Tag Archives: Austin Kelly

In just over a month, Duke and Richmond will kickoff the 2011 season under the lights in Wallace Wade Stadium

Football Friday, the extended version – previewing the Duke Offense

In just over a month, Duke and Richmond will kickoff the 2011 season under the lights in Wallace Wade Stadium

If you think football season is close, consider this: there is only one more Football Friday before Duke opens training camp. If that doesn’t get you excited, hopefully the rest of this column will. Early analysis suggests that this may be the longest Football Friday ever, so pace yourself!

No sales pitch this week. If you’re reading this, you already know how good BDN is. One other note: Duke football season tickets are still available, so if you haven’t got yours yet, time is running out. Away game tickets are also available, and we can say from experience that it’s a lot of fun to be part of the Duke faithful in watching a big Blue Devil road victory. Starting on August 1st, Duke will make single game home tickets available at GoDuke.

What happened?

I don’t know what else to say. Last weekend, all seemed well at the ACC Football Kickoff in Pinehurst. Though still somewhat hard to believe, Butch Davis continued to weather the storm and appeared poised to lead the Tar Heels in 2011. Then, Wednesday happened. For reasons that still remain unclear, Chancellor Holden Thorp fired Davis after a closed-door meeting with the Board of Trustees. Thursday, Athletic Director Dick Baddour announced that he will be stepping down as well, and the Tar Heels later tagged Defensive Coordinator Everett Withers as interim Head Coach. The timing of all this is puzzling, to say the least, and leaves the Tar Heel players, fans, and administration in a difficult position. In addition to the financial costs associated with Coach Davis’ termination, the Tar Heels will now have to pay off their stadium improvements. With many players, fans and boosters upset with the handling of the football scandal for one reason or another, UNC is certainly in an unenviable position. We could spend all Football Friday talking about the scandal and these recent developments, but we’ll just highlight two points:

  1. First, in the current climate of NCAA athletics, let’s be thankful for those who do things the right way. Duke is fortunate to be led by good people who want to win, and want to do it honestly. Thank you to Coach Krzyzewski, Coach Cutcliffe, Dr. Kevin White and Dr. Richard Brodhead for their outstanding character and dedication to Duke University. Every program has problems, but the Blue Devils’ leadership has handled these situations appropriately, consistently, and with class. And thank you to all of the coaches and administrators throughout the NCAA who continue to improve the lives of thousands of student-athletes and uphold the integrity of college athletics.
  2. Those responsible should be held accountable for the egregious transgressions within the North Carolina football program, athletic department, and academic administration. It appears that this is finally being done, and one could argue that there is no wrong time to do the right thing. That being said, this puts the football program in a difficult position, and while it may be difficult for any Duke fan to say something nice about a Tar Heel, we all want what’s best for the ACC and the student-athletes. We want to see the ACC become a more competitive football conference, and we want to see programs win the right way. Hopefully, the Tar Heels will eventually arise from this scandal as a better program and a more respectable member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

    Duke's Brandon Harper signed a free agent contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars this week

Congratulations to Duke’s Brandon Harper

With the NFL lockout finally over, Duke’s Brandon Harper was the first former Blue Devil to earn an opportunity as a professional, signing a free agent contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. BDN wishes the best of luck to Brandon and all of the Blue Devil alumni pursuing their NFL dreams!

Dondo Files, episode 4

Duke senior receiver Donovan Varner has started a video blog, the Dondo Files, and released episode 4 this week. He has great messages for young players and fans about hard work and achieving your goals. This week, he discusses being able to take constructive criticism. With that in mind, how about more than 1 touchdown this year, Donovan? In all seriousness, though, we’re looking forward to a big year from the senior receiver and are proud to have him as a role model for young Blue Devils and players everywhere.

BDN previews continue

We hope you’re enjoying our week-by-week preview of Duke’s 2011 opponents. This week, we wrapped up Duke’s first half of the season with Tulane and Florida International, two important, but tough, games for the Blue Devils to win. After the off week, Duke will face yet another top 10 opponent in Wallace Wade Stadium as the ACC-favorite Florida State Seminoles invade Durham. Check back next week for a look at FSU along with Duke’s week 8 opponent, Wake Forest.

Last week, we took a look around the Atlantic Coast Conference, and our predictions weren’t too terribly out of line with the rest of the ACC media. The Blue Devils landed two players on the preseason All-ACC team in WR Conner Vernon and K Will Synderwine. Now that we got the ACC predictions out of the way, let’s take an in-depth look at the team that really matters – the Blue Devils. There are high hopes for a bowl game in 2011, and a lot of that may depend on how good the Duke defense can be, but the reality is that the Duke offense will have to carry this team for much of the season. For that reason, we kickoff our 2011 Duke Football Team Preview with a look at the high-flying Blue Devils’ offense. If this unit lives up to expectations, there should be plenty of excitement in Wallace Wade Stadium this fall.

Duke QB Sean Renfree is ready to lead the 2011 Blue Devils Offense

BDN Duke Football 2011 Team Preview: Offense

With considerable youth and inexperience on defense, the 2011 Duke Football team will rely on a veteran offense that finished 2nd in the ACC in passing offense and 7th in total offense a year ago. While the Duke offense showed flashes of dominance in 2010, there will need to be dramatic improvements across the board if the Blue Devils hope to make a bowl in 2011.

Quarterback

Losses: none

Key returners: Sean Renfree (R-Jr.), Brandon Connette (So.)

Newcomers: Anthony Boone (R-Fr.)

2010 Review: In his first year as a starter, Sean Renfree showed glimpses of his potential, but overall was inconsistent in leading the Duke offense. In particular, Renfree struggled with turnovers, finishing the season with an ACC-high 17 interceptions. Coming off of season-ending knee surgery in 2009, Renfree’s mobility appeared to be limited at times, particularly early in the season. More importantly, and not unexpectedly, the redshirt-sophomore struggled with his confidence throughout the season, especially on the heels of Duke’s embarrassing loss to Alabama. Despite the struggles, it wasn’t all bad for Renfree. He led the Blue Devils to three wins, finished third in the ACC with 3,131 total yards and completed 61.4% of his passes, including a midseason stretch of 16 consecutive completions and 28/30 completions against Navy, both school records. The 3,131 yards were the 3rd highest total in Duke history and helped to earn him the Carmen Falcone Award as Duke’s Most Valuable Player. The biggest area for Renfree to improve is certainly turnovers, and he demonstrated tremendous growth throughout the 2010 season. After throwing 15 interceptions in the first 7 games of the season, Renfree finished the season with just 2 interceptions in the Blue Devils’ final 5 contests.

In 2010, dual-threat QB Brandon Connette served as Renfree’s primary back-up and earned significant playing time with his legs. Connette set a Duke freshman record with 8 rushing touchdowns and finished the year with 321 yards on 78 carries. He struggled to move the ball through the air when called upon, finishing just 10/22 with 2 interceptions.

2011 Outlook: Simply put, the Duke offense will rely heavily on the play of Sean Renfree. If Renfree is unable to significantly reduce his turnovers, the Blue Devils will not be bowling in 2011. Now nearly two years removed from knee surgery and with a year of starting experience under his belt, Renfree’s mobility and confidence should be drastically improved from this time last year. With three of his top four receivers returning, along with 4 of 5 offensive line starters, Renfree will be surrounded by familiar faces and will be counted on to lead the Blue Devil offense. While there is no doubt within the Duke program that Renfree is the clear starter, he will continue to be pushed by a sophomore Connette and redshirt-freshman Anthony Boone, which should only help the Duke offense. Reports from spring practice were overwhelmingly positive for all three quarterbacks and for Renfree in particular. Coach Cutcliffe has anointed Renfree as the best returning quarterback in the ACC in 2011, and believe he is poised to have a “special” season. If the Blue Devils plan on playing in December or January, he will have to play like the best quarterback in the conference.

 

Coach Cutcliffe has senior Donovan Varner and the Blue Devils expecting to win in 2011-GoDuke, Duke Photography

Wide Receiver

Losses: Austin Kelly

Key returners: Conner Vernon (Jr.), Donovan Varner (Sr.), Brandon Braxton (So.), Tyree Watkins (R-So.), Corey Gattis (R-So.)

Newcomers: Jamison Crowder (Fr.), Blair Holliday (Fr.), Nick Hill (Fr.)

2010 Review:  As you might expect, the performance of Duke’s wide receivers mirrored the ups and downs of QB Sean Renfree. Overall, Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon make up one of, if not the, top receiving tandem in college football. After his All-ACC campaign in 2009, Varner became just the 2nd Duke receiver to post back-to-back 60-reception seasons, finishing 2010 with 60 catches for 736 yards and 1 touchdown. After a breakout freshman season that earned him freshman All-American honors, Vernon topped his 2009 campaign with 73 catches for 946 yards and 4 touchdowns. The duo of Varner and Vernon partnered with senior Austin Kelly to form the top receiving trio in Duke history in 2010. Kelly battled injuries throughout his senior year, but still finished tied for the team lead with 4 touchdown catches. Outside of the top three, Duke’s younger receivers had an inconsistent 2010. After a good spring, freshman Brandon Braxton had an up and down season in his first year of college football, playing in 11 games and starting 5. Braxton finished 2010 with 14 catches and 1 touchdown; however, of those 14 receptions, 8 went for a Duke first down. Overall, fans should be excited with his potential and can pencil him in as the third starter alongside Varner and Vernon in 2011 after a strong offseason. Redshirt-freshmen Corey Gattis and Tyree Watkins saw the field sparingly in their first year of college eligibility.

2011 Outlook: Despite the loss of Kelly, Duke’s third-leading receiver in 2010, expectations are extremely high for the 2011 Duke receiving corps. Led by upperclassmen Varner and Vernon, this should be one of the top receiving units in the country. As good as Duke’s receivers were in 2010, they will need to be better in 2011, particularly in finding their way to the end zone and securing passes (not all of Dukes 2010 turnover troubles can be blamed on the QB). Expected improvements in the Duke running game should open up big play possibilities for Duke’s receivers, allowing them to eclipse their previous career highs. With Varner and Vernon likely to draw significant attention from opposing defenses, the opportunities will be there for Duke’s young receivers to step up and make plays. Braxton will get the first shot as the third starter at receiver, and is beginning to develop good chemistry with Renfree. Expect Braxton, Watkins, and Gattis to show dramatic improvement over 2010, and they should be pushed by true freshmen Blair Holliday and Nick Hill for playing time. The athletic ability of freshman Jamison Crowder will be hard to keep off the field, and he may find some time at slot receiver in certain offensive sets. Led by two determined, dynamic upperclassmen, this group has the potential to be the best in the ACC.

 

Senior Cooper Helfet will lead the Blue Devils' Tight Ends in 2011 - Rick Crank, BDN Photo

Tight End

Losses: Brett Huffman, Brandon King

Key returners: Danny Parker (R-Sr.), Cooper Helfet (Sr.), Jack Farrell (R-So.)

Newcomers: Braxton Deaver (R-Fr.), David Reeves (Fr.)

2010 Review: For the past several years, the Duke tight end position has been led by two warriors in Brett Huffman and Brandon King. Seemingly always injured, it took a lot to keep them off the field. With some struggles along the offensive line, Huffman and King were called upon to aid the Blue Devils’ blockers for much of their careers, and did so admirably. The Duke staff likes to move the tight end around in their offense, and the versatility of Huffman and King allowed them to thrive in multiple roles. While Huffman and King assumed roles as the unheralded warriors of the Duke offense, junior college transfer Cooper Helfet emerged as another potent weapon in Sean Renfree’s arsenal. After struggling with an ankle injury early in the season, Helfet finished the year with at least 4 catches in Duke’s final 5 games, leading the team in receiving in two contests and earning two ACC Player of the Week honors.

2011 Outlook: Huffman and King will not be easily replaced in the Duke offense, but with two seniors and a talented group of young players, the tight end should remain a strength for the 2011 Blue Devils. Helfet appears poised for a breakout senior campaign and will be joined by redshirt-senior Danny Parker, who redshirted in 2010 after seeing 232 snaps as a junior in 2009. Redshirt-freshman Braxton Deaver should be ready to contribute in his first season of college eligibility and true freshman David Reeves may be too good to keep off the field in his first year in Durham. The concern for this group will be replacing the blocking of Huffman and King, but their receiving numbers should improve over 2010.

 

Desmond Scott leads an improved Blue Devil running game

Running back

Losses: none

Key returners: Jay Hollingworth (Sr.), Patrick Kurunuwe (R-Jr.), Desmond Scott (Jr.), Josh Snead (So.), Juwan Thompson (So.)

Newcomers: none

2010 Review: The 2010 Duke running game had nowhere to go but up, finishing last in the FBS in rushing in 2009. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the Blue Devils took significant steps forward in 2010, increasing their rushing averages by 46.5 yards per game and adding 13 more touchdowns on the ground from 2009. Still, Duke finished last in the ACC in rushing and 104th in the country in 2011. Desmond Scott led the Blue Devils in rushing for the second straight season, finishing with 549 yards and a 4.4 yards per carry average. Scott established himself as Duke’s best all-around back and endeared himself to the Duke faithful with his game-winning touchdown dive against Virginia. Freshman Josh Snead showed flashes of his ability before injuries interrupted his season, but still finished with a team-best 4.9 yards per carry. Fellow freshman Juwan Thompson saw his offensive role increase as he adjusted to the college game, but was primarily limited to kick return duty. Junior Jay Hollingsworth came on strong late in the season, igniting the Duke offense with impressive 2nd half runs against Miami. Redshirt-sophomore Patrick Kurunuwe saw limited action on offense and special teams.

2011 Outlook: Duke returns all of their running backs in 2011, along with four of five starters along the offensive line. While blocking may be partly to blame for Duke’s struggles in the running game, Duke’s rushers must continue to improve their vision, burst, and strength. Improved confidence could go a long way to improving Duke’s running, as some of Duke’s best runs in 2010 appeared to come when the Blue Devil backs were “running with a purpose.” Scott has emerged as the face of Duke’s running game, and must become a consistent threat both on the ground and through the air for the Duke offense. While Scott is likely to again see the majority of carries, Duke’s depth at running back means that there will be significant competition for snaps in training camp and throughout the season, which should force this group to continue to improve. Snead and Thompson should take a big step forward in their second year of college football, and the overall depth at running back should allow Duke to do a better job wearing down opposing defenses. Thompson, in particular, appears poised to be a breakout candidate for the Duke offense. While no one should expect Duke to become a great running team overnight, the pieces are there for the Blue Devils to continue to improve on the ground, open things up in the passing game, and keep opposing offenses off the field.

 

Brian Moore will slide to center and anchor the Duke offensive line in 2011-GoDuke Photo

Offensive Line

Losses: Bryan Morgan, Brandon Harper, Mitchell Lederman

Key returners: Kyle Hill (R-Sr.), Jon Needham (R-Sr.), Brian Moore (R-Jr.), Conor Irwin (R-Jr.), Dave Harding (R-So.), John Coleman (R-So.), Perry Simmons (R-So.)

Newcomers: Takoby Cofield (R-Fr.), Laken Tomlinson (R-Fr.), Marcus Aprahamian (Fr.), Lucas Patrick (Fr.), Cody Robinson (Fr.), Matt Skura (Fr.)

2010 Review: After watching Thaddeus Lewis play under seemingly constant pressure for four years, the Duke offensive line appeared to take a step forward in 2010. The group struggled again in run-blocking, but finished near the top of the ACC in sacks allowed per pass attempt. Morgan, though undersized, was the anchor up front, starting at center for 36 consecutive games. With little depth, the offensive line was asked to play through injury in 2010. For many weeks, Duke’s starters sat out practice but suited up on Saturday. That warrior mentality showed through on the field, as Duke improved their rushing by 46.5 yards per game, and the line successfully protected their first-year QB coming off knee surgery (25 sacks allowed, only 5.1% of dropbacks).

2011 Outlook: Of all the position groups on the Duke offense, the offensive line appears the most ready to take a big step forward in 2011. That being said, this group loses seniors Morgan and Harper and will need to continue to work hard and produce results on the field. Duke’s starting offensive line is expected to average close to 290 pounds in 2011, and that increased size and strength should help in both pass and run blocking.  For the first time since Coach Cutcliffe’s arrival in Durham, the Blue Devils will be able to go two-deep across the offensive line without significant drop-off. In fact, there should be interesting position battles in training camp at right tackle and right guard, where redshirt-freshmen Takoby Cofield and Laken Tomlinson will push Perry Simmons and John Coleman for snaps. A talented group of freshmen offensive linemen should help solidify the position for the next several years and could see the field in the event of a significant injury. For the first time in several years, Duke has multiple NFL prospects among their offensive linemen, led by Brian Moore, Kyle Hill, Laken Tomlinson, Takoby Cofield, and Cody Robinson. Overall, the size, skill, and depth has improved, but this group will need to produce results on the field for the Duke offense to realize its full potential.

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Recruiting updates

There’s more? Sure, why not? To reward our loyal members, let’s take a quick look at where Duke stands with a few uncommitted 2012 prospects:

Mallard Creek RB Jela Duncan is Duke's top remaining priority in the class of 2012

Running back: Jela Duncan is the guy here, and Duke would love to try and secure a commitment from him soon, though he seems content to wait out other offers. Earlier this week, we took a look at possible destinations for the Mallard Creek star, and the smart money is still on the Blue Devils here, whether it’s sooner or later. There’s no telling what will happen with North Carolina, but they remain in play for a few other backs, and with scholarship restrictions on the horizon, new offers will be few and far between. Scholarships are also scarce at South Carolina, another potential competitor for Duncan’s services. As for his current offers, Duncan hasn’t shown a lot of interest in Pittsburgh, Purdue, or Wake Forest up to this point. Some other prospects to keep an eye on include Dondre Brown, Jamie Gilmore, and Chris Mangus, but Duncan is the clear priority.

Braddock HS OL Robert Conyers recently visited Duke

Best available: Outside of running back, the Duke coaching staff feels very good about the class of 2012 and will be in a position to take the best available players with their last 2 or 3 scholarships. In the past week, Duke has hosted OL Robert Conyers and ATH Ryan Janvion, and it looks like a good bet that the Blue Devils will find themselves among the finalists for both of those Florida prospects.

In addition, we’ve long reported Duke’s interest in Korren Kirven, but they face a huge uphill battle against his in-state ACC schools and several top SEC programs. Kirven is expected to narrow his list soon, and it would be nice for the Blue Devils to make the cut, but there are no guarantees. Elsewhere along the defensive line, Duke is still very much in it for Alabama standout Torey Agee, and will likely be a finalist along with Vanderbilt. BDN’s thinking is that Auburn or Georgia Tech would jump to the lead for Agee, if they were to offer. Duke is a longer shot for Greensboro’s D.J. Reader, who plans to play both football and baseball in college. With the academic requirements at Duke, it takes a very dedicated student-athlete to balance classes along with two sports.

Duke has been the leader for top in-state linebacker Keilin Rayner, but something has kept him from pulling the trigger for the Blue Devils so far. He’s been busy on the camp circuit this summer, and we’ll see where things stand with him soon. It appears that other schools have closed the gap, but Duke is still in the running for his services and a good start in September could help the Blue Devils’ chances. Florida athlete Marcus Allen is another intriguing prospect who looks like a good fit in Durham with his success in the classroom and on the field, but with a Florida State offer in hand, it may be tough to pull him out of the sunshine state. California LB Jeremiah Allison is another star student-athlete who seems to fit the Duke mold, and if the Blue Devils can maybe get him on campus for an official visit, they could become a serious contender in his recruitment.

As always, BDN will keep you posted with new developments. By securing a solid 2012 recruiting class early in the summer, the Duke coaching staff has been able to get a head start on evaluating the class of 2013, and we’ll slowly start to introduce members to some of the early targets as we head into the fall.

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Ok, seriously, I can’t write any more, and I bet your eyes hurt if you’ve made it this far. So next week, Duke defense preview time. Until then, WE ARE DUKE.

Best of luck to Abraham Kromah and the rest of Duke's NFL hopefuls this week. -Lance King Images

Football Friday: the book light that comes with your Snuggie

If you haven’t joined BDN Premium yet, you don’t know what you’re missing. My wit and insight alone are worth the price of admission. Well, not really. It’s more like you get all of watzone’s scoop, Andrew Slater’s recruiting analysis, a great Duke message board community, and then my column is that last add-on in the infomercial that they throw in to close the deal.  I’m the booklight that comes with your Snuggie. But seriously, it’s April and I can’t find a way to keep these columns any shorter. I guess that’s a good thing, as it means there’s still a lot of activity around Duke football. Thanks for joining us for another thrilling installment of BDN’s Football Friday. [private]

Sorry about the title, I thought it was a good line, until I realized well, it’s not. Oh well, let’s see you come up with something better.

Best of luck to Abraham Kromah and the rest of Duke's NFL hopefuls this week. -Lance King Images

 

Tyree Glover dismissed from program

This is old news now, but Tyree Glover was arrested on Tuesday in Durham and charged with trafficking cocaine. After a search of his dorm room, he was also found to be in possession of marijuana and was held in jail in lieu of $750,000 bond. Legal experts would know better, but I believe the trafficking charge for the amount of cocaine he possessed is a class G felony, which carries a maximum sentence of 42 months in prison and $50,000 fine. As would be expected, Coach Cutcliffe acted swiftly in dismissing Tyree from the program for “conduct unbecoming of a member of the program.” As a sophomore, Glover played in 11 games for Duke and started the September game at Wake Forest. It’s an unfortunate development for the program, both as a knock on Duke’s reputation and a loss of depth at linebacker. While I hate to try and find a bright side in situations like this, Glover’s dismissal will open up another scholarship this fall, which could certainly help with only 12 players in their final year of eligibility. Though his serious lack of judgment is indefensible, we all certainly hope that Tyree is able to turn things around for himself.

NFL Draft set for Thursday

The Blue Devils sent four players to the NFL in 2010, though none were taken in the NFL Draft. Duke has several NFL hopefuls again this year, and the Blue Devil Nation will be pulling to hear their names called on Thursday. At Duke’s annual Pro Day, DE Patrick Egboh, OG Brandon Harper, TE Brett Huffman, WR Austin Kelly, TE Brandon King, LB Abraham Kromah, CB Chris Rwabukamba, and LB Damian Thornton worked out for NFL scouts, and a few have had additional workout invites in recent weeks. In all likelihood, the Duke seniors may have to work their way into the league again this year via the free agent and training camp invite routes. Next to winning games, establishing players in the NFL is essential to help the Blue Devils recruit elite athletes.

Spring practices wrap up this weekend

The last of ACC spring practices will wrap up this weekend, and the ACC coaches held their spring conference call earlier this week. Since we toured around the ACC in last week’s Football Friday, we won’t do it again. Much of what we discussed last week still holds true: QB battle will head into August in Miami, Virginia Tech expects David Wilson to be very good, etc. Boston College expects to have Montel Harris back for the fall, but he was held out of their spring game for precautionary reasons, so we’ll keep an eye on his health as we head towards September.

As for Duke, Coach Cutcliffe didn’t have much to add, given that Duke wrapped up spring practice nearly a month ago. He reiterated the team’s youth, especially along the defensive front, where 10 of 15 players are underclassmen. He’s excited about the speed on defense and thinks that Coach Knowles did a good job with personnel assignments this spring, which we can only hope will continue into the fall. We’re all excited to see this Duke offense, as it has the potential to be great with an improved and consistent running game, along with three competent quarterback options.

But back to the defensive front, as that’s what makes me lose sleep at night. Coach Cutcliffe reiterated that he hopes to play up to 9 guys along the defensive front, which is an interesting concept. When was the last time Duke had that many ACC caliber defensive linemen? Are there teams that routinely use that many players along the defensive front? Of course, any team with decent depth rotates guys in and out, but I get the impression that Cutcliffe hopes to have 8 or 9 guys who play significant snaps each game. It’s really an intriguing strategy, given the group of players Duke currently has. With so many young first or second-year players up front, and with no clear-cut All-ACC caliber player(s), why not try to get 20-30 good snaps out of each guy? The most obvious benefit is that it will hopefully keep the unit fresh for late in games, but it also reduces the amount of pressure on each individual player. I’m sure there’s both advantages and disadvantages to this potential rotation, but I’m interested to hear your thoughts (message board, anyone?).

Recruiting updates

As you might imagine, we haven’t heard much from the Duke staff this week, as the assistants have been on the recruiting trail. With the opening of the spring evaluation period last Friday, Coach Cutcliffe and the staff made calls to many of the high priority recruits to re-affirm Duke’s interest. It never hurts to be the first coach in a prospect’s ear, and Duke hopes it will pay dividends with some spring and summer commitments. Speaking of commitments, Coach Cutcliffe has mentioned his desire to have the class of 2012 essentially set by the start of the season, which some fans may have concerns about (the author included). We all know that many elite prospects, whether in basketball or football, tend to drag their recruitment out until the last possible minute. If Duke fills up its scholarships in August, it doesn’t leave much room for the January or February commitments. With a small class this fall, Duke doesn’t have a lot of margin for error, so it does make sense for the Blue Devils to try to secure the majority of their class by the fall. I don’t think Duke will be done with recruiting before the season, but it would be nice if they can get their commitment list into the double digits, hopefully leaving the remaining scholarships for some late-deciding elite talent. As we say on the message boards, just my .02.

So last week I name-dropped all over the place with recruiting, but none of it was very Watzonian. There’s so many names in football recruiting and things change so quickly, it’s hard to keep up. Trust me, I know. You talk to a kid from Oregon and he tells you he plans to take some officials in the fall before he makes a decision and then two days later he commits. No names, of course. Anyway, who are some of the players that Duke seems to have a good chance with at this point in the process? Let’s take a look:

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

 

QB: With only one offer extended so far, Duke seems to think they have a good chance with Bilal Marshall, and that seems like a reasonable assumption as this point. When we last heard from him, he was favoring Wake Forest, mostly because they were the first to offer and the only school he had really visited to date. That remains the case, though he is mostly wide open. The hope is that Duke can get Marshall on campus this summer, perhaps for Coach Cutcliffe’s QB College, and then go from there. This is a situation not unlike basketball, where if Duke loses out on Marshall, they could have a lot of ground to make up with some of the other QB prospects. That being said, the chance to play for the mentor of Peyton and Eli Manning is still pretty attractive. With the play of Connette and Boone this spring, it’s also not a requirement that Duke takes a QB in this class.

RB: If I said it’s not a requirement that Duke takes a QB in this class, then I have to say that it is a requirement to take at least one RB in this class. So I think we’ve established that Keith Marshall is a long shot, and I would add that Dami Ayoola and Nick Tompkins might be as well, since both already have double digit offers. We heard from Dontonio Jordan and Todd Gurley this week that Duke remains in the mix for them, and there’s still a long way to go in both of their recruitments. As for the South Carolina prospects, Duke is Dondre Brown’s only offer to date, while Jay Jay McCullough has an offer from in-state Clemson, which might be tough for any school to overcome, but we’ll hear from him tomorrow.

WR: This is a tough group to really evaluate, as several have yet to visit Duke’s campus, which is never a good omen, though a few are from the West Coast, which makes it more understandable. We’ll hear from Justin Johnson over the weekend, and Duke is very much in the mix for his services. Of those on the East Coast, we’ll also hear from Jared Crump this weekend, and P.J. Harris and Desmond Frye are recent Duke offers.

TE: Duke remains in the mix for Dan Beilinson and already has a commitment from Erich Schneider.

OL: Duke has made a good impression on Andrew Jelks, Eric Olson, and Max Tuerk. In fact, I just heard from Eric that he will be on campus this weekend in Durham. Don’t get excited about D.J. Humphries. I’m working on hearing from some of the new OL names.

DT Korren Kirven sounded impressed with Duke, UVA, and VT

 

DL: D.J. Reader and Carlos Wray have made multiple visits to Durham, and Duke has impressed Korren Kirven and Matt Godin, though Godin is a lifelong Michigan fan with a Wolverines offer. We’ll hear from Sheldon Rankins and Nigel Williams this weekend, two other good looking prospects with Duke offers, who appear to have some interest in the Blue Devils.

LB: Deion Williams and Keilin Rayner are at the top of the list and both have Duke near the top of theirs at this point in the process. Would be nice to get one of these guys on board soon.

DB: Dwayne Norman will be making a decision this spring and it looks like it is down to Duke and South Carolina. Derek Jones has a good relationship with Miami’s Larry Hope. Duke was among the first to offer MarQuise Jones, Albert Reid, and Jonavaughn Williams. Would also be nice to get a DB on board soon.

Kicker: I didn’t mention this last week, but I see that it’s up on another site, so I’ll address it. Duke will, in all likelihood, need to take a placekicker in the class of 2012. Two in-state players, Paul Griggs and Brad Pinion, have both visited Duke and like the Blue Devils. With few scholarships available, it would be nice to be able to find a walk-on kicker, but it may be necessary to offer a scholarship in order to get an elite one. We’ll also have to see exactly where Will Monday is with his placekicking when he gets on campus this fall. Monday is expected to challenge Alex King for the starting punter job.

As you can see, the potential is there for Duke to put together a really good class in 2012, with almost all of the prospects mentioned likely to be rated as three starts or higher. The next few months are the critical period, as Duke will look to close out the recruitment with some of these players and receive commitments before the start of their senior year. We’ll do our best to stay on top of football recruiting and bring you the best, most efficient coverage around. Feel free to jump in with your thoughts, questions, etc. on the message board. Until next week, WE ARE DUKE.

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Best of luck to Abraham Kromah and the rest of Duke's NFL hopefuls this week. -Lance King Images

Football Friday evokes spring break memories

March Madness is in full swing as Duke takes the court tonight in the ACC quarterfinals against Maryland. Is it just us, or do you also find that the weeks in March go a lot faster than the rest of the year? It probably has something to do with conference tournaments streaming on television and online nearly 24 hours a day. While productivity in offices and schools across the country plummets, we’re as busy as ever at BDN. There’s no better time to join BDN premium than March, as Mark Watson follows the Blue Devils every step of the way in their quest for ACC and NCAA championships. Now that we’ve got you hyped for basketball, here’s this week’s Football Friday. [private]

Welcome back, loyal readers. And I do mean loyal. If you’re reading a Football Friday column in the middle of the ACC tournament, well, it doesn’t get much more loyal than that. Mille grazie. Yes, Cacchio is an Italian name.

The Blue Devils are on spring break!

Duke is on spring break

Ah, spring break. Fond memories, right? Where did the time go? Anyway, the Duke football team is off this week for spring break, and many of the players are taking advantage in warm, sunny locations, from South Beach to the Caribbean all the way to the California coast. Personally, I think they’ve earned it, from the early morning February practices to the late-night November film sessions. Student-athletes miss out on many aspects of the typical college experience due to their extracurricular commitments, but this week, the Duke football team gets to join in the revelry. Safe travels to all and we all look forward to getting back to work on Wednesday morning.

ACC spring football kicking off

Miami and Clemson hit the field for spring practice this week. Both programs

Al Golden is shaking things up at "The U" this spring

have question marks at the quarterback position, where Clemson will be breaking in first-year starter Tajh Boyd, while Miami appears to have a true QB controversy on their hands. New Head Coach Al Golden ruffled some feathers with his spring depth chart, placing many of last year’s starters near the bottom in an effort to challenge his team this spring. Most surprising may have been at the QB position, where he placed rising senior Spencer Whipple ahead of last year’s starters Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris. Next week, spring practice will kick off at Boston College, NC State, Wake Forest, Virginia, and North Carolina.

Speaking of the Tar Heels…

While many in Chapel Hill may still be in denial, we’re all aware that there have been some issues with the Tar Heel football program. Unfortunately NCAA violations are more common than we would like to think in college sports today (see Auburn, Baylor, Ohio State, Tennessee, USC, etc.), but I think there may be an even bigger issue here, and that is the double standard that appears to exist for coaches and players. Ohio State players are suspended for five games, while Jim Tressel is suspended for two. UNC players are held out of several games, some for the entire season, while the coaching staff denies accountability.

DL Delvon Simmons has asked UNC for a release from his NLI

This double standard doesn’t only arise when NCAA violations are uncovered. Coaches are allowed to up and leave programs without penalty, while players must go through a tedious transfer process and are usually required to sit out an entire year. A perfect example is the revolving door that has been the UNC Defensive Line Coach for the past few months. John Blake, implicated in the Gary Wichard scandal, resigned in September. Charlie Coiner was appointed to replace Blake, but was then replaced by Brian Baker in January. Baker worked to make sure UNC was able to sign top defensive line prospects Devonte Brown, Delvon Simmons, Shawn Underwood,  and Sylvester Williams (who enrolled in January)  in their class of 2011. Just after National Signing Day, Baker left the Tar Heels for a position with the Dallas Cowboys. UNC has since brought in Joe Robinson from LSU, giving them a total of four DL coaches since the start of the 2010 season. Now, top recruit Delvon Simmons has asked for his release from his letter of intent, and there appears to be some controversy. While the coaches were able to leave without penalty, Simmons must wait to hear whether UNC will grant him a full release, a conditional release, or hold him to his letter of intent. The situation is puzzling, even for the wild world of football recruiting. For starters, Simmons never took an official visit to Chapel Hill and did not have an in-home visit with the Tar Heel coaches. Stay tuned. The bottom line is that these coaches should be held to the same commitments and standards as their players.

Duke prepares to host Pro Day

Duke will graduate another group of outstanding seniors this year, as the

Lance King Images

program continues to build on the field while maintaining the program’s tradition of academic excellence. NFL scouts will be on hand in Wallace Wade Stadium on March 22 to take in workouts of Blue Devil seniors. Duke graduates 19 letterman this year, including starters Patrick Egboh, Brandon Harper, Brett Huffman, Austin Kelly, Brandon King, Abraham Kromah, Wes Oglesby, Chris Rwabukamba, and Damian Thornton. Best of luck to all the Duke seniors as they pursue careers in football and other fields!

Recruiting slowly starting to pick up

Lutheran (CA) LB Deion Williams will visit for Duke's spring game

Over the past week or so, recruiting has started to heat up around the country, as players and coaches assess each other’s interest. Duke hosted two junior days and entertained well over 100 recruits from the class of 2012; a few other prospects have visited Durham to take in spring practice. A handful of Duke prospects have already pledged their verbal commitments to rival ACC schools, including LB Sha’Keel Rashad to UNC, OL Mike Madaras to Maryland, QB Gray Crow to Miami, and OL Joel Suggs to Wake Forest. Hooker and Madaras both held verbal offers from Duke. The Blue Devil staff will keep an eye on these prospects, as decommitments are all too common in college football recruiting, but will focus their efforts on hundreds of other prospects, trying to find the best players for the Duke program.

The next big recruiting milestone for the Blue Devils will come on March 26, as the program hosts a number of prospects for their spring game, which is set for a 3 PM kickoff. We’ll have a full list of attendees as we get closer, but BDN has already learned that California LB Deion Williams will fly in for the weekend. Williams holds a Duke offer and is very high on the Blue Devils early in his recruitment. It’s important to note that all of these spring visits are unofficial visits, meaning that prospects must pay for their own expenses. It’s a sign of serious interest that players like Bart Houston and Deion Williams are making the trip across the country to learn more about the Duke program. I expect Duke’s recruiting to really take off in June, as Duke will host a series of camps for high school players, including Coach Cutcliffe’s QB College, which will allow the Duke coaches to evaluate prospects firsthand.

Let’s Go Duke

Thanks again for reading. Please feel free to join in on our football message board; we welcome Duke football fans of all opinions, shapes, and sizes. Until next week, you may now return to March Madness. Show your Duke pride and support the Blue Devils as they begin their championship quest tonight in Greensboro. We are Duke!

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Stats Update: Sean Renfree has record setting performance in win over Navy

Sean Renfree (right) and Conner Vernon (left) were key performers in Duke's win over Navy.
Duke beat Navy 34-31 on the strength of a record setting performance by Sean Renfree and a strong first half by the entire offense; however, the defense played great and acknowledging true freshman linebacker Kelby Brown’s 12 tackles, along with Abraham Kromah’s 11 tackles, and Matt Daniel’s huge tackle on 4th down is appropriate. The defense dominated Navy for three quarters and provided many key performances in the victory.

The Top 8 Statistics in Duke’s Win over Navy:

1. Sean Renfree set a single game pass completion percentage record with his 28-30 (93.3%) performance. Renfree didn’t set just a new Duke record or an ACC record, he set a new NCAA record, for games with a minimum of 30 passes thrown, by besting Steve Sarkisian’s 31-34 (91.2%) performance for BYU against Fresno State on November 25, 1995.

2. Zero turnovers for the Blue Devils. Multiple turnovers doomed Duke in losses against Wake Forest (four), Army (Five) and Miami (seven). The importance of not turning the ball over cannot be overstated. Entering the game, Navy was ranked tied for fourth nationally in turnover margin, while Duke was ranked 119th.

3. Two for two on onside kick recoveries. Navy attempted two onside kicks in the 4th quarter but first Conner Vernon and then Cooper Helfet foiled Navy’s attempts by successfully catching the ball for the Blue Devils. Navy’s offense was hitting on all eight cylinders in the 4th quarter and these two key plays by Vernon and Helfet prevented the Midshipmen from gaining extra possessions.

4. Duke’s vaunted receiving corps earned their accolades: five receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown by Conner Vernon, seven receptions for 69 yards by Cooper Helfet, five receptions for 57 yards by Donovan Varner, five receptions for 49 yards by Desmond Scott, four receptions for 23 yards by Austin Kelly and two receptions for 26 yards by Brandon Braxton. Fifteen of Duke’s 21 first downs were achieved on pass receptions.

5. The defense dominated Navy’s triple option offense until the 4th quarter. Kelby Brown recorded 12 tackles including three solo and Abraham Kromah had 11 tackles with five being solo. Patrick Egboh was credited with 1.5 sacks.

6. Time of possession. Duke mounted multiple long drives and controlled the ball for 36 minutes and 57 seconds. The drives included: 10 plays for 68 yards resulting in a field goal, 14 plays for 76 yards resulting in a touchdown, 10 plays for 45 yards resulting in a touchdown, eight plays for 64 yards resulting in a touchdown, 10 plays for 70 yards resulting in a touchdown, and 12 plays for 60 yards resulting in a field goal.

7. Conversions on 3rd and 4th down. Duke was two for three on 4th down and 8 for 15 on 3rd down. Converting on these plays allowed the offense to mount multiple sustained drives, which kept Navy’s offense off the field.

8. Duke rushed 45 times for 142 yards and six first downs. Desmond Scott was the leading rusher with 42 yards including a key 17 yard run during Duke’s opening drive. Quarterbacks Sean Renfree and Brandon Connette combined to rush for 61 yards and three touchdowns.

Stats Update: Red Zone Miscue, Big Plays Sink Blue Devils

With 4 minutes and 38 seconds left in the second quarter, Duke failed inside the red zone for the first time this season when on third and eight from the Maryland 17 yard line Sean Renfree threw an interception. The mistake ultimately proved fatal.

If Renfree’s pass had been incomplete instead of picked off, Will Snyderwine would have had an opportunity to kick a fourth first half field goal and expand Duke’s lead to 12-0. Instead the Terps drove 80 yards in eight plays to cut the lead to 9-7 at the half grabbing momentum in the process.

Discussing the interception, Renfree stated, “I just tried to force it in there and tried to hurry myself too much.”

The red zone miscue coupled with two big second half plays by Maryland resulted in a 21-16 loss for Duke in a game the Blue Devils should have won. Duke racked up 399 total yards to Maryland’s 294. Duke’s defense, which had been allowing 229 yards rushing per game, held Maryland to 124 yards on the ground. Coach Cutcliffe attributed the improved defensive play to quality practice, “When you are hungry and you work that way, you are going to get better. We are going to continue to improve as a team.”

Safety Walt Canty echoed Coach Cutcliffe’s comments by stating, “We had a great week of practice, and when you have a great week of practice, that is how you improve.”

Duke’s receivers played a solid game with Donovan Varner leading the way with eight catches for 128 yards. Conner Vernon added six catches for 99 yards; Austin Kelly contributed six catches for 60 yards, Josh Trezvant caught one pass for 25 yards, while true freshman Brandon Braxton caught two balls for 23 yards. Tight-end Brandon King scored Duke’s touchdown on a two yard reception from Sean Renfree at the 7 minute and 20 second mark of the fourth quarter.

The ground game, which had rushed for over 100 yards in each of Duke’s first four games, was limited to 48 yards. Josh Snead led the Blue Devils with 32 yards on four carries. Establishing a running game will be important when the Miami Hurricanes visit Duke in two weeks as the ‘Canes possess the number one rated pass defense in the ACC giving up only 136 yards per game through the air. Miami has recorded 17 quarterback sacks in their first four games.

On the defensive side of the ball, Abraham Kromah had nine solo tackles and six assists for a total of 15 tackles. Kromah is fourth in the ACC averaging 9.2 tackles per game. Kelby Brown and Walt Canty chipped in six tackles each. Duke had four tackles for loss but did not record a quarterback sack for the second straight game. Duke is last in the ACC in sacks with four in five games.

Here is how Duke stands in the ACC and NCAA in the 10 statistical categories we’ve been tracking all season:

1. Turnover margin: moved this category to the top as it is the most relevant statistic to understanding the Blue Devils 1-4 record. Duke now has a minus six (-6) in turnover margin, which is last in the ACC and tied for number 112 in the nation. The offense must stop turning the ball over and the defense must start forcing some turnovers if the Blue Devils desire to start winning ball games.

2. Red zone offense: there is no reason to panic after one red zone turnover as Duke has scored on 17-18 (94.4%) possessions this season. However, after the miscue and having to settle for field goals on three previous first half red zone opportunities, this statistic bears watching. The Blue Devils need to score touchdowns in the red zone. Duke remains number one in the ACC in this category and is tied for number eight in the nation.

3. Total offense: offensive yardage dropped from 425.8 yards to 420.4 yards per game but the Blue Devils moved up from number four to number three in the ACC. Duke is now number 39 in the nation. The Duke offense racked up 351 yards passing against Maryland.

4. Time of possession: Duke continues to fall in this category as their time of possession is now down to 29 minutes and 14 seconds per game. The Blue Devils are number eight in the ACC and number 77 in the nation.

5. Third down conversions: Duke was 4-16 on third down against Maryland, which lowered their success rate to 38.9% resulting in Duke falling to number eight in the ACC and number 71 in the nation. The Blue Devils have been successful on 28 of 72 third downs.

6. First downs: Duke remains number three in the ACC and number 37 in the nation with 108 first downs. The Blue Devils have rushed for 32, passed for 70, and been awarded six via penalties.

7. Total defense: remained number 11 in the ACC but improved to number 100 in the nation as they decreased total yards allowed to 431.8 from 466.2 yards of offense per game.

8. Scoring defense: Duke remains last in the ACC giving up an average 39.8 points per game down from 44.7 points per game. The Blue Devils are number 113 in the nation. The 21 points given up to Maryland are the lowest yielded this season. The previous low was 27 points against Elon.

9. Opponent first downs: improved to number 10 in the ACC and number 93 in the nation by giving up 106 first downs. Opponents have rushed for 53, passed for 45 and been awarded eight via penalty.

10. Red zone defense: opponents have scored on Duke in 17 out of 19 red zone opportunities. Duke is tied with Georgia Tech for number seven in the ACC and number 91 in the nation.

Two turnovers, including a red zone miscue, and continued issues with giving up big plays combined to sink Duke on the road against Maryland. This team is improving week-to-week, as evidenced by total yards and points allowed trending down the last two games, but the Blue Devils remain a young squad which cannot afford to make mistakes.

With the powerful Miami Hurricanes headed to Wallace Wade Stadium on October 16, the Blue Devils need to take advantage of their bye week to focus upon eliminating turnovers and executing consistently on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

Stats Update: Conner Vernon has an Excellent Game but Turnovers Tell the Tale

Conner Vernon leads the ACC in Receptions per Game and Receiving Yards per Game
Sometimes statistics can be misleading while other times they concisely tell the tale. In Saturday’s 35-21 loss to the Army Black Knights one needs to look no further than the five Blue Devil turnovers to understand the outcome. Sean Renfree threw interceptions on two of Duke’s first three possessions, which resulted in the Cadets jumping all over the Blue Devils early and never looking back.

Duke lost fumbles on their first two possessions of the second half and Army pushed their lead to 35-7 by converting Duke’s turnovers into touchdowns. With five turnovers on Saturday, the Blue Devils saw their turnover plus/minus fall to minus four for the season, which is last in the ACC.

On the positive side, wide receiver Conner Vernon had eight receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown. Vernon has three touchdown receptions so far this season and all have been on receptions greater than 50 yards.

Vernon leads the ACC in Receiving Yards per Game (112.1) and Receptions per Game (7). Those numbers result in a national ranking of seven and 14 respectively. In post game comments, Coach Cutcliffe described Vernon as, “…one of the toughest young men that you will ever come across…he can be a great football player.”

As good a game as Vernon had, he was responsible for one of the turnovers when he fumbled while fighting for extra yards on a reception early in the second half.

Donovan Varner is tied for fourth in the ACC, with Florida State’s Bert Reed, in Receptions per game with 5.8, while Austin Kelly is number eight with 4.8 receptions per game. With three of the league’s top eight receivers, Duke’s receiving corps is living up to its reputation as the most talented in the ACC.

Sean Renfree’s seven interceptions this season are troublesome; however, he still leads the ACC in Passing Yards per Game at 278.2 yards and he has thrown nine touchdowns. Renfree seemed to be a bit out of sync against Army so he needs to have a good week in practice and reacquire the razor sharp edge he has previously displayed.

Duke continues to display an ability to run the ball by rushing 24 times for 111 yards against the Black Knights. Duke is averaging 144.5 yards per game, on the season, which is ninth in the ACC and number 72 in the nation. Duke has rushed for over 100 yards in all four games this season after accomplishing the benchmark only once in 12 games in 2009. The one occurrence in 2009 was against FCS opponent North Carolina Central University.

This season Desmond Scott (277 yards), Josh Snead (158 yards) and Brandon Connette (118 yards) all have the potential to breakout on a long run. Their long runs on the season are 63, 27 and 48 yards, respectively.

On the defensive side of the ball true freshman linebacker Kelby Brown recorded six solo tackles and was credited with four assists for a total of 10 tackles. Senior Abraham Kromah was responsible for a total of 13 tackles with four being solo. Safeties Matt Daniels and Walt Canty were credited with nine and eight tackles respectively.

Kromah is tied for ninth in the ACC at 7.8 tackles per game while Daniels is tied for 12th with 7.5.

Two worrisome defensive statistical categories are Sacks and Tackles for Loss. Duke does not have a single player who breaks out amongst the 20 listed by the ACC in these two categories. Duke is tied with Boston College for last place in the ACC in sacks.

Here is how Duke stands in the ACC and NCAA in 10 statistical categories:

1. Total offense: dropped to number four in the ACC and number 38 in the nation. Offensive yardage dropped from 443.7 to 425.8 yards per game. Duke was number three and 27 last week.

2. Time of possession: dropped from number one in the ACC to number six as Army dominated this statistic. Duke’s time of possession fell from 32 minutes and 27 to 29 minutes and 21 seconds per game.

3. Third down conversions: Duke was 1 – 8 on third down against Army, which lowered their success rate to 42.9% resulting in Duke falling to number six in the ACC and number 48 in the nation.

4. Red zone offense: Duke remains at 100 percent success in the red zone scoring nine touchdowns and four field goals in 13 opportunities.

5. First downs: fell from number one in the ACC to number three with 87 first downs. The Blue Devils have rushed for 29, passed for 52, and been awarded six via penalties. These numbers result in Duke falling from being tied with Notre Dame at number 16 in the nation last week to being number 37 this week.

6. Total defense: improved to number 11 in the ACC and number 110 in the nation as they decreased total yards allowed to 466.2 from 510.7 yards of offense per game.

7. Scoring defense: Duke remains last in the ACC giving up an average 44.5 points per game down from 47.7 points per game. Those numbers still rank number 118 in the nation. The 35 points given up to Army can be partially attributed to the Blue Devils turnover issues.

8. Opponent first downs: improved to number 11 in the ACC and number 106 in the nation by giving up 92 first downs. Opponents have rushed for 47, passed for 39 and been awarded six via penalty.

9. Red zone defense: Opponents have scored on Duke in 16 out of 18 red zone opportunities. Duke improved to being tied with Clemson for number nine in the ACC and number 91 in the nation.

10. Turnover margin: Last but definitely not least, Duke now has a minus four (-4) in turnover margin, which is last in the ACC and tied for number 100 in the nation. Last week the Blue Devils were ranked number five in the ACC and number 33 in the nation.

Turnover margin is the one statistic Duke must turn around in a hurry if they are to win ball games. Turnovers played a crucial role in the losses to Wake Forest and Army. Without the turnovers, Duke could arguably be sporting a 3-1 record. Teams cannot win ball games against an evenly matched opponent when they turn the ball over. Saturday’s game against Maryland is a game the Blue Devils are capable of winning if they take care of the football and force the Terps to cough it up once or twice.

All statistics quoted in this article are from www.theacc.com and www.ncaa.com.