with an Indiana team that can score in bunches.  The New Era Pinstripe Bowl knows what it's doing during its short time on the bowl front.  Their bowl committee knows how to create fireworks and this match up points to a high scoring affair in famed Yankee Stadium.  The game will kick off the day after Christmas at 3:30 on ABC.  Here are some initial thoughts on the match up -

Both Teams Are Hungry

Indiana will be playing in their third bowl game in twenty-three seasons.  They have steadily improved under head coach Kevin WIlson and they rolled over in state rival Purdue on the road for the opportunity to keep playing.  To have a winning season against what was a challenging schedule they need a season capping victory.   While going to bowl games has now become common place for Duke, they have yet to win one in some time.  The last bowl win for the program was in 1961 when they won the Cotton Bowl over Arkansas.  If nothing else motivates Duke, the chance to get this long time monkey off it's back should.

Why Indiana is a Dangerous Opponent

In some corners, the fan base is saying this is a bowl game Duke should win.  But a further look at the match up shows it will be far from easy.  Firstly, Indiana played in the best conference this season in the Big Ten.  They come into the game with more momentum than Duke having beaten Maryland on the road 47-28 and rival Purdue in their house 54-36. in their last two outings.

The Hoosiers feature one of the the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten in Nate Sudfeld who has 3184 yards through the air and 24 touchdowns. The X-Factor is running back Jordan Howard who rushed for 1213 yards.  He did that in just nine games for he has battled injuries.  Most recently he tore through the Wolverines defense for 238 yards,  When the Hoosier offense is clicking nobody stops them and that always seems to be the case when Howard is healthy.

Indiana lost games to Ohio State 34-27, Michigan 48-41 and Iowa 35-27.  Those are quality opponents where they came up one score short from being even.   The Hoosiers have the 22nd best scoring offense in the nation while playing  in arguably the best conference division in college football.

On the Other Hand

Indiana let's up 37,1 ppg on defense which is translates into the 116th in the country.  They can be stopped as witnessed by Penn State allowing the a season low 7 points.  Their second lowest total was 26 to Michigan State.  There is one common opponent with Duke in Wake Forest.  The Hoosiers won that game 31-24 in Winston Salem.  The Deacons scored two late touchdowns to make the game seem closer than it actually was.  Still, teams have had success in scoring on the Hoosiers and the Duke offense will have to do so in order to come away with a win.

12065610_10206816508645346_5696463976488677169_nWhere is Duke Mentally?

After rolling to a 6-1 start the ridiculously controversial loss to Miami seemed to knock the Blue Devils flat on their back.  A talented UNC team really put a beat down on Duke hanging 66 points on the Blue Devils.  The team was reeling until they toughed out a win over Wake Forest. But even that win was not easy and the Blue Devils have not played their best football since early October.  Now Duke faces an opponent tailor-made to keep their defensive woes in the late season an issue of concern.  A major key will be for the staff to get the Blue Devils mind-set to where it was at the beginning of the season.

Duke Usually Prepares Well

The Blue Devils have been underdogs in each of their bowl match ups.  But they have always put on a good show for fans, especially when they almost defeated Texas A & M and Johnny Manziel a bit back.  Not many have given Duke a chance against some very tough draws.  In fact, Arizona State and Texas A & M were both top ten teams to start their seasons before slightly stumbling.  The Blue Devils will start practice Saturday and they have plenty to figure out a game plan.

Can Duke Flip It

Duke has been a few finger tips away from having better results on both sides of the ball.  The defense has struggled to produce turnovers and the secondary has been suspect at certain positions. The offense has not had that one game where it has all come together in both passing and rushing against a big  time opponent, save Virginia Tech.  A little better passing touch and crisper routes in the passing game can open up the flood gates against a suspect Indiana defense.  Make no mistake that Indiana is a quality opponent in that they played a very tough schedule and did some good things while doing so.  A win over the Hoosiers could allow Duke quite the hook to hang their hat on going into the off season with a bowl game trophy in the Yoh Center to show the continued progress,  Duke will be playing in a fully renovated Wallace Wade Stadium next season and they want nothing more than to hoist some hardware before that happens.

12045795_10206816510445391_3897396623502817468_oTicket Availability

Go to to purchase tickets in that you will be guaranteed to sit with the Duke contingent.  Duke is banking on their solid alumni base in the New York area to turn out and it is important that happens.  With the game being the day after Christmas it does present some travel and logistical issues for some of the local fan base.  It will be interesting to see how it plays out but an opportunity to play in Yankee Stadium in the Bronx is an attractive draw.  It is important to keep in mind that bowl game attendance is a vital factor on selection day each year.  If you can make it to the game, and support Duke,  please do so.  The phone number for tickets is 919-681 BLUE (2583).


Duke Accepts Pinstripe Bowl Invite

16-672x372The Duke Blue Devils officially accepted a bid to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl which is held is prestigious Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York.  The Blue Devils will be going bowling for the fourth consecutive season under head coach David Cutcliffe.

The Blue Devils will take on Indiana from the Big Ten in an attractive matchup of what should be a high scoring affair.  The clash of red and blue will take place on December 26th  with kickoff set for 3:30 on  ABC.

The Hoosiers come into the game having won must win contests against Maryland and Purdue.  They lost games to Iowa, Michigan and Ohio State by a single score.

Duke finished the season 7-5 after defeating Wake Forest and they've set a goal to be the first Cut Era team to win a bowl game.

“To be chosen to take part in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl brings an incredible level of excitement to our program,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said.  “Playing in our fourth consecutive bowl game means a great deal to our past, present and future Blue Devils.  This senior class is obviously a special one, and I could not be happier for a group of young men that has accomplished what no other class has done in the history of Duke Football with the four straight bowl game appearances.  We are thrilled to keep building our program while playing in front of so many Duke University alums and supporters in New York.

 “Next on our schedule are exams, and then we’ll get back to the practice field to prepare for a very well-coached Indiana squad,” Cutcliffe continued.  “We have tremendous respect for Coach Wilson and the entire Hoosier program.  At Duke, we take great pride in representing the Atlantic Coast Conference, and doing so against a program of Indiana’s caliber will be a challenge which we will embrace."

 “And we certainly look forward to working alongside Randy Levine, Mark Holtzman, John Mosley and the entire New Era Pinstripe Bowl staff for this event.  We know their group will do everything in their power to make this experience for our student-athletes the best it can possibly be.”

We encourage Duke fans to buy their tickets through so that they may be among the fan base.  Duke has also pre purchased tickets for the game, so hurry over and get yours now.