Category Archives: Duke Football

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Game Day Preview – Duke at Virginia Tech

DSC_0132-002The Duke Blue Devils travel to the mountains this Saturday for a 3:30 kickoff to take on the Virginia Tech Hokies in a game televised by ESPNU.

Make no mistake that Lane Stadium is one of the toughest places to play in America and Frank Beamers team while just 3-4 overall is a dangerous opponent.  Why?  Well, the Hokies have played one of the nations toughest schedules to date and they are getting healthier.

The Hokies will be hell-bent on evening their record up while chasing down  bowl eligibility.  Virginia Tech announced Monday that Michael Brewer would return as its starting QB for the contest with the Blue Devils.  Brewer is the Hokies leader and after suffering a collarbone injury earlier this season he is ready to take the reigns.

Virginia Tech has dominated the series with Duke since joining the ACC, but a different era is starting to emerge.  Duke will bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive season with their next victory.  David Cutcliffe and his staff are still hungry and a win in Blacksburg is of the utmost importance to hang with North Carolina and Pitt for the Coastal Division lead.

Duke will need to throw the ball successfully in that it's the only thing that might keep the Hokies from stacking the defensive front.  For that matter, it will be as important to move the ball successfully on the ground, so a balanced attack will be vital to come away with a win.

The Blue Devils defense has been stingy to date, but they haven't faced a lot of opponents who can throw the ball well.  This weekend will test a unit that ranks amongst the nations best and it will be interesting to see the results against a balanced attack.

But perhaps the most important area of success will be special teams.  Duke has been great on many occasions riding the leg of Ross Martin who is having an All American like season.  But the staff remembers Northwestern returning the second half kickoff for a touchdown, and that drastically altered the game in their only loss.  Breakdowns simply cannot happen when on paper the teams are pretty evenly matched if either team is to gain a win.  And let's not forget that the Hokies have long been known for making big plays with their special teams.

I think the outcome of this game will hinge on special teams play.  I also feel that it is vital to get off to a good start and not play from behind for either team.  While everything seems to point to a grinder of a game, this contest could hinge on big offensive plays.  With that said, Thomas Sirk needs to iron out some of his deep throws to help in that department when they do take some shots.

Duke comes into the game a 2.5 point underdog and a loss would knock them right out of the Top 25.  This will perhaps be motivating factor.  Win or lose, Duke Football is more than just a little relevant again under David Cutcliffe.  The Blue Devils are a true contender but in a tight Coastal Division race, one stumble can be the difference in heading to Charlotte with a chance to make some history or having to earn respect all over again.

HOW DUKE CAN LOSE

Turnovers.  As has been mentioned above, mistakes must be at a minimum in this game. Coming out flat after bye week and getting punched in the mouth would not bode well.

HOW DUKE CAN WIN

Solid special teams play and move the ball effectively through the air against what is normally man to man coverage for Virginia Tech who loves to stop the run.  Remain focused in a game that may well come down to the last play of the game.

THE BOTTOM LINE

This will be a tough, hard-fought game right down to the wire.  Virginia Tech is playing for Hokie Pride and Duke is playing for their hopes of at trip to Charlotte for the ACC title game to stay alive.  In order for this to happen, they need a win in Blackburg.  The pick here is -

DUKE 23 VIRGINIA TECH 20

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Preview of the Second Half of the Season

DSC_0098-002The Bye Week is in the rear view mirror with the second half of the regular season now front and center. The team utilized the past week to recover from bumps and bruises, and enjoy a little down time with many players traveling home, over the weekend, to visit family and enjoy mom's home cooking. Before taking a look at the six second half opponents, let's recap the first half of the season, look at notable performances and rank the conference.

Recap:

While the lost to Northwestern was disappointing, Duke's 5-1 performance with two conference victories over Georgia Tech and Boston College was outstanding resulting in the Blue Devils being ranked number 21 in the Coaches Poll, number 23 in the AP Poll and sets the team up to compete to be the Coastal Division representative in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte on December 5. All in all, Duke had a very successful first half of the season.

Notable Performances:

Jeremy Cash and Ross Martin are listed as Mid-season All Americans by ESPN and CBS Sports. Cash has been an absolute monster on defense leading the team in Tackles for Loss with 11.5, while Martin has been a perfect 12-12 on field goals and 19-19 on extra points.

Shaquille Powell has been the workhorse everyone expected him to be on offense leading the team in All Purpose yards with 410 (302 rushing/108 receiving).

DeVon Edwards continued to demonstrate explosiveness as a kick returner running two kick-offs back for touchdowns, while averaging 39.7 yards per return.

A question mark coming into the season was who would perform punt return duties. Ryan Smith has answered the question returning 16 punts for 137 yards.

The performance of the defensive unit as a whole has been noteworthy as Duke is ranked number two in the nation in Scoring Defense, number two in Passing Yards Allowed, number four in Total Defense and number 29 in Rushing Defense.

Finally, despite being microanalyzed and at times criticized on every Duke sports website and message board known to mankind, Thomas Sirk's performance has been notable. He leads the team in rushing with 321 yards on 74 carries, while throwing seven touchdown passes against three interceptions. His 264.2 yards Total Offense per game ranks third in the conference.

ACC Power Rankings:

Power rankings are both fickle and constantly shifting. They are fickle due to teams being ranked below teams they have beaten and constantly changing as each week of the season brings surprise results and new developments such as breakout performances and, unfortunately, injuries. Here is how the teams currently line up, at midseason.

1. Clemson
2. Florida State
3. North Carolina
4. Duke
5. Pittsburgh
6. Louisville
7. Miami
8. Georgia Tech
9. Virginia Tech
10. N.C. State
11. Boston College
12. Virginia
13. Syracuse
14. Wake Forest

The Next Six Opponents, What's in Store for the Blue Devils:

Virginia Tech - the Hokies have a reputation as a tough nosed defensive team. The last two seasons saw Duke and Virginia Tech split two games with a combined total of 56 points scored. Duke won 13-10 in 2013 and Virginia Tech won 17-16 in 2014. The 2015 edition of the Hokies is not as tough on defense as they are yielding 23.4 points per game ranking 10th in the conference in Scoring Defense. The key to this game will be for Duke's powerful defense to contain the Virginia Tech running game. The Hokies are 3-0 in games where they rush for more than 200 yards and 0-4 in games where they do not.

Miami - Al Golden inherited a mess when he took over as the 'Canes head coach as the Nevin Shapiro scandal became public. Unfortunately, the fans and alumni have poor memories and are calling for his job, which creates a volatile atmosphere within the program. Miami is a dangerous team with the best quarterback in the ACC in Brad Kaaya and several talented receivers in Rashawn Scott, Herb Waters and Stacy Coley. The Blue Devils defense will have to be at the top of their game against the Hurricanes with the Duke offense providing support by scoring significant points. This will be a tough game.

North Carolina - the Tar Heels are a powerful offensive team, which lead the conference in Scoring Offense at 40.5 points per game. Marquise Williams can effectively pass and run the ball, and tailback Elijah Hood is an elite talent. Add in large, fast receivers Quinshad Davis, Bug Howard and Mack Hollins plus explosive punt returner Ryan Switzer and the result is a team capable of scoring a lot of points as long as they do not self destruct. I say self destruct because Williams has thrown six interceptions sometimes in inopportune situations such as in the Red Zone against South Carolina.

Pittsburgh - the last home game of season features a team that has scored 106 points against Duke the past two seasons. Of course, Duke also scored 106 against the Panthers with the two teams splitting the series 1-1. Pitt won 58-55 in 2013 and Duke won 51-48 in 2014, so 2015 is the rubber game with no one expecting either team to score 50 points. This one should feature a lot more defense.

Virginia - Mike London is on the proverbial hot seat so the looming question for the second half of the season is will the Cavaliers be playing inspired football attempting to save their head coach his job or will they give up and cash in the season? Duke is 6-1 against Virginia in the Coach David Cutcliffe era. Odds are the record will improve to 7-1 in 2015.

Wake Forest - the season finale, on the road, is another game Duke should win. Duke has been very good the past few seasons beating the teams they are suppose to beat. The Demon Deacons have struggled on both sides of the ball so far in 2015 with their inability to score standing out. Wake Forest is last in the ACC in Scoring Offense, while Duke is number one in Scoring Defense.

Final Prediction:

Duke will go 4-2 over the second half of the season to finish the regular season at 9-3 earning a trip to the Pinstripe Bowl in New York City on December 26 to play a Big Ten Conference opponent.

Preview of the Second Half of the Season

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Game Preview: Duke at Army

Duke vs. Army West Point
12:00 PM ET
Saturday, October 10
Michie Stadium
West Point, NY
TV: CBSSN
Radio: Blue Devil IMG Sports Network

Duke in 2015: 4-1
Army West Point in 2015: 1-4

DUKE INJURIES

OUT – Cody Robinson (OG), Dan Beilinson (TE)
OUT FOR SEASON – Kelby Brown (LB), Bryon Fields (CB), Zach Morris (DT), Taariq Shabazz (DE)

ARMY WEST POINT INJURIES (unofficial)

PROBABLE - Ahmad Bradshaw (QB)
QUESTIONABLE - Jordan Smith (DL), Josh Jenkins (DB), Luke Prouix (DB), Rhyan England (DB), Shawn Lemoto (LB)
OUT - Andrew McLean (DL), Drew Hennessey (OL)

Duke and Army have faced off 22 times, with the Blue Devils owning a slight 11-10-1 advantage in the all-time series. In 2010, the Black Knights emerged with a 35-21 victory in Durham in their last meeting. Saturday's contest at West Point is a sold-out affair, as the Blue Devils' stout defense faces yet another physical, option-style team.

HOW DUKE CAN WIN

Like they did against Georgia Tech two weeks ago, the Blue Devils will modify their defense to a more traditional 4-3 scheme, bringing Jeremy Cash closer to the line of scrimmage to utilize his strengths against the run. If Cash and the rest of the Blue Devil front seven remain disciplined and disruptive, it should be a long day for the Black Knights. Jim Knowles' defense has been nothing short of dominant in the early 2015 season, ranking 5th in the country and allowing just 10 points per game.

Offensively, Duke's offensive line has to put forth a more physical and dominant effort than they have in recent weeks. The Blue Devils have faced several of the nation's top defenses early on, which should only pay dividends this week against an Army squad that allows opponents an average of 387 yards per game. Establishing the running back stable early on, while getting Thomas Sirk going on the ground as well, should open things up for Johnell Barnes, T.J. Rahming, and Max McCaffrey downfield. The key for the Blue Devil offense has to be finding ways to get their playmakers the ball in space, where they should use their superior athleticism to pick up yards on a forgiving Army defense.

Against the option offense, special teams is again a key for the Blue Devils, as each possession is criticial and field position can quickly swing momentum in a game like this. Will Monday and Ross Martin are putting together their best campaigns yet in Durham, and that trend should continued on Saturday in New York.

HOW DUKE CAN LOSE

Turnovers remain the biggest concern for this Duke team. The Blue Devils have already committed 11 turnovers through their first 5 games, while forcing just 8 of their own. Against a disciplined Army team, the Blue Devils cannot afford to hand the Black Knights extra possessions and field position. Similarly, Duke has to limit the Black Knights on offense by forcing punts and getting critical 3rd and 4th down stops. If Army can manage to convert on 3rd (and 4th) and short, Duke's defense will be on the field a long time.

Army wants to keep this game close, within a score throughout. It will be critical for Duke to try and built a 10 or more point lead early in this game to win comfortably. If the Blue Devils allow the Black Knights to hang around, it may come down to another tight 4th quarter finish. Though they are 1-4, all four of Army's losses have been by fewer than a touchdown.

BOTTOM LINE

Duke has the superior athletes, but Army has proven to be a pesky, disciplined opponent for teams so far in 2015. The Blue Devils will emerge with a victory, but it won't be pretty and it will again be mostly due to the strength of Jeremy Cash and the defense.

Duke 24, Army 13

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Game Preview: Duke vs. Boston College

_DSC7376-001Duke vs. Boston College
3:30 PM ET
Saturday, October 3
Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium
Durham, NC
TV: RSN/ESPN3
Radio: Blue Devil IMG Sports Network

Duke in 2015: 3-1
Boston College in 2015: 3-1

DUKE INJURIES

PROBABLE - Jake Kite (S)
OUT – Cody Robinson (OG), Dan Beilinson (TE), Quay Mann (RB)
OUT FOR SEASON – Kelby Brown (LB), Bryon Fields (CB), Zach Morris (DT), Taariq Shabazz (DE)

BOSTON COLLEGE INJURIES (complete list unavailable)

QUESTIONABLE - Myles Willis (RB)
OUT - Darius Wade (QB), Jon Hilliman (RB)

Duke and Boston College last faced each other on September 17, 2011 in a game Duke won 20-19 in Boston. Both teams are coming off home wins in their last game out, Duke defeating Georgia Tech 34-20 and Boston College defeating Northern Illinois 17-14.

Weather is the dominant pregame topic as a steady rain is already falling in Durham ahead of Hurricane Joaquin which is moving up from the Bahamas and threatening to dump more rain across the East Coast. Game conditions will certainly be wet, at least as wet as last week's Georgia Tech game, but forecast are calling for a slight break in the weather on Saturday so the deluge many feared might be avoided.

HOW DUKE CAN WIN

Take care of the football! Boston College has the number one ranked defense in the nation so Duke will need to be solid on offense all afternoon. Taking into account the wet conditions, look for Duke to utilize two running back sets more often than normal in an attempt to amp up their running attack resulting in increased opportunities for both Shaquille Powell and Shaun Wilson. Jela Duncan looked very good in limited action last week against Georgia Tech and should see increased touches in this game. Duncan is a power runner with impressive speed who could be effective against the tough Boston College defense. Duke will not abandon their passing attack; however, this is a game where pass attempts should be significantly below the season norm.

An offensive game plan which leans on the running game leans on the offensive line by default. Duke's front five will have to win their fair share of battles at the line of scrimmage and the tight ends will need to provide a lot of assistance for Duke to successfully run the ball.

Stop the run! Boston College ran the ball 63 times against Northern Illinois so Duke must be prepared to stop the run and force the Eagles in must pass 3rd down situations. Defensive line play has been a strength this season so another strong game from starting tackles Carlos Wray and A.J. Wolf will go a long way toward winning the line of scrimmage and stopping the Boston College run game. With leading rusher Jon Hilliman out with a broken foot, 5'8" 195 lb tailback Tyler Rouse will see the majority of carries for the Eagles.

With quarterback Troy Flutie making only his second start, the Blue Devils defense needs to force him to pass the ball. Flutie was 5 for 11 with an interception in his first start last week. Once Flutie is forced to pass the ball, Duke look for defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to dial up the pressure via blitz packages in an attempt to force Flutie to make mistakes.

Boston College will play two quarterbacks with Jeff Smith being the second. Smith is more a read-option runner than a passer so Duke will need to recognize any shift at the quarterback position in order to be prepared to counter Smith's ability to run the football.

HOW DUKE CAN LOSE

Turnovers! Turnovers are a concern as the Blue Devils had three against Georgia Tech last week and three against Northwestern the previous week. If Duke continues to turnover the ball, it is going to result in the Blue Devils losing a game they should have won, before the season is over. With the wet game conditions this weekend, turnovers could heavily influence the final outcome.

WHY DUKE WILL WIN

Special teams! Duke will utilize Will Monday's big leg and Ryan Smith's elusive running to dominate the punt game giving Duke a decisive field position advantage.

Both teams have very strong defenses but Duke's offense is much better than Boston College's; therefore, the Blue Devils will achieve more offensive success than the Eagles. Add in the special teams advantage and Duke will improve to 4-1 (2-0 ACC) on the season.

BOTTOM LINE

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? The age old question might be answered on Saturday afternoon when Duke's 447.8 yards per game offense squares off against Boston College's 118 yards per game defense. Something has to give.

I'll set the over/under on Duke's Total Offense at 283 yards and take the over.

Duke 24, Boston College 10

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Coach Cutcliffe Comments 9-27-2015

DSC_0311Coach David Cutcliffe started off his weekly telephone conference with a few announcements:

- T.J. Douglas has been dismissed from the program.
- Terrance Alls remains indefinitely suspended from game competition.
- Jeremy Cash was recognized as the National Defensive Player of the Week by Walter Camp.

Moving on to his opening statements, Coach Cutcliffe stated the start of the game was as good as he has seen, now the team has to master it for four quarters. It is time to focus on Duke, focus on improving and hunting consistency.

Casey Blaser X-rays were negative. We are looking at a sprain so he will be evaluated on Tuesday.

Discussing Georgia Tech, Coach Cutcliffe stated it was a great team effort on defense. Asked about the lack of 3rd down conversions, he stated, "It was a lack of execution. A Combination of a lot of little things we have to get fixed."

Looking forward to Boston College, Coach Cutcliffe stated how impressed he is with Boston College in terms of physicality, toughness and how hard they play.

In reference to the 1st half suspension of Johnell Barnes, Coach Cutcliffe stated they are viewing it as getting a fresh player for the 2nd half. Chris Taylor and T.J. Rahming will most likely start the game.

Coach Cutcliffe Comments