Tag Archives: Andrew Luck

Coach Cutcliffe and the team will kickoff the festivities with the Blue Devil Walk at 11AM Saturday- BDN Photo

Progress: it’s all relative

Expectations were high for David Cutcliffe's 4th season in Durham - BDN Photo

David Cutcliffe is now two games into his fourth season as Head Coach of the Duke Football program, and with the Blue Devils opening the year 0-2, fans are asking whether progress has in fact been made. Progress, however, is a relative term, and one can easily see progress or a lack of progress depending on the context.

Start with the big picture. Where was Duke football in 2007 and where is it today in 2011? The Blue Devils opened the 2007 season 0-2 with losses to Connecticut and Virginia. In 2011, they are again 0-2 with losses to Richmond and Stanford. Just as they were in 2007, Duke is again expected by most to finish at or near the bottom of the ACC. At face value, progress has not been made, and it’s a reasonable argument.

Duke football fans are anxious for something to cheer about - BDN Photo

The opposition to that argument is that building a winning football program doesn’t happen overnight. Since Coach Cutcliffe’s arrival, there have been substantial improvements made off the field. Overall, attendance is up and there is a new-found enthusiasm for football at Duke. The University and its boosters have made a substantial investment in the program, both from a coaching and a facilities standpoint. Duke has a veteran group of coaches and football facilities better or equivalent to every other ACC school. Improvements to Wallace Wade Stadium are in the works, though that will require a significant investment and better production on the field.

Speaking of on the field, let’s look at the early return on the University’s investment. So far in 2011, the wins aren’t there, so let’s look at the talent level. In 2007, Duke had 1 returning All-ACC player on the roster in Eron Riley. In 2011, Duke returns 3 players who have been awarded All-ACC honors in Conner Vernon, Donovan Varner, and Will Snyderwine. Looking at the makeup of the roster itself, the 2007 Blue Devils entered the season without a single redshirt-sophomore, junior, or senior. In 2011, Duke has 18 redshirt-sophomores, 10 redshirt-juniors, and 7 redshirt-seniors on the roster. The team is developing the kind of depth and experience that is needed to compete week in and week out over the course of a college football season. Based on an informal eye test, the Blue Devils are still an undersized football team, but that is slowly changing. Each recruiting class appears to get a little bigger and a little faster, and recruiting as a whole appears to be paying dividends, with young players like Juwan Thompson (leading rusher), Laken Tomlinson (starting OL), Kelby Brown (2nd leading tackler), and Jamison Crowder (10th in ACC in all-purpose yards) all producing an immediate impact on the field.

Freshman Jamison Crowder has had an immediate impact, ranking 10th in the ACC in all-purpose yards - BDN Photo

Let’s step away from the big picture and take a deeper look at Duke’s 2 losses. A loss to Richmond was inexcusable and a big step in the wrong direction for this team. The mistakes made in that game appeared to be “the same old Duke;” missed FGs, fumbles, and consistently inconsistent play throughout the game. It certainly felt as if we had all traveled back in time to the Carl Franks era of Duke football, a period defined by mistakes and winless seasons. The Blue Devils appeared to be playing not to lose, highlighted by the overly vanilla and poorly executed game plan. Those around the program simply shook their head and thought, “Duke should be better than that. This shouldn’t be a bad football team.”

A week later, Duke welcomes #6 Stanford and Heisman favorite Andrew Luck to Wallace Wade Stadium. Most Duke fans, and even some media members, fear a repeat of last year’s disaster against Alabama, where the game was seemingly over for the Blue Devils before the ball was snapped. Sure enough, the Cardinal came out and caught Duke off guard with a trick play, ultimately driving the field for an opening touchdown and 7-0 lead. Here we go again. Instead, Sean Renfree leads Duke on a 9-play, 70 yard drive on their first possession to set up a FG. Will Snyderwine, last week’s goat, comes in and misses yet another chip shot FG. Here we go again.  Instead, Duke’s much-maligned defense makes the Heisman contender look uncomfortable for the next 4 possessions, coming up with 2 sacks, and 3 QB hits. Senior safety Lee Butler caps off the improbable start with a 76-yard interception returned for a TD. Duke recovers an onside kick after the PAT, and Wallace Wade is rocking with belief. The Blue Devils appear to be the aggressor and Duke is ready to compete with the #6 team in the country.

The Blue Devils ran out of steam against Stanford in the 2nd half - BDN Photo

Of course, that didn’t last long, as things quickly turned on the Blue Devils and they were unable to sustain their early momentum. The offensive line stumbles and the Duke drive stalls to close the half. Andrew Luck then returns to his Heisman-caliber form and leads the Cardinal to a 17-7 halftime lead. The 2nd half is dominated by Stanford, with the lone bright spot being a late 4th quarter TD drive engineered by redshirt-freshman QB Anthony Boone. The final score is a lopsided 44-14, and unanswered questions still abound about the state of the program.

Was that momentary flash – when we all started to believe – was that real?

Who is this Duke team? Are they the team that disrupted the Stanford offense and drove the length of the field with ease to open the game? Are they just the same old Duke, characterized by mistakes and missed opportunities?

Has progress been made? It is clear that significant improvements and investments have been made made off the field, but that hasn’t yet translated into wins, the ultimate measuring stick. It’s been an uphill battle, but Duke must continue to persevere and get better every day – on the field, in the coaching box, and on the recruiting trail. You either get better or you get worse. What will it be for you, Duke Football?

The Blue Devils are entering the most crucial part of their schedule, with 3 very winnable games leading into the bye week. Many of our questions about Duke will be answered, beginning with this week’s trip to 0-2 Boston College, followed by a homecoming game against Tulane and then a trip to surging Florida International. The Blue Devils must emerge from these three games with at least a 2-3 record, and should be capable of entering their bye week at 3-2 if they work hard to improve their red zone efficiency. After opening 0-2, 3 straight wins would be strong evidence that progress has, in fact, been made.

Stanford's Andrew Luck was finally able to smile in the 2nd half against Duke

Missed opportunities haunt Blue Devils against Stanford

Stanford's Andrew Luck was finally able to smile in the 2nd half against Duke-BDN Photo

BDN Rapid Reaction

The Blue Devils fell to Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal, 44-14 in Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday. The game played out much like we expected, with Duke competing with the Cardinal early, but unable to sustain their intensity for four quarters. Here’s our rapid reaction, along with our postgame interviews:

Missed opportunities

Duke scored just 1 of 3 trips to the red zone, missed three FGs, and recovered an onside kick but did nothing with the possession. In contrast, Stanford scored on all 4 of their trips to the red zone. That was essentially the difference in the game, as the Blue Devils failed to capitalize on their scoring opportunities. The Duke offense was able to move the football well, racking up 335 total yards of offense, but couldn’t find the end zone until late in the 4th quarter on Anthony Boone’s 2-yard TD run. The turning point in the game was on the opening drive of the 2nd half, when Duke drove the ball into the red zone, but again came up empty. Stanford would score on the next possession to go up 24-7 and essentially put the game away. Too many missed opportunities to knock off the #6 team in the country; Duke will have to sort out their red zone struggles next week against a tough BC defense.

Defense challenges the Heisman favorite

It’s been a long time since the Blue Devil defense made a Heisman candidate look uncomfortable under center. In fact, the Duke defense has historically made average college QBs look like Heisman contenders. Today was a different story, as the Blue Devils were able to pressure Andrew Luck, knocking him down on several plays, including 2 sacks, and forcing a rare interception. In the 1st half, the Duke defense played well enough to keep the Blue Devils in the game, but without any help from the offense, they were unable to sustain their momentum. Senior safety Matt Daniels had another outstanding game with 13 tackles and likely caught the eye of several of the NFL scouts in attendance.

Great crowd at Wallace Wade Stadium

It takes more than a dismal opening week loss to Richmond to dim the spirits of the Duke Football faithful. While there were certainly several sections of empty seats, particularly in the hot sun, but the nearly 25,000 fans who were there were loud and intense. In particular, the much maligned Duke student section in Wallace Wade Stadium was as good as it has been in years. Well done! This Duke team has shown flashes of putting the pieces together, and their best football is still ahead of them this season. An excellent road test awaits in Chestnut Hill next Saturday, followed by a very winnable Homecoming matchup against Tulane. Let’s Go Duke!

 

Matt Daniels Interview

 

Kelby Brown Interview

Juwan Thompson Interview

 

Coach Cutcliffe Press Conference

 

Duke and Stanford last met in 1972

BDN previews Duke’s match up with #6 Stanford

Duke and Stanford last met in 1972

For the second straight season, the Blue Devils will host a top 10 nonconference opponent in Durham in September. A year ago, Duke took on top-ranked Alabama in front of a crowd of 39,042 fans, but the game was over by the end of the 1st quarter, when the Crimson Tide had gone up 28-0. To add insult to injury, the shock from that blowout led to a hangover against Army the following week. Duke and Stanford last met in 1972 in Durham, and Saturday’s game represents the front half of a home-and-home series between the two academic powers. While David Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils work tirelessly to rebuild the Duke program into an ACC contender, the Cardinal are already there. Even after the departure of Head Coach Jim Harbaugh for the NFL, Stanford entered the season with a top 10 national ranking and will be defending their PAC 12 title. By all accounts, new Head Coach David Shaw has been able to sustain the momentum built by Harbaugh, and the Cardinal have  quickly become a top national program.

When previewing Stanford, all eyes are on Heisman favorite Andrew Luck, the redshirt-junior QB who turned down the NFL’s millions to get his degree. As a QB, Luck does many things well; in 2010, he broke John Elway’s school record for TD passes in a season, while also eclipsing the school’s QB rushing record. Overall, he finished with an impressive 3,338 passing yards for 32 touchdowns and just 8 interceptions. He loses his top 2 receivers from 2010, but picked up right where he left off in week 1, spreading the ball around to a deep group of receivers and tight ends, leading the Cardinal to a 57-3 blowout of former Duke DC Mike MacIntyre’s San Jose State team.

Stanford returns their top 3 rushers from a year ago, led by junior Stepfan Taylor. The running game got off to a slow start in week 1 against the Spartans, finishing with just 3.5 yards per carry, but did add 4 touchdowns on the ground. Conversely, the Stanford defense has been one of the top rushing defenses in the country, giving up just 121 yards per game on the ground in 2010, and allowing a paltry 0.8 yards per carry in week 1.

Overall, the Cardinal play a physical style of football, and they will challenge the young Blue Devils in every facet of the game. Duke, after a disappointing performance against Richmond in their opener, will have to put together four solid quarters of football to avoid a repeat of last year’s laugher against Alabama. Here are a few ideas to get them started:

Juwan Thompson will have to carry the load with Desmond Scott sidelined. BDN Photo

KEYS FOR DUKE

1. Spread the field, move the chains

When you face an offense as potent as Stanford’s (#9 scoring offense in the country in 2010), the best defense is usually a good offense. The less Andrew Luck is on the field, the better. Unfortunately, Duke will be without two of its top three running backs on Saturday, leaving sophomore Juwan Thompson and senior Jay Hollingsworth will be left to carry the load. While many Duke fans were frustrated with some of the play-calling in the week 1 loss, the Blue Devils did control the clock, winning the time of possession battle. Of course, the flip side of that is that the offense frequently left the Spiders with a short field, so while Duke may have controlled the clock, they did not control the field. This week, Duke will have to do a better job of spreading the field, moving the chains, and winning the field position battle. They can’t afford to make life easy on Luck and the Cardinal.

2. Take some shots

All that being said, Duke has playmakers at wide receiver, and they need to do a better job of using them. This is a game where the Blue Devils have nothing to lose. If they are not aggressive out of the gate, they will be buried quickly by Stanford. During the offseason, there was a lot of talk about Sean Renfree’s growth and many tabbed him as the top returning QB in the ACC – let’s prove it on a national stage against the #6 team in the country. It’s not just about play-calling, either. Last year, Duke linebacker Kelby Brown made his Blue Devil debut in the 2nd half against Alabama. In week one, the Blue Devils played two of their true freshmen in Jamison Crowder and Blair Holliday. For those that have earned the opportunity, let’s see what they can do. There are several positions where Duke could use contributions from their younger players, and a physical Stanford team will be a great litmus test to see if they’re ready to play. The Blue Devils made a terrible statement in week 1, but they have a prime opportunity to make an important one in week 2, and they don’t have to pull off a miraculous upset to do it. Show the rest of college football that the Blue Devils, even without two of their top running backs, have an offense that will keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night.

Keeping this guy off the field and without the football should be Duke's top priority.

3. Ground the Cardinal

With an offense like Stanford’s, it’s really pick your poison. Andrew Luck is an All-American and Heisman favorite, and Stepfan Taylor is certainly no slouch, but the defense has to try and take the ball out of Luck’s hands. In last year’s Orange Bowl, he was able to pick apart a pretty good Virginia Tech defense, and given the opportunity, he will easily move the ball against the Duke secondary. The Blue Devils were effective at slowing Richmond’s running game, and will hope to have the same success against Stanford Saturday.

GAME ANALYSIS

Considering that Duke lost to Richmond in week 1 and Stanford had a big win against San Jose State, it’s no surprise that the Cardinal have a decided statistical advantage over the Blue Devils. That being said, if the Blue Devils play good, fundamental football, they have nothing to lose and could surprise a lot of people with their play on Saturday.

Turnovers 

Stanford 0, Duke 2

In addition, Stanford forced 3 turnovers against San Jose State, while the Blue Devils came away with just 1 interception against Richmond. Turnovers have plagued Duke over the past year, and will continue to do so until they take better care of the football and apply more pressure to opposing offenses.

Sacks

Stanford 2, Duke 0

Again, this stat works both ways, as the Stanford offensive line has done a good job protecting their Heisman candidate, not allowing a sack in week 1, while the Blue Devils allowed 1 against Richmond. Stanford has had to break in three new starters on their offensive line, but haven’t missed a beat so far.

3rd down

Stanford 5/13 (38.5%), Duke 7/14 (50%)

It’s hard to give this one to the Blue Devils, as this stat also works both ways. The Stanford defense allowed just 3/14 (21.4%) on 3rd down in week 1, while Duke gave up 6/15 (40%) to Richmond.

Explosive plays

It’s been the same old story for the Blue Devils. The defense continues to allow a few too many explosives, while the offense isn’t able to find them when they need them. Duke will have to open things up if they expect to keep up with Andrew Luck and his explosive offense.

Rushing TDs

Stanford 4, Duke 3

Both teams have QBs who can run it in themselves, but Taylor is much more proven than the Blue Devils’ running backs. Thompson had an impressive season debut, and if he can repeat that effort against a stingy Stanford run defense, it will be a good sign of things to come.

Field goals

Stanford 2/2, Duke 0/2

Yikes, let’s not go there. Will Snyderwine will have to bounce back from week 1, but the reality is that if Duke has to settle for field goals, this game won’t stay close for long. Conversely, if the Duke defense can keep redshirt-freshman Jordan Williamson busy for the Cardinal in his first college road game (and I don’t mean kickoffs), the Blue Devils should stay in the game.

Penalties

Stanford 3-30 yards, Duke 3-14 yards

This one is another push, but Duke will have to continue to play disciplined football; they can’t beat themselves. Though they only had 3 penalties in week 1, the last of those came on a crucial 3rd and 2, ultimately preventing the Blue Devils from picking up a 1st down and sustaining the drive.

PREDICTION

The Blue Devils will put together a better effort than in week one, but it will still come up woefully short against #6 Stanford. Andrew Luck will pick apart the Duke secondary with his deep group of talented receivers, particularly at tight end, which will cause significant match-up problems. With a banged up group of running backs, Duke will have to try to stretch the field and use some tricks to move the ball consistently against a Stanford defense that has yet to give up a touchdown. Expect a slightly more competitive game than a year ago against Alabama, but the Blue Devils ultimately won’t be able to keep it within three scores. Stanford 45, Duke 16

Keeping this guy off the field and without the football should be Duke's top priority.

BDN’s Q&A preview of Duke’s matchup with #6 Stanford

Duke hosts Heisman favorite Andrew Luck and Stanford in week 2

After an opening week loss to the Richmond Spiders, things will get a lot harder for the Blue Devils in week 2, as they welcome the #6 Stanford Cardinal. Led by Heisman favorite Andrew Luck, the Cardinal have quickly become one of the top programs in the country with a physical style of play. In September 2010, Duke welcomed another top national program to Durham in Alabama, and fans would prefer to forget the result on that afternoon. The young Blue Devils will have to learn from last year’s experience and greatly improve on last week’s performance if they plan to compete with Stanford.

After putting up 57 points on San Jose State last week, the Cardinal will be expecting a similar outcome this Saturday. BDN is pleased to welcome back Hank Waddles of GoMightyCard.com for his view from the Stanford perspective. As always, please be sure to visit their site to read the BDN half to our weekly Q&A exchange.

 

BDN: Duke football fans love to use Stanford’s success as a benchmark for their own program. From the Stanford perspective, how would you compare the two schools and their football programs? What similarities do you see, and where do you think they differ?

The similarities between Duke and Stanford are obvious. Both are prestigious academic institutions, first and foremost, and the admissions requirements that go along with that don’t always mesh with the building of athletic powerhouses. (Stanford fans, however, are fond of pointing out that the Duke admissions office seems to be more lenient than Stanford’s.) Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby has publicly stated that he wants every Stanford sports team to be among the best in the nation, and recently that edict has even extended to the football program. The past two seasons have shown that a school like Stanford — or Duke — can field a competitive football team, something that didn’t seem possible as recently as five years ago. Stanford has acted on that belief by rebuilding their stadium, upgrading practice facilities, recruiting relentlessly, and making a commitment to a coach we all hope will stay for quite a while. I’m not sure if Duke has done any of that yet.

BDN: With a top ten ranking and the Heisman favorite at quarterback, the Cardinal isn’t going to sneak up on any opponent. Which teams do you expect to be the toughest match ups for Stanford this season and why?

Last year was interesting. Those of us who watched the team week in and week out were rarely surprised when they won, but those who were getting beaten always seemed shocked. This year should be different, as Stanford will likely be favored in every game they play. That obviously guarantees nothing, however. If you’d asked me this question last week, I’d have told you I was worried about the back half of the schedule: USC, Oregon, and Notre Dame, plus a trap game at Oregon State in the middle of all that. This past Saturday, though, USC didn’t score a point in the second half and struggled to beat Minnesota at home, Oregon didn’t look themselves against LSU, Notre Dame lost at home to South Florida, and Oregon State lost to an FCS team. Even so, I’m guessing those teams will all put things together enough in the next couple months to present significant challenges for the Cardinal.

BDN: Despite putting up 57 points and 373 yards on former Duke DC Mike Macintyre and San Jose State, the Stanford coaches and players felt their offensive effort could have been better. What are the areas of concern, other than Andrew Luck diving all over the field?

This will sound strange, but if you watched the game, it definitely didn’t feel like a fifty-four-point win. San Jose State helped out a lot with a handful of turnovers, and the game was never in doubt, but the offense wasn’t as dominant as the score might indicate. Over the last two seasons Stanford fans had gotten used to watching their offensive line steamroll the opposition, but that didn’t happen on Saturday. Three starters from last year’s team are gone, and this new group wasn’t nearly as dominant, as the offense rushed for only 141 yards. The line will be under a microscope the rest of the way, and I’m especially interested to how they develop over the next few weeks.

BDN: After an inexcusable opening week loss to Richmond, the Blue Devils are reeling. What advice would you give Duke coaches, players and fans as they prepare for a top ten Stanford team? As a team with nothing to lose, how should they attack the Cardinal?

As Duke gets ready to face the Stanford offense, they should probably do their best to force the Cardinal to run. As detailed above, Stanford had a hard time running the ball last week. The problem with this, though, is that they’ll probably be spending this entire week working on the running game and will likely come out looking to establish the ground game. But if the Blue Devils can make the Stanford offense a bit one-dimensional, that would obviously be a good thing. As for the Stanford defense, that’s a more difficult proposition. The defensive line was dominant last weekend, almost completely shutting down the San Jose State running game, and the defensive backs were almost as good. In between are the linebackers, who are rapidly developing into one of the best units in the nation. You might not know Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas, but you’ll hear their names a lot on Saturday afternoon.

BDN: Stanford opened as a 22 point favorite on the road this Saturday; any chance you think Duke fans should take the points?

Only twenty-two points? That’s a trap. Look for the Cardinal to win by at least thirty.

BDN: Thanks for your insight, Hank. Good luck!

Duke will host a top-10 Stanford team in Wallace Wade Stadium on September 10

BDN previews Duke’s week 2 showdown with Andrew Luck and Stanford

Duke will host a top-10 Stanford team in Wallace Wade Stadium on September 10

Are you ready for some football, Blue Devil Nation? Ok, you’re fully immersed in our coverage of the Lebron James Skills Academy and Adidas Invitational. Or maybe you’re on your summer vacation. Either way, football season is fast approaching, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. So get on board! Season tickets are on sale now at GoDuke.com, or through the Duke Ticket Office at (919) 681-BLUE.

Over the next several weeks, BDN will team up with other college football insiders to preview the 2011 Duke schedule. We kicked off our series earlier this week with help from David Weissman of The Collegian to help with our Richmond preview. There’s no question that the season opener is a must-win game for the Blue Devils, and that game deserves the full attention of the players and staff. But as fans, we have the luxury of being able to look ahead to the marquee week 2 matchup with the Stanford Cardinal. We’ll have lots more to say about this game between now and September 10th, but let’s take a quick look at some of the story lines.

Duke and Stanford last met on the gridiron in 1972, and obviously a lot has changed with the two programs since that last meeting in Durham. Head Coach David Cutcliffe enters his fourth year at Duke in pursuit of the Blue Devils’ first bowl game since 1994, having infused energy and optimism into a long-dormant program. It wasn’t that long ago that the Cardinal found themselves in a similar position, coming off a 1-11 season in 2006. After Jim Harbaugh’s arrival in 2007, well, as they say, the rest is history. Stanford is now a consensus top 10 team, having dismantled ACC Champion Virginia Tech 40-12 in last year’s Orange Bowl. After Harbaugh’s departure for the NFL, the 2011 Cardinal team will be led by first year Head Coach David Shaw, and he’ll have Heisman favorite Andrew Luck leading the offense. In all, eleven starters return for Stanford, and they will open the season against former Duke Defensive Coordinator Mike Macintyre (and Simon Connette, younger brother of Duke QB Brandon Connette) and the San Jose State Spartans.

In 2010, Duke hosted a top-ranked Alabama team in September, which featured a defending Heisman trophy winner in Mark Ingram and had easily defeated San Jose State in their season opener. It’s easy to see the potential parallels between that matchup and the 2011 non-conference clash with Stanford, but Blue Devil fans are hopeful for a much better outcome. With this game against a ranked opponent being nationally televised on ESPNU, it could be a golden opportunity for Sean Renfree and the Blue Devils to announce themselves on the national scene. Though Luck and the Cardinal will be a formidable opponent, it should be an exciting game in a packed Wallace Wade Stadium between two of the nation’s most prestigious academic institutions.

To give us additional insight into the Stanford program, we are fortunate to have the help of Hank Waddles of GoMightyCard.com.

BDN: Many Duke fans point to Stanford’s success as proof that top academic schools can produce championship football programs. It’s hard to believe that the Cardinal were 1-11 just five seasons ago; to what do you attribute Stanford’s meteoric rise and success? How much confidence do fans have in new Head Coach David Shaw’s ability to continue that success?

I remember reading an article from a Duke perspective that made this same point some time around the Orange Bowl last January. The funny thing is that twenty years ago Stanford fans looked at Duke as proof that a university with a strong academic reputation could also field a competitive basketball team. When the Stanford football program was lost in the darkness of Buddy Teevens and Walt Harris, there were many who followed the team who felt as if the University had given up on the idea of fielding a winning football team. Even Bill Walsh felt that the stiff admissions requirements were too much to overcome. The arrival of Jim Harbaugh changed all that. That’s no deep analysis, but I don’t think it can be understated. Harbaugh took the job in 2006 because he believed he could win, and then he convinced everyone around him — the players, the coaches, the fans, and the athletic department — that it was possible. Belief is fine, but Harbaugh and his staff also did a great job bringing in players that could compete — and dominate — in the Pac-10. Harbaugh’s departure was a disappointment, but it wasn’t unexpected. David Shaw, I think, is the perfect man to replace him. A Stanford graduate himself, Shaw actually sees the University’s academic reputation as an advantage in recruiting, and the football department recently send a letter to all recruits detailing the financial returns of a Stanford degree as compared to other schools whose football teams are in the top 25. The media has made much of the idea that Stanford won’t be able to win without Harbaugh’s personality to drive the bus, but what they’re forgetting is that the 2011 roster is clearly – clearly — more talented than the team that we last saw running roughshod over Virginia Tech. Confidence is high.

BDN: Despite the departure of Head Coach Jim Harbaugh and with only 11 starters returning, expectations are still high for the Cardinal in 2011. What are the biggest question marks for this team as they head into training camp?

Any time a team loses a head coach — and loses quality coaches from the staff — that has to be a question, but as stated above, I think it’s a question the Cardinal will answer. As far as what we’ll see on the field, I’d say there are three main areas of concern. The defensive line will have to survive the loss of nose tackle Sione Fua, who was drafted by the Carolina Panthers. Behind the line, though, the linebacking corps is developing into one of the best units in the conference, if not the entire country, and the secondary is also a strength. On the offensive side of the ball, the biggest question is the offensive line, which lost three starters. The good news, though, is that the two who are returning were both All-Pac-10 selections. I think the line will be fine by the end of the season, but it will be interesting to see how well things will have come together for this matchup in the second week of the season. Finally, there are the wide receivers, which have been a question mark since last year. Chris Owusu could solve all this just by staying healthy, but it’s been quite a while since he’s played at full strength. Even if he is healthy, there is no true front runner for the second receiver. Hopefully someone will assert himself during training camp.

 

 

The Duke defense will have to find a way to slow Heisman favorite Andrew Luck and the Cardinal offense

 

BDN: QB Andrew Luck made the laudable decision to return to school for his senior year and obtain his degree. How much has Luck meant to the Stanford program? Do you think he can play much better than his 3338 yards, 70.7% completions, and 32 touchdowns from a year ago (in other words, does he have a weakness)?

The thing about Andrew Luck is that I actually don’t think people talk enough about how great he is. Even the very best college quarterbacks struggle at times. They miss wide open receivers, they throw head-scratching interceptions, they make terrible decisions, but Luck doesn’t do any of those things. (There is a weakness, though. As much as the coaching staff drills it into his head, he stubbornly refuses to step out of bounds on his scrambles, preferring to seek out the contact.) He really is the perfect quarterback, but his value to the team extends far beyond the numbers, and it will extend far beyond his time at Stanford. He accepted a scholarship offer to play for what at the time was a mediocre football team because he wanted a great education and because he believed that the team could eventually become a winner. What he’s done during his two years at quarterback is win twenty games, elevate Stanford football to a level never before seen, and stun the world by passing up the NFL’s millions. His next year will bring a Stanford degree, possibly a Heisman trophy, possibly a national championship, and… the NFL’s millions. I’m not sure whether or not Luck’s numbers can improve this year, but offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton issued a tongue-in-cheek challenge during Stanford’s spring workouts. He hoped that Luck would complete 100% of his passes this season. We’ll see.

BDN: Duke and Stanford last met in 1972 and have split the historical series 1-1. With the cross-country road trip and a relatively unknown opponent, what are your expectations or concerns for the week two match-up with the Blue Devils?

This isn’t new. In 2009 Stanford opened the season with a cupcake at home (Washington State) and then traveled across the country to play an ACC team in Week 2. That year it was Wake Forest, and it was kind of a disaster. The Cardinal looked good in the first half, but then everything went wrong in the second half, and the Demon Deacons rallied for a 24-17 victory. This year Stanford opens with the San Jose State Cupcakes, then travels east for the Duke game. The Cardinal should definitely win, but it’s never easy for a college team take a trip like this and come away with a victory. (This is why even teams from the powerful SEC rarely venture more than a hundred miles from home for non-conference games.) My biggest concern will be the offensive line. I’ll be interested to see how well they’re playing as a unit early in the season. If they’ve meshed, look out.

BDN: After watching Andrew Luck pick apart ACC Champion Virginia Tech in the BCS Orange Bowl, there’s no question Duke will have a tall task in trying to knock off the Cardinal. If you were an opposing coach, how would you try to contain Luck and the Cardinal offense? How would you attack the Stanford defense?

I bet that opposing coaches will initially think that the offensive line is a weakness, so they’ll drop extra guys into coverage and dare the Cardinal to run. There are two big problems with this. David Shaw has made it clear that Stanford will be a running team. (“We’ll get off the bus running power,” he has said.) Also, not too many teams in the country have a better running back tandem than junior Stepfan Taylor and sophomore Anthony Wilkerson. The second problem is that even if you drop extra men and only rush three or four, Luck will still pick you apart. If he has time, he’ll find the open receiver, even if you drop ten into coverage. He’s better than any college quarterback I’ve ever seen at looking to his second and third targets. I think you have to treat Andrew Luck like an NFL quarterback. If he’s comfortable in the pocket, he will destroy you, plain and simple. You have to blitz him on every single passing down and just hope that you’re able to get to him before he finds the open receiver. The problem with this, of course, is that he’s better than any college quarterback I’ve ever seen at reading defenses before the snap and identifying hot receivers, so the blitz better get there, and it better get there quickly. As for attacking the defense, the bad news is that San Jose State probably won’t give the Duke staff much to work off of. Because the line will be a potential weakness, I’d say the Blue Devils will have to try to run early and run often. If they can gain yardage on the ground, they’ll force the Cardinal defense to put away some of their usual blitzing schemes, simplifying things a bit for the offense, and the secret bonus will be that Luck will spend more time on the sideline than on the field, and that’s never a bad thing.

BDN: Thank you for your helpful insight, Hank!

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Next week: September 17, Duke at Boston College