Category Archives: Duke Football

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Three Concerns for Duke Football

Anthony-Boone-10-6-12Practice starts today for a Duke team looking to show the college football world they are for real, the 2013 season was not a fluke it was an indicator of a program that has turned itself around and is on the move up. Coach Cutcliffe will conduct a press conference at 12:30 pm and the team will conduct their first practice starting at 6:15 pm at the Brooks Practice Facility.

Optimism abounds these days in Durham. There is good reason for the optimism. Coach Cutcliffe is the National Coach of the Year, the team won a school record 10 games last season with 16 starters returning from that team, the Blue Devils have been to bowl games in back-to-back seasons, and recruiting is flourishing. To reiterate, there is good reason for the optimism. However, only viewing the future through rose colored glasses can be limiting, so with this article the question is asked: what’s keeping you awake at night?

There are three concerns affecting my sleep pattern:

Number One – Quarterback Play!

Anthony Boone throws too many interceptions. Moreover, he has a tendency to throw multiple interceptions in a game. Last season Boone threw a total of 13 interceptions, he threw interceptions in six of the 11 games in which he played. In four of those six games, he threw multiple interceptions: four against Virginia Tech, three against N.C. State, two against Florida State and two against Texas A&M.

Behind Boone, the quarterbacks listed on the roster have combined to take zero snaps at the collegiate level. Thomas Sirk, Parker Boehme and Nico Pierre are all talented prospects who the staff is very high on but they have no experience. If Boone struggles or is injured, the quarterback situation becomes tenuous at best.

Coach Cutcliffe has stated he intends to stick with the two quarterback system which has been so successful the past couple of seasons with the departed Brandon Connette taking over at quarterback in short yardage situations. This means at least one of the young quarterbacks will be seeing action from the start of the season in short yardage situations. The experience the select quarterback gains during early season games could be critical before the season is over.

Number Two – Defensive Line!

Duke yielded 26.6 points per game in 2013 a 9.4 points per game improvement over the 36 ppg allowed in 2012. Can the defense maintain or better the improvements achieved? Play along the defensive line will go along way in answering the question. Three of four DL starters from 2013 have graduated, which leads to the question: are the new guys more talented?

Defensive tackle Jamal Bruce was last season’s fourth starter so he is back to anchor the interior along with junior Carlos Wray who has played lots of snaps. The major concern is at defensive end and the ability to generate a consistent pass rush. Will projected starters Dezmond Johnson and Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo prove to be every down players who can both defend the run and pressure the quarterback? Can the staff devise a rotation at defensive end that takes advantage of all the players available to achieve success? The answers to those two questions are very important to the level of success the defense will be able to achieve in 2014.

Number Three – Injuries!

Injuries are an intangible so worrying about them is irrational. But no one ever accused sports fans of being rational so I opt to worry. A big part of the team’s success in 2013 can be attributed to a lack of injuries. The team was relatively injury free in 2013 so key players were consistently on the field at key times. In contrast, the 2012 team was decimated by injuries. Will 2014 fall somewhere in between? Hopefully the number of injuries incurred is a lot closer to the 2013 numbers than the 2012 numbers.

Obviously, the objective is for no single player to be unavailable due to injury at any point during the season; however, this is football so injuries are a reality.

The objective of this article is not to attempt to counter the optimism surrounding the program. That optimism is both real and deserved. The objective is to infuse a bit of self reflection. The program is in great shape due to a lot of hard work on the part of the players and the staff. A lot of hard work remains to be accomplished in 2014.

As far as the fans go, it is imperative they fill up Wallace Wade Stadium and cheer the team to victory starting on August 30 with the Elon game and continuing through to the Wake Forest game on November 29.

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Four Blue Devils Make All ACC

SONY DSCGreensboro, N.C.—Led by preseason MVP and returning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston (Bessemer, Ala.), defending national champion Florida State placed nine players on the 26-man preseason All-ACC team announced Wednesday.

The team was selected by the media attending the 2014 ACC Football Kickoff held this past Sunday and Monday at Greensboro’s Grandover Resort.

Winston, who became the youngest player and only the second freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, the nation’s most coveted individual football honor, heads a team that includes nine players who earned first or second team All-America honors last fall, including six first team selections.

Winston and Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley (Adairsville, Ga.) are two of only three returning consensus All-Americans this year in college football. They are joined on the team by returning first-team All-Americans offensive tackle Cameron Erving (Moultrie, Ga.) and placekicker Roberto Aguayo (Mascotte, Fla.) of Florida State, strong safety Anthony Harris (Chesterfield, Va.) of Virginia and specialist Ryan Switzer of North Carolina (Charleston, W. Va.).

Aguayo, who set an NCAA single season mark for points by kicking (157), was the 2013 winner of the Lou Groza Award, given annually nation’s best placekicker. North Carolina’s Switzer tied an NCAA record with five punt returns for touchdowns, while UVa’s Harris led the nation in pass interceptions with eight. Florida State’s Erving was named the winner of the ACC’s Jacobs Blocking Trophy last fall, given annually to the league’s top blocker.

Joining them on the team are returning second-team All-Americans Duke wide receiver Jamison Crowder (Monroe, N.C.), who set an ACC single-season mark with 108 receptions in 2013; Blue Devil safety Jeremy Cash (Miami, Fla.) and Florida State offensive guard Tre’ Jackson (Jesup, Ga.).

Jackson and Miami running back Duke Johnson (Miami, Fla.) are the only returnees from last year’s preseason All-ACC squad.

The 26 members of the preseason All-ACC have combined to be named this month on a total of 62 preseason watch lists for major national individual awards including the Outland Trophy (6), Nagurski Trophy (11), Bednarik Award (11), Maxwell Award (6), Lombardi Award (11) and Walter Camp Award (6). All three of the wide receivers and linebackers on the team were chosen for the Biletnikoff and Butkus Watch Lists, respectively, and all four defensive backs made the Jim Thorpe Award Watch List as well.

While the Seminoles led with nine selections on the team, Duke, picked to finish second in the Coastal Division this year by the media in its preseason order of finish, landed four players on the squad, followed by Clemson and Virginia Tech with three players each; Miami with two and Boston College, Louisville, North Carolina, Syracuse and Virginia with one honoree apiece.

Winston, who led the nation in 2013 in pass efficiency and threw for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns, is joined in the backfield by Johnson of Miami, who ran for 920 yards and a 6.3 per-carry average in less than eight full games, and FSU’s Karlos Williams (Davenport, Fla.), who racked up 730 yards and an 8.0 per-carry average while sharing the Seminoles’ tailback position.

Winston was named on 97 of the 99 ballots collected, the most of any of the honorees with Beasley (96) and Johnson (95) not far behind.

Wide receivers Crowder and Florida State’s Rashad Greene (Albany, Ga.) are two of the 11 first-team All-ACC players who made this year’s preseason team and are joined by Louisville’s DeVante Parker (Louisville, Ky.). This trio of wideouts combined for 239 receptions for 3,373 yards and 29 touchdowns. They are joined by versatile Florida State tight end Nick O’Leary (Palm Beach, Fla.)., who had 33 catches and seven TDs for the Seminoles.

In all, 21 of the 26 players selected to this year’s preseason team earned first-, second- or third-team All-ACC honors last fall, and that doesn’t include Louisville’s Parker who earned first-team honors in the American Athletic Conference.

Erving and Jackson lead an offensive line that also includes three other seniors in Syracuse offensive tackle Sean Hickey (Murrysville, Pa.), Duke offensive guard Laken Tomlinson (Chicago, Ill.) and Boston College center Andy Gallik (Evergreen Park, Ill.)

In addition to Crowder, Tomlinson and Cash, Duke was represented on the team by linebacker Kelby Brown (Matthews, N.C.).

Clemson leads the defensive unit with all three of its honorees on that side of the ball in Beasley, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (Conyers. Ga.) and linebacker Stephone Anthony (Polkton, N.C.).

Two of Virginia Tech’s selections were on the defensive side as well with defensive tackle Luther Maddy (Delray Beach, Fla.) and cornerback Kendall Fuller (Baltimore, Md.) joining punter A.J. Hughes (Terra Haute, Ind.) on the squad. Fuller was the ACC 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year and was a consensus first-team Freshman All-American.

Completing the unit are Florida State junior defensive end Mario Edwards, Jr. (Gautier, Miss.), who had 9.5 tackles for loss last fall, Miami senior linebacker Denzel Perryman (Coral Gables, Fla.), who was sixth in the ACC in tackles per game (8.3) and FSU junior cornerback P.J. Williams (Ocala, Fla.), who keyed the nation’s top pass defense.

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ACC Kickoff Thoughts

accA few random thoughts from ACC Kickoff

A Division Almost Too Close To Call

I’m not sure how many media members actually look at things like unbalanced schedules when selecting their pre season ACC predictions, but whether they do or not, there was one thing which they got right. Media members selected Miami to win the Coastal Division but it was far from a land slide. In fact, Duke, picked second, got the most votes for first place and Virginia Tech and North Carolina were right there as well, with the Tar Heels garnering more first place votes than Miami did as well. Georgia Tech, Pitt and Virginia brought up the rear of the projections, but none have the look of a bad team. What does all this mean? There is no clear-cut division favorite and the winner will likely have to get in during their last conference game of the season.  For the record, the picks I turned in are the exact order of the polling results, which means, they will in no way be right for the projections rarely line up with reality.  It is worth noting that Duke Football Coach David Cutcliffe expressed his displeasure in having to vote, calling the division too close to call.  He went on to say that you could take the reverse order of the results and by seasons end they could be closer to the final standings.

Hamming It Up

Jameis Winston was surrounded by media members like no other player in recent memory during the ACC Media sessions in Greensboro. Winston was in no way microphone shy and rolled into his answers as they came at break neck speed from an unusually exited media contingent. There is plenty of “ham,” in Winston and why not for he is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and FSU brought a much-needed shot in the arm to the ACC by winning last seasons national title.

ACC On Solid Footing

Every year the media gets a “State of the Conference,” address from commissioner John Swofford. You’ve likely read much of what came out of he meeting, but the short version is that the conference is perfectly aligned for future success and the foundation is a solid one. Next up for the ACC will likely be an ACC Network channel through ESPN and the leagues footprint is a very big one these days. Swofford and the league regained its momentum after unexpectedly losing Maryland to the Big Ten Conference by adding Louisville and from my vantage, that looks like a gain. The one thing which is a concern from those behind the scenes is that the Cards continue their academic ascent of recent years in order to catch up a bit to other league members academic standards. It wasn’t that long ago that there was worry in the meeting with the Terps exit, but there is a real sense of calm with concern to the leagues future at this present time.

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Blue Devils Gain Pre Season Respect

SONY DSCGREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – Defending national champion Florida State is the consensus choice to repeat as Atlantic Division champion and defeat Miami in the 10th annual Dr Pepper Atlantic Coast Conference Football Championship Game, according to a poll of media members in attendance at the 2014 ACC Football Kickoff at Grandover Resort.

Reigning Heisman Trophy winner and Walter Camp National Player of the Year Jameis Winston, who led the Seminoles to an unbeaten season and their third national title as a redshirt freshman in 2013, was chosen to repeat as ACC Player of the Year.

Florida State was picked as the likely overall ACC winner on 104 of 112 ballots cast. The Seminoles were picked to finish atop the Atlantic Division by 109 voters and amassed 780 total points. Clemson received the remaining three-first-place votes and placed second with 660. ACC newcomer Louisville placed third at 564, followed by Syracuse (368), NC State (326), Boston College (301) and Wake Forest (136).

Miami’s 26 first-place votes placed third among Coastal Division teams, but the Hurricanes’ 614 total points led overall. Defending division champion Duke received 33 first-place votes and finished with 597 points, followed by Virginia Tech with 571 points and 23 first-place votes. North Carolina was just behind in fourth place with 570 points and 27 first-place votes, followed by Georgia Tech (322 with one first place vote), Pitt (319 with two first-place votes) and Virginia (142).

Winston is one of 15 returning starters for Florida State, which seeks its third straight ACC title. The Seminoles own 14 ACC football championships in 23 seasons as a conference member, tying Clemson for most league titles all-time.

This marks the third time in four years that the Seminoles have led the ACC media preseason voting. Florida State was also voted first in 2011 and 2012, and in each of its first 14 seasons after joining the ACC (1992 through 2005).

Winston led the preseason ACC Player of the Year balloting with 99 votes, followed by Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley with six. Duke wide receiver Jamison Crowder, Miami running back Duke Johnson and Virginia Tech quarterback Brenden Motley received one vote apiece.

Last season saw Winston, of Bessemer, Alabama, become the youngest player to win the Heisman Trophy (19 years, 342 days) and just the second freshman to receive the honor. A dazzling playmaker, he led the Seminoles to a 14-0 record and engineered the game-winning drive in a 34-31 win over Auburn in the 2013 VIZIO BCS National Championship Game.

Named the offensive MVP of the national title game, Winston also received the Davey O’Brien Award and the Manning Award as the nation’s best quarterback after setting national freshman records for passing yards (4,057) and touchdown passed (40) in 2013. His pass efficiency rating of 184.8 set an ACC record and led the nation.

ACC Championship Votes

1. Florida State – 104

2. Clemson – 2

3. Virginia Tech – 2

(4 voters made no selection)

Atlantic Division

(First place votes in parenthesis)

1. Florida State (109) – 780

2. Clemson (3) – 660

3. Louisville – 564

4. Syracuse – 368

5. NC State – 326

6. Boston College – 301

7. Wake Forest – 136

Coastal Division

(First place votes in parenthesis)

1. Miami (26) – 614

2. Duke (33) – 597

3. Virginia Tech (23) – 571

4. North Carolina (27) – 570

5. Georgia Tech (1) – 322

6. Pitt (2) -319

7. Virginia -142

ACC Player of the Year

1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State – 99

2. Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson – 6

3. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami – 1

4. Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke – 1

5. Brenden Motley, QB, Virginia Tech -1

(4 voters made no selection)

With Anthony Boone's play this spring, it may not be essential to take a QB in 2012.

Turnover Margin: Room for Improvement in 2014

Anthony Boone 4-22-2011Organizational leaders are always looking to improve performance. This is true of football coaches as well as corporate CEOs, public administrators and small business owners. Critical self analysis is a vital step in performance improvement. While it is important to emphasize positives, identifying negatives is mandatory.

How can Duke improve performance in 2014? The Blue Devils need to reduce the number of turnovers committed in order to improve their performance and build on the success achieved in 2012 and 2013. Turnover Margin is a key statistic in football, taking the ball away from your opponent, while simultaneously valuing the ball when you possess it increases the opportunity to achieve victory.

Duke was Plus One (+1) in turnover margin last season with 26 gained to 25 lost. The gained turnovers breakdown into 18 interceptions and eight fumbles recovered, while the lost turnovers breakdown into 19 interceptions thrown and six fumbles lost. Obviously, reducing the number of interceptions thrown has to be a goal for Duke’s offense in 2014.

A positive turnover margin increases a team’s chances to win the game so it should come as no surprise that Duke was Plus Six (+6) in 10 wins, but Minus Five (-5) in the four losses last season.

Returning fifth year senior quarterback Anthony Boone threw 13 interceptions and 13 touchdowns, for a one to one ration in 2013. Comparatively, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston threw forty touchdown passes and 10 interceptions for a four to one ratio. Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, who finished second in the Heisman voting, also compiled a four to one ration by throwing 28 touchdown passes against seven interceptions.

These numbers clearly illustrates the need for Boone to improve his touchdown to interception ratio performance in 2014.

Duke’s early season loss to Pitt, in a 58-55 offensive shootout, featured four Brandon Connette interceptions, which quelled Duke’s comback attempt. After falling behind big, the score was Pitt 51, Duke 35 at the end of the 3rd Quarter, Duke outscored Pitt 20-7 in the 4th Quarter; unfortunately, Pitt’s points were via a 37 yard interception return for a touchdown. On the day, Pitt was Plus Four (+4) on Turnover Margin.

Let’s take a look at the Turnover Margin in a couple of big games from this past season:

1. Florida State 51, Clemson 14: A highly anticipated showdown turns into a rout as Clemson turns the ball over four times, starting with their first play from scrimmage, compared to one turnover for Florida State. The Seminoles capitalize on their Plus Three (+3) Turnover Margin to crush the Tigers in Death Valley.

2. Oklahoma 45, Alabama 31: Perhaps the Crimson Tide was not focused on the task at hand because they expected to be playing for the National Championship instead of in the Sugar Bowl. Expectations aside, a team cannot turn the ball over five times and expect to win. Oklahoma was Plus Four (+4) on Turnover Margin and the Sooners rode those turnovers to a 14 point victory over the Crimson Tide.

Duke benefitted from the Turnover Margin statistic multiple times last season. The Blue Devils were Plus Three (+3) in the 35-7 win over Navy and Plus One (+1) in the 28-21 victory over Wake Forest.

In the 27-25 win over North Carolina, Tar Heels’ quarterback Marquise Williams threw two interceptions, the first leading to a 3rd Quarter touchdown drive by the Blue Devils and the second ending the game as Carolina was attempting to get in range for a potential game winning field goal attempt. Duke was Plus One (+1) on Turnover Margin as they defeated their rivals for the second consecutive season.

Looking back at the painful loss to Texas A&M, in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, turnovers were the difference. Duke was Minus Two (-2) in the game. All the Johnny Manziel 2nd half heroics aside, Duke was leading 48-45 with less than four minutes to go in the game. Unfortunately, Anthony Boone threw a bad pass, which the Aggies turned into a 55 yard Pick Six and a 52-48 lead. Two minutes later Boone threw a second interception and the game is history.

What is the moral of the story? Value the football! Something Duke’s offense must do a better job of in 2014, because no matter how unbelievably successful the Blue Devils were in 2013, there is always room for improvement, especially for an organization which is willing to engage in critical self-analysis. Head Coach David Cutcliffe and the Duke Blue Devils are willing to look in the mirror long and hard.

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A Balanced Offense is Vital to Success

Josh-Snead-9-21-10Dominate passing teams can certainly win games as can dominant running teams. However, a balanced offense capable of both running and passing the ball provides a team the best opportunity to win championships. A prime example is 2012 BCS National Champion Alabama, which gained 51 percent of their yards on the ground and 49 percent through the air. In 2013, BCS National Champion Florida State gained 60.9 percent of their yards through the air and 39.1 percent on the ground.

There are plenty more examples including 2011 National Champion Alabama and 2010 National Champion Auburn that gained 57.1 percent of their yards on the ground and 42.9 percent through the air. It does not matter whether a team passes more or runs more, the important factor is a team’s ability to do both.

In 2013, Duke won 10 ball games for the first time in school history, and achieving a balanced offensive attack was a significant factor in achieving success. The Blue Devils gained 58.2 percent of their yards through the air and 41.8 percent on the ground. Last season was the most balanced offense Duke has had during the Coach Cutcliffe era.

Successfully running the football was huge, as Duke averaged 178 yards per game on the ground. The read option was an effective piece of the offensive arsenal with Duke quarterbacks combining to rush for 551 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Can Duke be equally balanced in 2014? Of the 2,492 yards rushing last season, 1,247 yards, or 50 percent, where gained by players who will not be on the roster this year.

How will the Blue Devils make up those yards?

First, senior Josh Snead and junior Shaq Powell must be ready to carry a larger load. Those two running backs are experienced, talented players who most likely will carry the ball more times this coming season than they have in previous years. Obviously, their health is important.

Next, the staff will look toward redshirt freshman Joseph Ajeigbe to step up and help shoulder the load. Ajeigbe was very productive in the Spring Game with 59 yards rushing and 34 yards receiving so he will need to replicate that success come August and September.

Finally, true freshman Shaun Wilson could see immediate playing time if he is ready to compete at the Division 1 level. With a true freshman, the jury is always out until the staff sees him compete in practice and scrimmages against college level competition.

If Wilson is ready, Head Coach David Cutcliffe will have the four running back rotation he has seemed to favor in recent seasons.

On the passing side of the equation, of the 3,474 yards receiving last season, 2,932 yards, or 84.4 percent were gained on receptions by returning players such as Jamison Crowder (1,360 yards and Braxton Deaver (600 yards).

With three more accomplished receivers available, Max McCaffrey (282 yards), Issac Blakeney (244 yards) and Johnell Barnes (217 yards), plus sophomores Ryan Smith (41 yards) and Anthony Nash (31 yards), and several talented freshmen; Duke is poised to utilize a three wide receiver set to spread the field and challenge the opponent’s defense.

Utilizing two tight end formations is another viable option as Duke is deep at tight end with All ACC candidate Braxton Deaver and 2012 starter David Reeves. Reeves is a player who would start on a lot of teams. His touchdown reception in the Chic-fil-A Bowl was a thing of beauty when he tip toed down the sideline in order to stay in bounds.

Erich Schneider is the third tight end, he took a redshirt last season after playing as a true freshman in 2012 (when Deaver was unavailable due to injury).

There are two more factors to be discussed, vital to answering the question, “can Duke be equally balanced in 2014?” Those factors are quarterback play and the offensive line.

Brandon Connette is gone having transferred to Fresno State to be closer to his mother, a decision that is not only understandable, it is laudable. Family has to be first!

Gone with Connette are 1,212 yards passing, 347 yards rushing and a combined 27 touchdowns. He was the redzone/short yardage specialist plus the back-up quarterback and his departure leaves the number two job wide open for competition between two talented but inexperienced players: Thomas Sirk and Parker Boehme, plus true freshman Nico Pierre.

But this is Anthony Boone’s team! There is no question, Boone is the starter and he would have been the starter even if Connette returned so the quarterback situation is solid for 2014. Boone’s health is more critical without an experienced backup waiting in the wings, but Sirk and Boehme are both capable guys if pressed into action.

Boone is 10-2 as a starter. He passed for 2,260 yards with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2013, while rushing for 214 yards and five touchdowns. Improving his touchdowns to interceptions ratio as a senior should be a priority goal for Boone.

The biggest question mark at quarterback is whether or not Boone takes an overwhelming majority of available snaps as the every down, every situation quarterback, or if Coach Cutcliffe opts to utilize Sirk or Boehme in short yardage situations, or for a specific package such as the read option seeing as both players are strong running quarterbacks.

Moving on to the offensive line, which is the final piece of the balanced offense puzzle. Improvement on the offensive line has been nothing short of tremendous under Coach Cutcliffe. The big guys up front have proven they are capable of run blocking in addition to being one of the best pass blocking units in the nation. Duke ranked number 10 in “Quarterback Sacked Percentage” in 2013, the highest ranking for any ACC school.

Two starters, left guard Dave Harding and right tackle Perry Simmons have been lost to graduation, so adjustments will need to be made, but offensive line coach John Latina has the pieces he needs to fill the holes starting with junior Lucas Patrick who is projected to start at left guard, but is equally capable of playing right tackle.

The fifth starter is projected to be either Tanner Stone at right tackle or Cody Robinson at left guard. Although Robinson has never started a game, he has played a lot of snaps and is an experienced offensive lineman. Stone suffered an injury during preseason practice in August 2013, which robbed him of the opportunity to gain valuable experience as a redshirt freshman.

All the pieces are in place for the Duke Blue Devils to achieve a balanced offensive attack in 2014. The coaching staff will design offensive game plans that mix things up in order to exploit opponent’s scouted defensive deficiencies. All that is left is for the offense to trot out on the gridiron and execute.

Duke fans should look for a balanced offensive attack in the neighborhood of 60 percent passing to 40 percent running as the Blue Devils compete to win a second consecutive Coastal Division Title and earn their way back to the ACC Championship Game on December 6, 2014 in Charlotte, NC.