Tag Archives: Desmond Scott

Big Things Happening for Duke Football

Anthony Boone had a 4 passing TD dream debut for Duke. Photo Mark Watson

News Alert! Duke Football is 5-1 and one win shy of being bowl eligible! Normally this time of year Blue Devil Nation is talking about the juggernaut of a program Mike Krzyzewski has built at Duke, but Coach David Cutcliffe and his troops have been winning, and every game is a big game from here on out, because a win puts Duke in contention for a much-coveted bowl game.

There is a lot going on around the football program these days, including  unveiling exciting upgrades to Wallace Wade Stadium and the reality of more prospects showing interest in the resurgent Blue Devils. I break it all down to lead off the week.

A quick look back at the UVA win

After a pedestrian first half effort, Duke rolled the Cavaliers, and in the process pushed their season record to 5-1, including 2-0 in the ACC. When is the last time Duke outscored an ACC or any other opponent 28-0 after halftime? As you ponder the answer to that question going to the way-back machine, it will make you realize the second half of the UVA game was Duke’s best half of football in the Cutcliffe era. The Blue Devils had 7 pre-season defensive starters out and yet they still pitched a second half shutout. Impressive. And then there was the play of QB Anthony Boone, which I will discuss in a bit.

The Perfect Storm

In the pre-season I alluded to what I called the Perfect Storm for Duke Football. What did I mean?  A look at the schedule showed winnable games for Duke on the front end of the schedule, if all fell into place. That Perfect Storm looked like a pipe dream after the road loss to Stanford, even though that game had been penciled in as a likely loss. At that point, considering all the injuries Duke had sustained, it seemed that rebounding to a 5-1 mark going into the Virginia Tech game was unlikely at best. But these Blue Devils have achieved that “Perfect Storm” by taking care of business against every other opponent – and that is the sign of a well-coached football team. Despite the injuries, the Blue Devils have swept their games at home and have the one key road win at Wake Forest. With Coach David Cutcliffe in his fifth season in Durham, the hard work and sacrifices that have gone into building a program are finally paying dividends.

The dreaded back end of the schedule is upon us

How fortunate would it have been for Duke to have Boston College and Maryland from the Atlantic Division on the schedule? Instead, they have ACC powers Florida State and Clemson. First, Duke travels to Blacksburg — a place few escape with a win —  this weekend to take on the Hokies, who boast one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. They then come home to face North Carolina and finish the season at Tallahassee against FSU, then at home with Clemson, a trip to Georgia Tech, and the home finale versus Miami. In case you haven’t noticed, if the games were played today, Duke would be an underdog in each one. In short, Duke will have to make their own fortune beating solid football teams.

BDN Photo Mark Watson

Handling the hype

We’re in rarefied air here when talking about hype surrounding Duke Football, but a 5-1 start to the season finally has the Blue Devils getting some exposure. Yes, they got some votes for the Top 25, but are they truly ready to handle that kind of talk? This is the next challenge the staff faces —  to keep the team believing in themselves but at the same time to ground expectations. What I am saying is that every team Duke faces from here on out will be big and physical and Duke can no longer sneak up on anybody. All of the teams left, save North Carolina — who is ineligible from a cheating scandal – will be fighting for a bowl berth, and this means they’ll hit the Blue Devils square in the mouth. How the Blue Devils respond will be key, meaning they won’t be able to simply rest on their laurels.

On the other hand …

The Duke football players should have a bit of swagger, given their accomplishments thus far. After the wins over NCCU and Memphis at home, I thought to myself that these guys are capable of being better, and that they had to believe in themselves. This is happening before our very eyes. Duke has some talent on this roster, as evidenced by how many backup players are playing key roles.  At 5-1, Duke will get more media exposure, and the players need to find that elusive balance between managing the aforementioned expectations while remaining confident that they have what it takes as a team to get the job done.

Enter Anthony Boone – Keeping the Vultures at Bay

During the ACC pre-season media conference a News and Observer columnist asked Coach Cutcliffe is he was going to “Vulture” Sean Renfree this season. On the outside looking in, it was a fair question in that Duke had played several QB’s in previous games and many felt momentum was lost when substitutions were made. However, Cutcliffe took obvious pride in pointing out in the post-Virginia press conference that people now know why he played these guys. What he meant was that because Boone had some seasoning, he was ready for the golden opportunity he had to lead the team against Virginia. Few thought Duke could pull off a win without the senior Renfree, but the sophomore QB made their worries go away with four passing touchdowns. Don’t look now, but this bodes well for next season as well, when Boone is likely to take over as the starter. In the meantime, you are sure to see him on the field alongside Renfree as the season progresses.

Take a moment to appreciate Conner Vernon

Many Duke fans have become spoiled by watching Conner Vernon catch pass after pass, which he’s done at Duke from day one. Vernon is now the all-time leader in receptions in ACC football history, and he’s doing that against sagging zone defenses and double coverage, and he’s also taking a lot of the pressure off other wideouts with his play. His catch in traffic against Virginia was one of his best.  Vernon needs 287 yards receiving to catch Florida State record holder Peter Warrick in that department. He’s caught a pass in 41 straight contests. You’ll miss him when he’s gone, so enjoy the All-American hopeful the rest of the way.

Players stepping up

I don’t know where to begin this discussion, because so many Blue Devils have stepped up their games this season. It has been the play of seniors and juniors who have not played a lot while at Duke that has been most impressive, and it signifies that the staff is truly developing players and developing depth.  For instance, teams have tried to pick on Tony Foster, a senior forced into action due to injuries, but so far he’s answered the bell and had some key breakups.  And then there are freshmen coming into their own and playing key roles. Jela Duncan is as good a freshman back as Duke has had to carry the ball in some time, and his is emergence makes for a a deep backfield. And how about Desmond Scott? He’s made a position switch and is a leader on the team. Like I said, too many guys to mention individually here, which itself is a great sign.

And in the FWIW Department …

Did you know that the 227 points scored by Duke to date is the most in team history? Duke has now recorded three come-from-behind victories after the 42-17 win over the Cavs. Starting the year 5-1 is the best mark since they went 6-0 in 1994. The UNC vs Duke game in two weeks will kickoff at 7:00 prime time on either ESPN 2 or ESPN-U. Walt Canty, who is the perfect example of a player completely blossoming in his senior season at Duke, was named ACC DB of the Week for his performance against Virginia.

Heads up!

Tickets are still available for the UNC at Duke football game, but the Tar Heel fans have been known to try to take over Wallace Wade Stadium.  There is no reason for any Duke fan that can attend this game in two weeks not to do so. It is also the same weekend as Countdown to Craziness, which kicks off the basketball season, so make it a Duke Blue Weekend and attend both events.

Next up, the Hokies

You can bet that Virginia Tech will have their ears pinned back when Duke visits this weekend, especially after allowing North Carolina to run up 48 points against them last Saturday.  The Hokies open up as just under a 10 point favorite, and winning in Blacksburg is a difficult thing no matter what.  Win or lose, Duke Football has turned its fortunes around, and it’s time fans take notice, turn out, and support the team.

Duke-football

BDN Football Friday: Spring Game Preview

 

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

Are you ready for some football, Blue Devil Nation? Saturday afternoon will be your last chance until September 1st to see some Duke Football, so get your fill. The Blue Devils will take to the field on Saturday at 1PM in Wallace Wade Stadium for their annual spring game. BDN’s Football Friday is here for your preview.

 

Logistics

First of all, highs in the upper 70s, with a slight chance of isolated thunderstorms. Should be a perfect spring day for some football if the rains miss the Methodist Flats. That also means a perfect day for some tailgating. Get there early, as the team will conduct the Blue Devil Walk at 11:00 AM. Team BDN will be there in full force, so be sure to say hi. Here’s the information on the parking situation. Bring your wallets, even though admission is free (stadium gates open at 11:15), as there will be plenty of opportunities to get your Blue Devil gear, as well as stuff your face with Chick-fil-a, Domino’s, and Blue Devil Concessions. Oh, and the most important reason to bring your wallet is to purchase your 2012 season tickets. Ticket office reps will be on hand and help you pick your exact seats. Try before you buy. The game kicks off at 1PM and Coach Cutcliffe will address the crowd during halftime of the scrimmage. Spring practice awards will also be announced at halftime.

TE Issac Blakeney has had a big spring for the Blue Devils

Scouting the Blue Devil Offense

The Duke offense will feature a number of familiar faces, but it’s likely to be the unfamiliar ones who will make an impression on Saturday. We all know what Conner Vernon is capable of at wide receiver, but as he’s been limited due to injury this spring, expect to see a lot of Blair Holliday and Jamison Crowder, both of whom have had very strong spring performances. Nick Hill is another young face who appears ready to contribute, and Corey Gattis and Tyree Watkins add a veteran presence to the receiving corps. With Jack Farrell and Braxton Deaver sidelined with injuries, the Blue Devils had concerns at wide receiver heading into spring practice. Coming out of spring practice, tight end is no longer a concern, and you’ll likely see why as Issac Blakeney and David Reeves are sure to impress.

Up front, the Duke offensive line returns all but graduating senior Kyle Hill, and that continuity should benefit the Blue Devil offense. This group has improved each year under Coach Cutcliffe, and they’re looking to take a big step forward this fall under new OL Coach John Latina. Expect to see a few holes opened for the likes of the now healthy Josh Snead and last year’s leading rusher Juwan Thompson, who have seen the majority of carries with senior Desmond Scott nursing injury. If that trio isn’t impressive enough for you, the Blue Devils will add two more big-time running backs in just a few months, as Jela Duncan and Shaquille Powell will push for early playing time.

Am I forgetting something? Ah, yes, quarterback. While Peyton Manning had been a fixture in the Duke practice facilities this offseason, he will not be taking snaps under center for the Blue Devils on Saturday. Sean Renfree remains entrenched as the starter, and he’s had yet another good spring running the Duke offense. While much of spring practice is situational, Renfree has shown the ability to get the ball downfield, averaging 15.7 yards per completion in the last scrimmage. But Renfree’s old news, right? Coach Cutcliffe and the Duke staff have been looking at ways to get guys like Brandon Connette and Anthony Boone more involved in the offense, and they’ve done well with running the ball and catching the ball in some unique schemes. But don’t get too excited. Knowing the Duke coaching staff, the Blue Devils are unlikely to show off anything particularly new or exciting on Saturday, so we’ll all just have to wait until the fall. Expect to see Connette, Boone, and freshman Thomas Sirk take several snaps under center in relief of Renfree; all have taken big steps forward in their command of the offense this spring.

Ross Cockrell has developed into a shutdown corner for the Blue Devils

Scouting the Blue Devil Defense

Somehow, it seems that Duke has had a perpetually young defense the past few years, and that remain the case this spring, though they are overall more experienced. The losses of Matt Daniels and Charlie Hatcher will be the biggest voids to fill, and there are a number of candidates looking to contribute. Up front, Duke will be without their top pass-rushers Saturday in Kenny Anunike and Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, but will feature much of the same group of athletic ends we saw a year ago, led by Justin Foxx, Dezmond Johnson, and Jamal Wallace. Sydney Sarmiento, Jamal Bruce, and Nick Sink are likely to see the majority of time on the inside up front. The defensive line continues to improve under Coach Petri and has the benefit of going up against a big and experienced offensive line in practice.

At linebacker, the Blue Devils will be without Kelby Brown for the foreseeable future, but expect sophomore David Helton to continue to impress. The redshirt is off for Kelby’s younger, but bigger, brother Kyler, and it appears that a nose for the football is in their genes. Austin Gamble is the lone upperclassman, though sophomores C.J. France and Jon Woodruff have some experience. And before you get down on the Blue Devil linebackers, keep in mind that stud recruits Keilin Rayner and Deion Williams will be on campus in just a few months.

Coach Knowles’ 4-2-5 scheme relies heavily on the secondary, and the emergence of Ross Cockrell as a shutdown corner is key. He’ll be joined by senior Lee Butler at cornerback, though youngsters Jared Boyd and Tim Burton will see time. The leader of the secondary this year is most likely to be leading returning tackler Walt Canty, though hard-hitting Jordon Byas has also turned some heads with August Campbell sidelined this spring. Newcomers to look for at safety include the hard-working Chris Tavarez, Britton Grier, transfer Jeremy Cash, and former WR Brandon Braxton. All should see snaps on Saturday and overall, this group has some of the best playmakers on the defensive side.

Scouting the Blue Devil Special Teams

Will Monday. That’s about all you need to know. With Will Snyderwine and Alex King now graduated, Monday has handled all of the punting and kicking duties this spring, and handled them well. By the fall, incoming freshman Ross Martin may challenge him for the placekicking duties, but expect to see Monday handle the punting for the next four years in Durham. On the return side, Jamison Crowder remains the Blue Devils’ top threat, but he’ll be joined by incoming freshman DeVon Edwards this fall, who took more than a few kicks to the house during his high school career. In all likelihood, getting to see Monday punt and kick should be a refreshing sight for Blue Devil fans and the only real highlight on special teams Saturday.

Recruiting still sizzling

Who are all those people with lanyards and nametags? That would be the dozens of high school prospects and their families who will be on campus this weekend to take in the Blue Devil program. Several members of the Duke class of 2012 will be on hand Saturday, and they’ll be joined by a huge group of future prospects. With 3 commitments already on board in 2013, the coaching staff is flying high on the trail and will have in some of their top targets in this class, including a handful considered among the nation’s elite. Coach Cutcliffe and his staff work on recruiting every single day, and this weekend will be no exception. And just like the staff, we follow the recruiting trail here at BDN, so be sure to check out some of our recent interviews with the likes of TE Nathan Marcus, and OL Sterling Korona, and of course lots more to come. Don’t be surprised if the Blue Devils hear more good news by the end of this weekend.

In case you haven’t figured it out already, Blue Devil Nation is the place to be for Duke Football fans. We cover the team year-round, and would love to have you join our growing BDN Premium community. We can’t wait to see you all in Wallace Wade Stadium this Saturday. WE ARE DUKE.

Duke rides a 4-game losing streak into Saturday's matchup with UVA in Charlottesville

Duke looks to make it 4 in a row against Virginia

Duke rides a 4-game losing streak into Saturday's matchup with UVA in Charlottesville

Duke (3-6, 1-4 ACC) will look to make it four in a row against the Virginia Cavaliers (6-3, 3-2 ACC) on Saturday. Heading into the 3PM kickoff in Charlottesville, the Blue Devils are riding a 4-game losing streak while the surprising Wahoos have won 4 out of 5. Virginia ranks 3rd in the ACC in both total offense and total defense, and will present a significant challenge for Duke on both sides of the ball. After a disappointing performance on the road in Miami a week ago, the Blue Devils will need to put together a much better effort in Charlottesville if they hope to secure a tough ACC road win.

GAME INFO

Duke at Virginia

3:00 PM ET, Saturday, November 12

Radio: Blue Devil IMG Sports Network; Sirius XM Radio (Channels 92 & 190)
TV: RSN – Rich Waltz (Play-by-play), Keith Jones (Analyst) and Jenn Hildreth (Sideline)
Internet: GoDuke.com; theACC.com

KEYS FOR DUKE

Duke's Desmond Scott dove for the game-winning TD last year against UVA -Lance Images

1. Winning attitude: Duke is in the midst of a 4-game losing streak, and it shows. The Blue Devils have lost tough games to Wake Forest and Virginia Tech and are in danger of taking a turn to Negative Town. Defensive leaders Matt Daniels and Charlie Hatcher will have to keep their unit focused and confident after they were picked apart by a speedy Miami offense last Saturday. Sean Renfree must take control of the offense, and Kyle Hill must do a better job keeping the offensive line in sync. In short, Duke must play hungry for a win for a full 60 minutes on Saturday.

2. Win the line of scrimmage: Football is won and lost in the trenches, and UVA’s offensive line has helped to power them to their 6-3 start after a dismal 2010 season. The Cavaliers rank 3rd in the ACC with 190 rushing yards per game and are 2nd in the ACC with just 8 sacks allowed all season. If the Blue Devils are to win this game, their young defensive linemen will have to play up to their potential. First and foremost, Duke cannot allow UVA to open holes for RB Perry Jones, who enters the game averaging 5.3 yards per carry. If the Blue Devils can put first-year QB Michael Rocco under pressure, he will make bad throws, as evidenced by his 9 INTs on the season. Virginia as a team ranks last in the ACC with 13 interceptions thrown, a number which the Blue Devil secondary will have to add to on Saturday.

3. 60 Minutes: Coach-speak, cliché, call it whatever you want. Virginia is a good football team and it will take a complete effort for the Blue Devils to pull off an upset on the road. Perhaps most important will be the offensive effort, as Duke’s offense has been wildly inconsistent of late. Sean Renfree will have to be wary of Chase Minnifield lurking in the Virginia secondary, but should be able to find mismatches in the Blue Devils’ favor down the field. Senior Cam Johnson will present a challenge for the Duke offensive line, but the duo of Desmond Scott and Juwan Thompson should still find room to run. Duke has 3 straight wins against Virginia, and they will have to play with confidence and consistency to keep their streak intact.

WHAT TO WATCH

1. Blue Devil Streaks: Duke has a few players closing in on several school records.

  • Senior WR Donovan Varner needs just two more catches to tie Clarkston Hines’ all-time receptions record at Duke. Varner ranks second with 187 grabs. Junior teammate WR Conner Vernon is right behind Varner with 184 catches.
  • Redshirt senior K Will Snyderwine compiled two points last week and ranks fourth on Duke’s all-time scoring chart with 209 points … Randy Gardner is third on the list with 221 points.
  • Donovan Varner has at least one catch in 34 straight games to match the third-longest streak in Duke history … The school record of 35 is held by Scottie Montgomery.

2. Red zone offense: It’s no secret Duke has struggled to score points at times this season. Duke ranks next to last in the ACC in red zone efficiency, scoring on just 72% of their opportunities. If the Blue Devils come away empty-handed in the red zone on Saturday, it will be an ominous sign.

3. Duke seniors: In particular, Matt Daniels and Donovan Varner, two great representatives of the Duke program, who always seem to come up with a play when their number is called. Duke fans have just three games left to watch these two All-ACC seniors and their classmates take the field. This senior class has never lost to Virginia, and would like to keep it that way on Saturday.

PREDICTION

Matt Daniels has never lost to UVA. Sean Renfree has never lost to UVA. Coach Cutcliffe is 3-0 against UVA since arriving in Durham. Coming off one of their most disappointing performances of the Cutcliffe era, Duke needs a win in the worst way. Expect the Blue Devils to put together a much improved effort against a bowl-bound Virginia team. At 6-3, the Wahoos have been one of the biggest surprises in the ACC this season, and they’ll certainly be gunning for the Blue Devils after 3 straight losses in the rivalry. There are few instances where history and karma seem to be on the Blue Devils’ side, but this may be one of them. Duke seems to have the Cavaliers’ number, and they come into this game with nothing to lose, in desperate need of a win. Duke 24, UVA 20

Let's get this season started!

BDN previews Duke’s season opener vs. Richmond

2nd and 10 from the Duke 35 yard line

Renfree drops back, completes a pass to senior Austin Kelly across the middle. Kelly tries to elude a tackle but is brought down by Quan Sturdivant at the Duke 41 yard line. The clock hits zero. The Tar Heels celebrate and reclaim the Victory Bell. Duke’s 2010 season is over.

That was the last we saw of Sean Renfree and the Blue Devils, all the way back on November 27, 2010. Over the past nine months, Duke’s coaches and players have shed blood, sweat, and tears in preparation for the 2011 season. The 3-win 2010 season is gone, but not forgotten. It’s week one of the 2011 college football season, and time for Blue Devil fans to recite their familiar credo, “this year has to be better, right?”

Sean Renfree is ready to lead the Blue Devil offense in his second year as a starter

KEYS FOR DUKE

Second-year starter Sean Renfree and the Blue Devil offense have the potential to be one of the ACC’s top units in 2011. In order for that potential to be realized, the Blue Devils must accomplish two things: take care of the football and establish a consistent, effective running game. After struggling with turnovers early in 2010, the Blue Devils showed dramatic improvement in their final five games. Turnovers have continued to be a point of emphasis all offseason. Junior Desmond Scott and sophomore Juwan Thompson will pace the ground game and have had an excellent training camp running behind a big, experienced offensive line. Dave Harding has stepped in flawlessly for the injured Brian Moore at center, and he will have to play at a high level in his first college game action snapping the football. With several question marks on defense, the margin for error for the Duke offense is slim.

Defensively, Duke needs to see big games from their returning stars in senior Matt Daniels, sophomore Kelby Brown, and senior Charlie Hatcher. These three players will be supported by a group of talented but mostly inexperienced Blue Devil defenders, a typical recipe for inconsistency. Similar to the offense, there are two primary goals for the Duke defense in 2011: limit explosive offensive plays and improve their play at the line of scrimmage. Duke has a deep group of high-level athletes in their secondary, and the new 4-2-5 defensive scheme will rely on their ability to make plays all over the field in an effort to slow opposing offenses. In his second year as a starter, Ross Cockrell will have to develop into a shutdown cornerback for the Blue Devils. Seven redshirt-freshmen will enter the rotation on the defensive line for Duke in 2011, and the maturation of these young athletes will be key to the defense’s success. Expect to see flashes of ability from players like Jordan DeWalt-Ondigo, Jamal Wallace, and Dezmond Johnson. If the Blue Devils are able to successfully execute their new defensive gameplan, this group’s results should be greater than the sum of its parts.

If Duke is going to make a bowl game in 2011, their special teams unit will have to be special. The Blue Devils have the talent in the kicking game to dominate special teams at times this season. Will Snyderwine has established himself as one of the top kickers in the country. Alex King is a proven veteran with experience and versatility. Freshman Jamison Crowder is a playmaker at kick and punt return. Improved depth across the roster should lead to better kick and punt return units. The pieces are in place for a solid special teams effort; the players simply have to execute.

GAME ANALYSIS

Turnovers

To put it lightly, Duke was plagued by turnovers in 2010. Duke’s 28 turnovers, however, are eclipsed by Richmond’s 32 turnovers a season ago. Needless to say, the team that takes care of the football stands to have the best chance of winning this matchup. Late in the season, Sean Renfree appeared to turn a corner, throwing just three interceptions in the final five games. Limiting turnovers has been a point of emphasis for the Duke offense all spring and summer, while the Duke defense is hoping to create more turnovers than they did a year ago. If the Blue Devils can build a first half lead, expect the Duke secondary to make some plays when the Spiders are forced to pass. Duke should win the turnover battle.

Duke's young defensive linemen will need to pressure Richmond's Aaron Corp

Sacks

Richmond plays a physical game of football, and in the last two meetings between these schools, dominated the line of scrimmage. The Duke defense has struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks. With youth along the defensive line and a pass-happy offense, Duke will rarely win the sack battle. The key will be to limit the loss of yards on offense and to make some timely tackles for loss against the Spiders. The Spiders did graduate their top 3 tacklers from 2010, but still have the players to apply some pressure. Richmond will win the sack battle.

3rd Down Production

Richmond converted just 34% of their 3rd downs in 2010, while the Blue Devils were able to convert 40% of 3rd down opportunities. With a veteran offense returning, Duke should again have success on 3rd downs, utilizing their deep receiving corps to pick up 1st down yardage. The Duke defense has struggled on 3rd down in recent years, but with an improved secondary and a better scheme, they should do a better job of limiting big conversions. Duke will win the 3rd down battle.

Ross Cockrell will have a tough matchup with All-CAA WR Tre Grey, BDN Photo

Explosive Plays

The game features a trio of All-Conference wide receivers, all capable of opening the game up with an explosive play. Tre Gray will be a challenge for the Duke secondary, and his matchup with Duke’s Ross Cockrell will be one to watch. The “Killer V’s” will be up to their usual tricks, but Richmond will have to pick their poison as senior Cooper Helfet and sophomore Brandon Braxton also have big-play ability. On the ground, the Spiders will utilize a committee approach, while Duke will feature a heavy dose of Desmond Scott and Juwan Thompson, two players who have dominated training camp with big plays. Duke has too many weapons on offense; they will win the explosive play battle.

Rushing TDs

Richmond will look to establish their running game early, and if they are able to control the line of scrimmage, it could be another long season opener for the Blue Devils. Duke will be able to counter with a veteran offensive line and three talented runners of their own in Desmond Scott, Juwan Thompson, and Brandon Connette. With a deep offensive line, Duke should be able to run the ball into the end zone when needed. The Duke defense will have their hands full with trying to keep Richmond’s Kendall Gaskins out of the end zone, but Duke has a deeper stable of proven runners. Duke will punch a few in on the ground.

Field Goals

Both teams feature outstanding All-Conference kickers. Duke’s Will Snyderwine has connected on 86.4% of his career field goal opportunities. Richmond’s Will Kamin has hit 90.9% of his career field goal opportunities. This matchup is a push.

Penalties

Since the arrival of David Cutcliffe in Durham, the Blue Devils have been one of the most disciplined teams in the ACC. In 2010, Duke committed just 55 penalties for an average of 40.6 yards per game. The Spiders were even better, committing just 50 penalties for an average of 35.5 yards per game. That trend should continue under new Head Coach Wayne Lineburg. This matchup is a push.

Let's get this season started!

PREDICTION

Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us. Fool us three times, not going to happen. Duke is ready for Richmond. There are sure to be some first-game jitters, but Duke won’t get tangled in the Spiders’ web. Sean Renfree has emerged as a leader on this Blue Devil team, and he will guide the Duke offense to a big night. The game will be won (or lost) along the line of scrimmage, and Duke’s linemen are bigger and stronger than they were two years ago. Desmond Scott and Juwan Thompson will have big days on the ground. Playing from behind, Richmond will be unable to establish a consistent power running game, forcing Corp to make plays through the air against the deep Duke secondary.  The Blue Devils should come away from this game with a lot of positives to build on and a lot to learn from, while Duke fans will leave Wallace Wade Stadium thinking, “this year will be better!”

Duke 34

Richmond 17

Duke and Virginia look headed for another thriller in Wallace Wade Stadium -Lance Images

Duke Football will look to make it 4 in a row against Virginia on November 12

Duke's Desmond Scott dove for the game-winning TD last year against UVA -Lance Images

The Blue Devils emerged victorious against the Cavaliers in a shootout last year in Durham. RB Desmond Scott’s late touchdown run put the Blue Devils ahead and capped the thrilling 55-48 victory. Under Head Coach David Cutcliffe, Duke is 3-0 against Virginia, and will travel to Charlottesville on November 12th to try and extend that streak, while the Cavaliers will certainly be looking for revenge.

This week, BDN welcomes back Kris Wright, editor of TheSabre.com, to answer a few questions about the 2011 Virginia football team.

BDN: The 2010 Cavaliers had an up-and-down injury-plagued season, but return a veteran group of 18 starters in 2011. The depth chart on both sides of the ball is filled with upperclassmen, led by All-ACC candidates Chase Minnifield, Cam Johnson, and Kris Burd. What are the keys for this Virginia team? How good can they be?

The biggest key for this team is doing better with the big play. The defense allowed a ton of big plays last season, including quite a few against Duke, that cost the team a lot of points. Still, the coaches believe those mistakes are correctable and that when the defense played well last season, it played really well. Offensively, UVa ranked last in the ACC in scoring plays of more than 25 yards so that meant the offense had to sustain long drives all the way into the red zone and then execute to score. If some playmakers can crank out some big plays to help put up points, it would take some pressure off the whole team. Long story short: big plays influenced a lot of outcomes for Virginia last season and that’s one area that could improve the overall results. So how good can the Cavaliers be? With a favorable schedule set-up (3 non-conference home games and arguably the most winnable ACC games at home), they have a shot at bowl eligibility in 2011.

Sophomore Michael Rocco appears to be the front-runner for the UVA QB job -TheSabre.com

BDN: Quarterback is undoubtedly the biggest question mark for the 2011 Cavaliers, and it appears to be an interesting competition, to say the least. Recently, it appears that sophomore Michael Rocco has emerged as the leading candidate. Given the overall youth and inexperience at the position, can you give us a brief scouting report on Rocco and the UVA QBs? 

TheSabre.com has projected Michael Rocco as the likely starter since early in spring practice and he does appear to have emerged as the week one starter for now. From a football family full of high school coaches, Rocco has a high football IQ so he processes schemes and reads defenses well. With a decent amount of arm strength thrown in, he looks like a guy that can deliver the ball to a growing list of playmaking options on offense. The debate for the No. 2 QB slot right now is between true freshman and January enrollee David Watford and redshirt sophomore Ross Metheny. Watford is a dual threat quarterback that has good pocket mobility and an improving throwing motion after coming from a run-heavy offense in high school; the biggest question right now for UVa coaches is whether Watford is ready to play now or does he need a redshirt season first. I’m going to bet that he plays at least in a reserve role in 2011. That leaves Metheny, a left-hander with good mobility as well, as the third option. Metheny appears to grasp the offense and do well with the shorter throws so he could be a safe option if the other two quarterbacks can’t take care of the football.

BDN: Though the majority of starters return, the Wahoos will have to replace QB Marc Verica and RB Keith Payne. What are the expectations for the 2011 Cavalier offense? Other than QB, what question marks remain to be answered in training camp?

Virginia does have to replace starting quarterback Marc Verica, the ACC’s leading scorer in running back Keith Payne, and UVa’s leading receiver in terms of 2010 yards Dontrelle Inman. With that said, if the quarterback situation works out, there’s not too much concern with filling those spots at Virginia as offensive coordinator Bill Lazor puts together the system’s second season. Perry Jones matched Payne’s 4.5 yards per carry last season and he finished with nearly 1,000 yards of offense (655 rushing and 262 receiving). You mentioned earlier that Kris Burd is back at receiver and Tim Smith returns from injury there too after showing great promise as a true freshman. The tight ends and offensive line return everyone that was getting significant snaps late in 2010 too. Then you add highly regarded recruits like redshirt freshman Kevin Parks, a Salisbury, N.C. product, and true freshmen Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell to the mix as well. So it looks like the offense should have some firepower if a quarterback can execute his part of the equation. The biggest question beyond that is who will replace Payne’s points. That’s probably going to be a list of names vs. one guy.

BDN: Given the talent on the UVA defense, it’s hard to believe that Duke was able to put up 55 points a year ago in Durham. With the combination of talent and experience, this appears to be a group capable of dominating ACC opponents. What are the keys for this unit to be successful in 2011? Who is expected to step up alongside Minnifield and Johnson?

No question about it, the defense struggled in a major way in 2010. Duke posted 489 yards and 55 points last season – those numbers were more than 100 yards and 25 points better than the Devils’ season averages. It wasn’t a one-week hiccup either. UVa struggled with almost everyone on the schedule last season. As mentioned earlier, big plays really hurt so that’s the top item to fix. Part of the problem appeared to be the transition from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 scheme as well as players swapping positions to bolster the speed on defense. That change didn’t produce a high number of sacks and turnovers as expected though because Virginia wasn’t consistent with a pass rush or in pass coverage. So the coaches hope the second year in the 4-3 helps with a lot of the mistakes and consistency issues. We’ll see. If that improvement is going to happen, some names to watch include defensive lineman Matt Conrath, linebacker Steve Greer, and safeties Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley. If the middle of the defense plays better, those names will be involved somehow. Also keep an eye on true freshman Demetrious Nicholson at corner – he appears to be a real talent so far in fall camp.

BDN: Virginia and Duke played one of the most exciting games in the ACC in Durham last fall. The Blue Devils have had the Cavaliers’ number under Head Coach David Cutcliffe, winning each of the last three meetings. Virginia will be hungry for revenge on November 12 in Charlottesville. What do you think will be the keys to the game this fall? Can it possibly match last year’s shoot-out?

It’s a long time to November! If I had to guess right now based on last season’s trends, I’d say the keys for Virginia will be containing big plays and Duke’s running threats at quarterback. Those two items basically cost the Hoos a shootout win in 2010. For Duke, I think the keys will be to disrupt a veteran offensive line and the running game to put pressure on the young UVa quarterbacks to perform. I don’t see a shootout forming this time around, though. I’m going to guess the game will be in the 20′s.

BDN: Thanks for your insight, Kris. Good luck this season!

 

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