DURHAM, N.C. – Duke senior safety Matt Daniels earned first team All-ACC honors as announced Monday afternoon by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association. Three other Blue Devils earned recognition with senior punter Alex King and junior wide receiver Conner Vernon garnering second team accolades while senior tight end Cooper Helfet received an honorable mention citation.
Daniels, a 6-1, 210-pound native of Fayetteville, Ga., is tops among ACC defensive backs and third overall in the league in tackles per game (10.5) after posting 126 total stops on the year. He added 4.0 tackles for loss, two interceptions , one caused fumble and 14 pass break-ups – the second-highest single-season PBU total in Duke history. Daniels, who finished his 46-game career with 324 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, 27 pass break-ups, four interceptions, seven caused fumbles and three fumble recoveries, is the first Blue Devil safety to earn first team all-league honors since Ray Farmer turned the trick in back-to-back seasons in 1994-95.
King, a 6-1, 210-pound native of Winston-Salem, N.C., punted 50 times for 2,104 yards and a 42.08 yards per kick average. Currently ranked third in the conference in punting average, King placed 17 boots inside the opponent 20 yard line against just four touchbacks. His season average is the ninth-best in school history.
Vernon, a 6-1, 195-pound native of Miami, Fla., earns second team recognition for the second straight season after posting 70 receptions for 956 yards and six touchdowns – all team bests. In 2011, Vernon matched the school single-season record for most games (9) with five or more catches while becoming the first player in ACC history to post multiple seasons with 70 or more receptions. Through three seasons, he has 198 catches for 2,675 yards and 13 touchdowns to rank second on Duke’s career charts in both receptions and yardage and tied for eighth in TDs.
Helfet, a 6-4, 240-pound native of Kentfield, Calif., picked up an honorable mention citation for the second year in a row after catching 43 passes for 395 yards and four touchdowns. Among Duke tight ends, his 43 grabs are the most since 1994 while matching the seventh-highest single-season total. Helfet finished his 23-game career with 77 catches for 775 yards and six touchdowns.
Duke (3-3, 1-1 ACC) will host in-state ACC rival Wake Forest (4-2, 3-1 ACC) on Saturday afternoon in Wallace Wade Stadium. The two programs are familiar foes, having met 91 times, including each of the last 44 seasons. The Blue Devils hold the all-time lead in the series, but the Demon Deacons have dominated their Tobacco Road rivals over the past decade. Duke’s last victory over Wake Forest came in 1999, and though the two teams have produced several competitive and memorable matchups since (5 games decided by less than a touchdown), the Demon Deacons have won 11 straight in the series. The Blue Devils will try to end that streak when the two teams kickoff at 12:30 PM ET on the ACC Network.
After a disappointing season in 2010, the Demon Deacons have been one of the ACC’s biggest surprises in 2011, with conference wins over NC State, Boston College, and Florida State. Wake Forest is led by a disciplined offense, which leads the ACC in red zone efficiency (89.7% scoring) and turnovers (5 total turnovers). The Demon Deacons feature a balanced attack led by QB Tanner Price (267 yards per game, 2nd in the ACC), WR Chris Givens (123 yards per game, 1st in the ACC) and RB Josh Harris (82 yards per game, 6th in the ACC). The defense has been opportunistic, forcing 9 turnovers on the season, but ranks last in the ACC with just 6 sacks.
Both Duke and Wake Forest were riding winning streaks before a conference loss last week, and both teams will look to get back on track this Saturday with a crucial ACC win.
KEYS FOR DUKE
1. Limit Explosives: the Blue Devils got burned repeatedly last week against the Seminoles, and that helped put the game away early. The combination of Price and Givens has proven to be explosive this season for the Demon Deacons, as evidenced by a 79-yard TD catch last week against Virginia Tech and a season average of 18.5 yards per catch. Expect Ross Cockrell to have a busy day keeping tabs on Givens, and the entire Blue Devil secondary will have to help to keep him contained. Josh Harris is the key for the Wake Forest running game, but has been limited in practice this week. Expect senior Brandon Pendergrass to help shoulder the load, and look for Duke’s Kelby Brown and Matt Daniels to have a big role in stopping the Deacs on the ground.
2. Take care of the football: Duke has improved on their turnover ratio from a season ago, but continue to give the ball away. QB Sean Renfree threw a costly tipped pass interception early in the game against FSU last week, and that helped to set the tone of the game. Wake Forest has been the best in the ACC at taking care of the football, and the Blue Devils cannot afford to give the Demon Deacons extra possessions on Saturday.
3. Find an unlikely hero: we’re at the halfway point of the season, and every team is bound to have injuries. They have certainly piled up for the Blue Devils, but Duke has showcased some of their improved depth over the past few weeks. Heading into Saturday, there are three key positions of concern for the Blue Devils, where young players will be needed to step up. Duke’s secondary is slowly healing, but several players are hurting, including a few not listed on the official injury report. Lee Butler, Johnny Williams, and August Campbell all appear on this week’s injury report, which means that players like Zach Greene and Jordon Byas will have to take on a larger role again this week against an explosive Wake Forest passing game. The Blue Devils have significant injuries to two potential offensive line starters in David Harding and Brian Moore. Both players may be able to play, but will be far from 100%, which means that Conor Irwin may again have to take some snaps at center. Lastly, senior WR Donovan Varner continues to nurse a hamstring injury that will limit him on Saturday, meaning more snaps for freshmen Jamison Crowder and Blair Holliday. A combination of these young players will have to make an impact for the Blue Devils to get the W on Saturday.
Wake Forest +4, Duke -2
Duke has made significant improvements in limiting turnovers this season, but continue to struggle in forcing turnovers. The Blue Devils rank 3rd in the ACC with just 8 turnovers on the season, but are last in the conference with just 6 takeaways of their own. Similarly, the Demon Deacons are 1st in the ACC with just 5 turnovers, but 8th in takeaways with 9.
Duke 10, Wake Forest 6
Two of the ACC’s worst pass rushes will face off on Saturday, with the Blue Devils having slightly more success thus far. The Duke offensive line has also done a slightly better job protecting their QB, having given up 13 sacks on the year versus 16 allowed by Wake Forest.
Duke 40%, Wake Forest 37%
Again, both teams fall in the bottom half of the conference in 3rd down efficiency. The Wake Forest defense has held opponents to just 34% on 3rd downs, which means that the Blue Devil offense will have to execute well to move the chains on Saturday.
With two of the top WRs in the country squaring off on Saturday, the team that does the better job defensively will win this game. These two defenses will be challenged to keep their opponents’ offense grounded with stars like Conner Vernon and Chris Givens. In their losses, the Blue Devils have been burned by explosive plays, especially through the air. If Price is able to find Givens in open space, it will be a long afternoon for the Blue Devils.
Duke 12, Wake Forest 8
This statistic is very misleading. The Blue Devils have the worst red zone offense in the ACC, scoring on just 73.9% of trips to the red zone. When Duke does score, it’s usually on the ground, with 12 rushing TDs to just 2 passing TDs in the red zone. Wake Forest is tops in the ACC, scoring on nearly 90% of their trips to the red zone, and feature a balanced red zone offense with 8 rushing TDs and 6 passing TDs.
Wake Forest 92%, Duke 40%
While much of Dukes struggles in the kicking game came early in the season, the Blue Devils still have improvements to make. Wake Forest’s Jimmy Newman is 1st in the ACC with an average of 2 made FGs per game.
Duke 36.2 yards per game, Wake Forest 49.7 yards per game
Surprisingly the Demon Deacons rank next to last in the ACC in penalty yards per game. The Blue Devils continue to be one of the more disciplined teams in the conference. Duke will have to continue to play good fundamental football on Saturday, as their margin for error against a confident and talented Wake Forest team is slim.
With 11 straight wins in the series, it’d be an understatement to say the Demon Deacons have the Blue Devils’ number. Both teams enter the game bumped and bruised and fresh off an ACC loss. Wake Forest has been the more consistent team and have done a good job taking care of the football. With a depleted offensive line, expect a light workload for Duke’s running backs and quick throws from Sean Renfree. A hamstring injury to Donovan Varner will provide an opportunity for young Jamison Crowder and Blair Holliday to step up. The Blue Devil defense will have their hands full trying to stop Wake Forest’s combination of Tanner Price, Chris Givens, and Josh Harris. The team that takes care of the football will emerge the victor.
After a week off to rest and heal, the Blue Devils will ride their three-game winning streak into the heart of their ACC schedule. Preseason favorite Florida State will travel to Durham on Saturday, and while things are looking up for the Blue Devils, the Seminoles’ season took a turn for the worse after an injury to QB E.J. Manuel. FSU will enter Saturday’s matchup in the midst of a three-game losing streak, but with a healthy Manuel, they will be a stiff test for the young Blue Devils.
To give us additional insight into the Seminoles’ recent struggles, BDN welcomes in Rich from ChantRant.com. Be sure to check out BDN’s half of the Q&A Exchange on their site as well. Thanks for your help, Rich!
BDN: As the consensus preseason pick for ACC Champion, expectations were obviously high for the Seminoles in 2011. What is the mood in Tallahassee after three straight tough losses to Oklahoma, Clemson, and Wake Forest? You know about the five stages of grief? It’s been something like that. After the final gun last Saturday, the mood was appropriate to the opponent: a Wake. A day later it had turned to anger (“How could this happen!?” “What’s up with our well paid coaching staff!?,” etc.). Depression was mixed in there somewhere. Then a grudging acceptance of the Seminole’s swan dive from the Top Ten. Now FSU’s faithful (at least the majority) are rallying behind the team, remembering the Noles have been down before and bounced back, while looking ahead to a better 2012 with a more experienced corps of young talent.
BDN: Redshirt-freshman Clint Trickett stepped in after E.J. Manuel was injured against Oklahoma. Trickett started the past two games, but Manuel replaced him last week at Wake Forest. Can you give us a brief scouting report on Trickett and Manuel? How do you expect them to be used against Duke on Saturday? Jimbo Fisher had made it clear that E.J. Manuel is his starting QB — and that was even before Clint Trickett had a poor start at Wake. So unless E.J. is injured against Duke, I doubt you’ll see Trickett. The scary part, though, is that doctors had told Jimbo before the Wake game that E.J. was not completely healed from a shoulder injury against Oklahoma. And if E.J. takes a nasty hit, he could be out for up to six weeks. For that reason, E.J. was one dimensional against the Deacs: all pass, no designed runs. I’d expect the same against Duke. And FYI, if Trickett DOES enter the game for whatever reason, FSU also becomes one dimensional. The redshirt freshman QB, who’s the son of FSU’s offensive line coach Rick Trickett, is not physical or fast enough to present a run threat — at least not this season.
BDN: After finishing 2nd in the ACC a year ago, FSU has really struggled to run the ball consistently this season, ranking last in the ACC at just over 85 yards per game. What has been the source of the Seminoles’ struggles on the ground and how can they get back on track? Blame it mostly on the offensive line. FSU graduated two excellent linemen — both on last year’s Outland Trophy watch list. Since the 2011 season kicked off, one senior OL (Datko) is out with a shoulder injury; another (Spurlock) is limited by lingering effects of a concussion. Quality depth that should be filling those spots was lost due to various issues over the past few years. That leaves little continuity, with one senior tackle surrounded by underclassmen — including true freshmen — and one junior, a JC transfer. Given all that chaos, the OL is a work in progress from week to week. And that’s a nice way to put it.
BDN: Mark Stoops took over the FSU defense for Mickey Andrews last season, and though there were some growing pains, the unit performed well, finishing 1st in the ACC in scoring defense. After a promising start, the defense has allowed 70 points over the last two games. What are the areas of concern and how do you expect the Seminoles will try to stop the Blue Devils’ potent passing attack? There are concerns at linebacker and in the secondary. No doubt Jimbo Fisher is wrestling with how much of a youth movement to employ to address those concerns. My guess is he’ll go mostly with experienced guys rather than experiment. That’s especially true for the secondary, where two upper classmen have underperformed since a strong showing against no. 1 Oklahoma. In fact, I expect Coach Cutliffe to pick on that duo all day with the pass ’n catch combo of Sean Renfree and Conner Vernon. But you can be sure FSU will attempt to do the same. Both teams top the ACC in passing (FSU is first with 325.4 ypg; Duke 2nd with 311.6), while the Noles and Devils are at the bottom of the league in run yards. Fans of the aerial game should get their money’s worth on Saturday.
BDN: Florida State and Duke last met in 2007, and the Blue Devils are 0-16 all-time against the Seminoles. This will be the teams’ first meeting in the David Cutcliffe and Jimbo Fisher eras. Duke is riding a 3-game winning streak, while FSU has dropped 3 in a row. What do you expect to see from this matchup Saturday afternoon in Wallace Wade Stadium? It all depends on which FSU team shows up. We don’t know how much player confidence is shaken after the Wake upset. If the Noles have been able to rebound emotionally and physically, fired up to make a statement and turn their season around — AND reduce the number of dumb penalties and careless turnovers — expect a team that will battle til the end. But if the guys in garnet and gold come out tight and tentative, and worst of all not playing as a team, it could be a long afternoon.
With wins over Tulane and Florida International, Duke heads into their Bye Week with a 3-2 record riding a three game win streak. In the two wins, the Blue Devils racked up 868 yards total offense and scored 79 points, while allowing Tulane and Florida International to combine for 886 yards total offense and 54 points.
Seeing as Red Zone performance was prominently featured in “The Ugly” section of this season’s first stats article, it seems appropriate to address the team’s success at the top of this update. Duke scored on all 10 Red Zone possessions in the last two games. Eight of the ten scores were touchdowns. Juwan Thompson ran for four touchdowns of 20, 9, 6 and 1 yards. The ability to successfully run the ball in the Red Zone is a development, which should pay huge dividends in the future.
Duke made all four field goals attempted in the two games. Will Snyderwine made three successful kicks and Jeffrey Ijjas was successful on one kick.
While Duke has shown vast improvement in these two areas, it is worth noting they still rank last in the ACC in these categories due to the bad start so it is important for the team to maintain improved performance.
Key Team Accomplishments
Obviously, the most relevant team accomplishment the past two weeks was winning the games. In the final analysis, the final score is the most important statistic.
Passing Offense improved from 297 to 311 yards per game. Duke is now ranked three of 12 in the ACC (up from number five) and 19 of 120 nationally (up from number 25). Numbers for Total Offense are also impressive with Duke’s 409 yards per game ranks six of 12 in the ACC and 56 of 120 nationally.
The ability to sustain long drives results in Duke being ranked two of 12 in the ACC and number 17 of 120 nationally in Time of Possession at 32 minutes and 56 seconds per game. Against Tulane, the Blue Devils reeled off touchdown drives of 18, 12 and 9 plays; while against Florida International they had an 11 play drive which ended with a field goal.
Duke’s four touchdown drives in the FIU game were short drives of 1, 3, 4 and 5 plays.
Even though Duke achieved success running the ball in the Red Zone the past two weeks, overall Rushing Offense remains a concern. At 97 yards per game, Duke is 11 of 12 in the ACC and number 108 nationally.
Key Individual Accomplishments
Conner Vernon leads the ACC in Receptions per Game. His 6.8 receptions per game place him at number 23 in the nation. Vernon is also third in the ACC in Receiving Yards per Game at 101.
Matt Daniels leads the ACC in Passes Defended. His 1.8 passes defended per game place him at number five in the nation. Additionally, he is sixth in the ACC in Tackles with 48.
Sean Renfree is third in the ACC in Passing Average per Game. His 272.2 passing yards per game place him at number 25 in the nation.
Jamison Crowder is sixth in the ACC in Kick Return Average and ninth in the ACC in All Purpose Yards. He is averaging 21.8 yards per kick return and 127.4 all purpose yards per game.
Alex King is fifth in the ACC in Punting averaging 41.2 yards per punt.
Donovan Varner is seventh in the ACC in Receptions per Game at 5.8.
The next three games will be played in Wallace Wade Stadium so Duke will have home field advantage accompanying momentum gained during the current three game win streak. It is time for the Blue Devils to step up and record a signature victory in order to make the rest of the ACC sit up and take notice. The first opportunity will be on October 15th against the Florida State Seminoles.