The Duke Blue Devils will face Cincinnati for the first time in the two schools' history tomorrow evening in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina. Duke comes into the contest 6-6 while the Bearcats sport a 9-3 record, so the Blue Devils need a victory to secure their first winning season since 1994.
Cutcliffe has Bowl Experience
While bowling may be new to many around the Duke program, not so for Head Football Coach David Cutcliffe. Coach Cut carries a 4-1 bowl record into this game, and he's 11-6 as an assistant coach. He knows what it takes to focus in on big games, and this should help a young Blue Devils squad.
Blue Devils are the Underdog
Had this game been played in the regular season, the Blue Devils would have been double digit underdogs, but the Bearcats lost not only their Head Coach but their coordinators as well. That has dropped the line to just 7 in the Bearcats' favor. Before any of you go betting the bank on Duke, figuring that Cincy is reeling, think back to a Richmond game where the Spiders had lost their Head Coach weeks before the season started, and yet they still handled Duke. The bottom line is for Duke to win, it'll take a maximum effort. Cincinnati is solid on both sides of the ball, and they match up well with Duke. They have played well defensively in particular, having permitted more than 30 points in but a single game this season.
The Here and Now and the Future
Bowl games reward teams' success over the course of the entire season. Let's be honest: before the season started, not many picked Duke to get to a bowl game. It's a terrific accomplishment, one that rightfully earned Coach David Cutcliffe ACC Coach of the Year honors. But it was a contingent of focused seniors that really put the Devils over the hump. This will be the last opportunity for fans to see the Sean Renfree-to-Conner Vernon connection, and the success of that duo will be a major key to the game.
But the other reward stemming from a bowl bid is the opportunity for the team to benefit from all the extra practices in preparation for the game. The Blue Devils have gotten a jump-start on next season by changing some player positions and grooming future starters. Being in a bowl also shows that the program is moving upwards, and that is the key to recruiting better players and getting their signatures on the dotted line. Duke will lose 13 seniors this season, with approximately 10 of them having played key roles over the years. There will be a lot of holes to fill for the 2013 Blue Devils.
Duke needs three TD's
The Blue Devils have scored 46 touchdowns thus far this year, and therefore need three more against a stingy Cincinnati defense to set a new all-time record of 49. The 1989 team coached by Steve Spurrier holds the Duke record with 48 touchdown scored.
The keys to a win for Duke
I was asked by a radio station what the keys to a win were for Duke. The first thing is simply to get off to a good start. Duke has not played well from behind this season, and needs to set the tone early. A quick start would also bode well against a Cincinnati team that has been wracked by coaching defections.
Another key is to slow down Cincinnati's running QB and two solid running backs -- and that's an area Duke has struggled in this season. The third item on the to-do list is to protect QB Sean Renfree and allow him time to pass, as Duke must find a way to get into the end zone against a stout Bearcat defense. Duke has not fared well when Renfree has not had time to throw. The fourth key is to establish the run, for balance is a must against a Bearcats defense that will pin their ears back and go after the passer if the opponent struggles rushing the ball.
If I had to pick one crucial item, though, it would be get off to a good start and therefore not have to play from behind early on.
When I first learned, a week or so ahead of the official announcement, that Duke would face Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl, I thought it would be a difficult matchup for the Blue Devils. On paper, the Bearcats are the better team, with solid personnel at every position. Their defense has been physical and hard to score on for most of the year, and they can run two quarterbacks at you. Since that time, the Bearcats have lost some coaches, but it remains to be seen if this will rally their troops or cause some disruption. Personally, I think it is unlikely that the Bearcats will simply roll over, as adversity tends to bring teams together more often than not.
But the Blue Devils more than anything else needed some time off. They've gotten it. That has enabled them to regain their health and to add some new wrinkles to the game plan. I feel it will come down to turnovers and ball control. Duke needs to keep its defense off the field as much as possible, and they need to find a way to get to the quarterback, something that has been difficult for Bearcats opponents. I am expecting a solid and spirited performance from Duke, and hope for a victory. If they get it, it would provide tremendous momentum going into an important off-season. See you at the game.
Duke Football welcomes 20 new prospects to help Coach Cutcliffe build his vision of turning Duke into a winner and Blue Devil Nation has been on the scene all day long Patrick Cacchio has the behind the scenes details for our premium members on the message board and he's been at it all day long even breaking the news on key last minute landings. But without further ado, here is a one on one just concluded with Coach David Cutcliffe via BDN Video -
Duke notched their first win of the season on Saturday with a 20-19 victory over the Boston College Eagles to improve to 1-2 on the season. The victory was Coach David Cutcliffe's third conference road victory and 13th overall win at the helm of the Blue Devils.
With three games in the books, season statistics start to have meaning by showing trends so here is a look at where Duke is shining and where they are in need of improvement. Even though this article is titled The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, there is no more relevant starting point than the ugly.
Duke's performance in the Red Zone has been abysmal! In fact, Duke is ranked 120 out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams having ventured into the Red Zone 10 times with a success rate of 40 percent. Duke has missed three field goals, thrown an interception, turned the ball over on downs, and had time expire to end the 1st half on the six unsuccessful possessions.
The need to solve the Red Zone woes cannot be overstated. The Blue Devils must capitalize and come away with points at a much, much higher percentage on future trips into the Red Zone.
Equally troubling is Duke's 0-6 performance on Field Goal attempts. A healthy Will Snyderwine back on the field should solve this problem. However, until Snyderwine is able to resume the kicking duties, Duke could be looking to try to convert fourth down into first down when in field goal range.
Enough discussion on the ugly stuff...
Defensive End Kenny Anunike leads the ACC in Sacks with four and is third in Tackles for Loss with five. An inability to pressure the quarterback has been a concern for the Blue Devils’ defense so Anunike's performance the past two games is an exciting development and a statistic worth watching closely the next couple of weeks.
Staying on the defensive side of the ball, Matt Daniels is fifth in the ACC in Tackles averaging 10.3 per game and Kelby Brown is 17th with 6.7.
A known strength of the Blue Devils offense is talent and depth at the wide receiver position. All three of Duke's starting wide outs are ranked in the ACC Top 10 in Receptions per Game. Conner Vernon is tied for third with 6.7, Donovan Varner is number six with 6, and Brandon Braxton is number seven with 5.7. Additionally, Vernon is tied for fifth in Receiving Yards per Game averaging 97.3.
Combining the Blue Devils’ wide receiver talent with quarterback Sean Renfree, results in Duke being ranked 25 of 120 nationally, and five of 12 in the ACC, in Passing Offense averaging 296.67 yards through the air per game.
Renfree set Duke’s single game completions record in the game against Boston College. His 41 completions this past Saturday surpassed Thaddeus Lewis’ previous mark of 40 completions set in 2009 against N.C. State.
Another noteworthy performer is true freshman Jamison Crowder who is ranked fourth in the ACC in Kick Returns averaging 21.2 yards per kick. Crowder has displayed good speed and looked good running the ball so fans should keep an eye on him because he has a good chance to break off a couple of long returns before this season is over.
Lee Butler is fourth in the ACC in Punt Returns averaging 7.7 yards per return.
At 18.3 points per game, Duke is 11th in the ACC in Scoring Offense. With the arsenal of weapons available on offense, this is a statistic which must improve and a statistic everyone associated with the program expects to improve. Simply stated, Duke is too talented on the offensive side of the ball to continue to struggle scoring points.
Finally, the Blue Devils have failed to consistently run the ball in their first three games and are currently rank tied for 10th in the ACC at 96.3 yards per game. The struggles can be partially attributed to injuries sustained by Desmond Scott in the first game of the season and Josh Snead during preseason, but Duke needs to show improvement in the running game as the season progresses.
Juwan Thompson has been impressive averaging 5.4 yards per carry on the season but he needs help sharing the running responsibilities. The pending return to action of Desmond Scott in the next week or two will certainly provide Thompson the support he requires as Scott has been Duke’s leading rusher the past two seasons.
The next two weeks will be critical as Duke faces non-conference foe Tulane (2-1), in Wallace Wade Stadium, followed by a trip to Miami to face the Florida International Golden Panthers (3-0). The expectation is Duke will build off the road victory over Boston College and play inspired football against the last two non-conference opponents this season. The objective is to reach Bye Week with a 3-2 record and then focus upon the tough ACC schedule in October and November.
Blue Devil Nation will be all over the action providing Duke Fans complete football coverage including an updated look at the statistics after the trip to play FIU.
DURHAM - The Duke Blue Devils held their final viewable scrimmage before the season opener with Elon last evening and BDN took in the action catching up with Coach Cutcliffe for his comments. There were lots of fireworks on offense where several players made big plays, Cutcliffe talks of this and development of young players and much more in this informative two part interview.
Part One -
And be sure to catch part two where Cutcliffe talks about August Campbell, the offensive line, depth, Josh Snead's long T.D. run, the backup quarterback and more -