Tag Archives: Duke Football 2011

Duke and Boston College square off in their ACC opener Saturday

BDN previews Duke’s ACC opener at Boston College

Duke and Boston College square off in their ACC opener Saturday

Duke travels to Boston College for their ACC opener on Saturday at 12:30 PM ET on the ACC Network. Both teams are off to a disappointing 0-2 start to the 2011 season, and one will have the opportunity to turn things around on Saturday.

Boston College fell in week one to Northwestern at home, 24-17, and then traveled to Central Florida for a lopsided 30-3 defeat last Saturday. The Blue Devils have seen a similar share of disappointment, losing a close game to Richmond in week one and then Stanford 44-14 in week two. Both teams have been plagued by injuries and have struggled to score on offense, ranking at the bottom of the ACC in scoring.

The Eagles will be without star RB Montel Harris for the third straight game, and the Eagle offense hasn’t looked the same without him. With a banged up offensive line and without a go-to wide receiver, Chase Rettig has struggled at quarterback, completing just over 50% of his passes so far this season. Andre Williams has been the lone bright spot, averaging 5.1 yards per carry and 86.5 yards per game, but he’s been unable to shoulder the entire offensive load himself.

All-American LB Luke Kuechly dominated the Blue Devils in 2010

Defensively, Boston College is known for its physical play, epitomized by leading tackler Luke Kuechly at linebacker. With a depleted secondary and a shorthanded defensive line, however, the typically stingy BC defense has allowed 27 points per game, including 231 rushing yards per game. On the season, the Eagles are -2 in turnover margin, and are allowing opponents to convert 41% of 3rd down opportunities. In particular, the 2nd half has been unkind to the Eagles, as they have been outscored 35-7 after intermission.

While a few starters will return this week, the Eagles will need to put together a much better effort in all three phases to begin to approach the preseason expectations for this team. Given BC’s struggles, the Blue Devils have an excellent opportunity to leave Chestnut Hill with a 1-0 ACC record if they can put together 60 minutes of good football.

QB Sean Renfree should have a big day against the depleted BC secondary

KEYS FOR DUKE

  1. Control the line of scrimmage. Boston College’s struggles have mostly been the direct result of losing the battle at the line of scrimmage. With injuries hampering BC’s offensive and defensive lines, this will be an excellent opportunity for the Blue Devils to demonstrate their improvement at the line of scrimmage. Duke needs to do a better job protecting Sean Renfree and consistently opening holes for the Duke running backs. If BC is able to consistently get after Renfree, Duke will continue to struggle to score points. The young Duke defensive line was able to unsettle Heisman favorite Andrew Luck for a few series last weekend. They will have to duplicate that effort and bring consistent pressure at QB Chase Rettig, forcing him into poor throws and turnovers.
  2. Establish Juwan Thompson early. Duke is facing a team that is allowing 231 rushing yards per game to opponents so far this season. With Desmond Scott and Josh Snead still sidelined, the powerful sophomore is left to carry the load for the Duke ground game. He’s averaging 5.4 yards per carry on the ground, and against a suspect BC defensive line, he should be ready to have a career day for the Blue Devils.
  3. Turn Renfree loose. Duke has moved the ball well at times this year, but has failed to open things up with offensive explosive plays. Establishing Thompson on the ground should open things up for Duke’s talented receiving corps, who should be salivating over a depleted BC secondary. BC’s linebacker’s are the biggest matchup problem for the Duke offense, led by Kuechly and Kevin Pierre-Louis. If BC is forced to use them against the run, the middle of the field should open up for Conner Vernon, Donovan Varner, and Cooper Helfet. If Duke is to win this game, Renfree will have to hook up with one of his receivers for his first passing touchdown of 2011.

GAME ANALYSIS

As you might expect for two winless teams, the statistics are pretty similar, and pretty ugly. Neither team has had much success making plays to win games. With BC’s injuries and offensive struggles, the Blue Devils appear to have more playmakers, and that could be the difference on Saturday.

Turnovers

Duke 3, Boston College 3

Duke already has three fumbles on the young season, while Boston College has thrown three interceptions. QB Chase Rettig can be pressured into poor throws if Duke is able to bring a consistent pass rush. The BC defenders are capable of delivering the hard hits that have forced the Blue Devils to put the ball on the ground. Simply put, the team that wins the turnover battle will be tough to beat Saturday.

Sacks

Duke 2, Boston College 2

Neither defense has been able to get after the quarterback consistently so far this year. What’s worse is that both offenses have done a poor job taking care of their own quarterback. Duke has allowed 7 sacks already in 2011, while Boston College has given up 6. Duke’s offensive line will need to drastically improve its pass protection, or Sean Renfree will again find himself repeatedly on the ground. With their injuries up front, Duke’s defense must take advantage of the Eagles’ shaky blocking.

3rd down

Duke 33%, Boston College 31%

Another dismal statistic for both sides. Both sides are converting around one-third of third-down opportunities while allowing opponents to convert over 40%. Luke Kuechly is the difference maker on 3rd down for BC, and Matt Daniels has been that guy for Duke. With two struggling offenses, the team that is able to sustain drives will find itself in good shape in the 4th quarter Saturday.

Explosives

Explosives comes down to playmakers. Lee Butler made an explosive 77-yard INT return for a TD last week, but it wasn’t enough. Duke needs to open up the field on offense and get Vernon, Varner, Helfet, and Thompson into open space. Jamison Crowder and Lee Butler both have the potential to add explosives on special teams. For BC, it all starts with Andre Williams. He has to consistently break tackles and move the chains if the Eagles are to have more success on offense.

Rushing TDs

Duke 4, BC 2

Neither team has had much success putting points on the board, but when they do, it’s usually on the ground so far this year. Duke has had three different players score on the ground, and Juwan Thompson will be looking to pick up his first on Saturday. Andre Williams is the primary threat for BC, and expect the Duke defense to key in on him.

Field goals

Duke 0/4, BC 2/4

With Will Snyderwine questionable, expect Duke to gamble more on 4th down than in the past. The kicking game is a complete question mark for the Blue Devils. BC would like to be more consistent, but they certainly have the edge in this matchup.

Penalties

Duke 7-52 yards, BC 11-73 yards

Duke continues to play disciplined football, though a few of their penalties have come at inopportune times, especially on offense. This is a statistic that the Blue Devils will have to win if they want to become a winning football program.

PREDICTION

Two winless teams with the lowest scoring offenses in the ACC will meet on Saturday, but only one will emerge a winner. The BC offense has looked lost without Montel Harris to hand it off to 30+ times a game. Duke’s offense has moved the ball, but failed to score. The historically stingy BC defense has given up yards and points this year, while the Duke defense has performed better than expected, but inconsistently. In the end, Duke has too many offensive weapons for the depleted Eagles’ defense, and the Blue Devils’ defense should put together another strong showing against a struggling BC offense. Sean Renfree gets back on track and into the end zone in this one, and Juwan Thompson will have a third straight solid game on the ground.

Duke 28, BC 13

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

Progress: it’s all relative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 will host Georgia Tech on November 19th for their final home game of 2011

Blue Devils will try to slow the Georgia Tech triple-option on November 19

Duke will host Georgia Tech on November 19th for their final home game of 2011

BDN has been previewing Duke football’s 2011 opponents all summer long. This week, we wrap things up as we prepare for Saturday’s season opener, but not before taking a look at a crucial stretch of games in November. Duke will play three tough road contests at Miami, Virginia, and North Carolina in November, meaning that the November 19th match-up with Georgia Tech will serve as Duke’s final home game of the season. The Blue Devils played the Yellow Jackets tough in Atlanta last season, but a late red zone turnover turned the tables on Duke’s upset bid.

To help us preview the 2011 Yellow Jackets, BDN is glad to welcome back Winfield Featherston of FromTheRumbleSeat.com. His candid insight is invaluable when analyzing the Georgia Tech program.

BDN: Georgia Tech was among the ACC programs involved in a recent NCAA investigation, receiving a four-year probation, among other penalties. Can you summarize your thoughts on the NCAA violations? Do you expect there to be any affect on the program in 2011 or beyond?

My initial thoughts on the issue came across as too passive and made me look like I just rolled over. And I kinda sorta did unfortunately. The NCAA’s penalties given to Georgia Tech are TOTAL BULLSH*T. They penalized us anything because they felt slighted when our AD didn’t want Paul Johnson looking like Al Golden when the news broke against Tech. Sadly, GT is just big enough for big sanctions to make it look like the NCAA has teeth and could – if they wanted to- go after the big programs but we all know that won’t happen.

Nothing will happen for the future. We vacated the 2009 ACCCG (BTW it still happened – Clemson’s record book says so) and we paid a fine. Recruiting visits and scholarships are not affected.

Head Coach Paul Johnson has led Georgia Tech to 3 bowl games in 3 seasons in Atlanta

BDN: When Head Coach Paul Johnson arrived in Atlanta, he inherited a talented team and took them to a 2009 ACC Championship, led by All-ACC players like Jonathan Dwyer, Josh Nesbitt, Derrick Morgan, and Demaryius Thomas. After three years at the head of the Yellow Jackets, how would you assess the state of the program under Johnson? With only 12 starters returning in 2011, what are the expectations for this young group of Yellow Jackets?

The state of the program gets defined in 2012. This year it’s finally Johnson’s players in Johnson’s system. Wipe the slate clean from the previous years. Any success or failures we had with Gailey players was just some form or luck really. Expectations are set in typical Georgia Tech fan fashion – pretty high. Many fans expect about 8 wins to reach the “good season” level. With most major games at home, that goal should be attainable. 

BDN: The Blue Devils got a good look at Tevin Washington running the triple option last year in Atlanta. There has been significant competition this spring and summer for starting jobs at QB and B-back. How do you expect that competition to play out at those two spots? What are the other question marks for the 2011 Georgia Tech offense?

The schedule plays perfectly for a good ole September platooning effort. I’d expect to see a mix of Synjyn Days and Tevin Washington to play out most of the games. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Vad Lee either. The same goes for B-back with Charles Perkins, Preston Lyons and David Sims. By the time we hit October, we’ll have our depth chart in fine condition. 

BDN: Al Groh’s defense struggled in his first year in Atlanta a year ago, allowing almost 372 yards per game to opposing offenses. What changes or improvements need to be made for the Tech defense to be more successful in 2011?

Experience. We had to give the Groh-fense a year to sink in. Word on the street says that the defense has been improving tremendously and our young guys are all stepping up. 

BDN: Duke gave Georgia Tech a scare in Atlanta last November, throwing a crucial red zone interception and ultimately falling, 20-30. What do you think will be the keys to the matchup on November 19 in Durham? Can the Blue Devils give the Yellow Jackets another scare?

We’re talking November football already? Sure it’s possible. For all games this year, it will come down to the defense. History shows that over the season CPJ teams average the same offensive statistics per year. The defense will have to shut down Duke’s offensive attack and let our triple option offensive do it’s usual thing.  

BDN: Thanks for your help, Winfield! Good luck this season!

Previous week: November 12, Duke at Miami

Next week: November 26, Duke at North Carolina

Duke will look to end a 10-game losing streak against Virginia Tech on October 29

Blue Devils will host defending ACC Champion Virginia Tech on October 29

Duke will look to end a 10-game losing streak against Virginia Tech on October 29

The Blue Devils last defeated Virginia Tech in 1981, but they will be trying to do just that when they welcome the Hokies to Wallace Wade Stadium on October 29. In Head Coach David Cutcliffe’s first two seasons in Durham, Duke gave Virginia Tech a scare, coming within a few plays of pulling off the unlikely upset. When the Blue Devils traveled to Blacksburg a season ago, however, the Hokies put the game away early, cruising to a 44-7 victory.

This year, the defending ACC Champions are the consensus pick to win the ACC Coastal Division, despite the loss of several stars on both sides of the ball. BDN is excited to again have the help of furrer4heisman from Gobbler Country to give us an inside look at the 2011 Hokies.

BDN: Despite all of the scandals in college football over the past several years, Virginia Tech continues to win the right way, year in and year out. What would you consider to be the keys to the Hokies’ consistent success? Do you think they receive enough credit for their success, and more importantly, for how they achieve it?

GC: I think they get the proper amount of credit. I don’t have the links on hand, but just about any time a news outlet polls the coaches and asks them who they respect, Beamer is usually pretty high on the list. His peers recognize what he’s done and how he’s done it.

The way they’ve done it is through good talent evaluation. They go after kids that fit their system and fit their attitude. Not many five-star recruits come to Virginia Tech, but very often you get guys who play above their star rating. A lot of the credit for that goes to Mike Gentry, who runs the S&C program.

There was also a little bit of luck involved. They came to the ACC just as FSU and Miami went in the toilet. If that doesn’t happen, who knows? maybe there’s one or two fewer 10-win seasons for the Hokies since 2004.

BDN: Some pundits predict that Virginia Tech could go undefeated in 2011, but most still predicted Florida State to win the ACC Championship. How good can this Virginia Tech team be in 2011? Are the expectations among the media and the fan base too high or too low?

GC: I think, right now, it’s too high. I’m never a fan of picking a team based on their schedule. I remember there were years in the Big Ten that some teams would have a random year where Ohio State and Michigan would cycle off their schedule and suddenly everyone thought Purdue or whoever was a threat to win the league. Then they’d go 6-6. Virginia Tech has a favorable schedule based on what teams did last year and what’s usually expected out of the Hokies.

But we’re paper thin on the defensive line, weren’t very good against the run last year and will be starting a first-year quarterback. There are a lot of things that could potentially go wrong for the Hokies. No. 13 in the country in both polls is too high in my opinion. Anywhere 16-20 is a much better spot and I think you’ll see Tech go 10-2 or 9-3 in the regular season. They’ll lose to someone they shouldn’t, just like they do every year.

QB Logan Thomas is set to take over for 2010 ACC POY Tyrod Taylor this season

BDN: The Hokies return 12 starters from last year’s ACC Championship team, but will have to replace several stars on offense, including ACC POY Tyrod Taylor. The expectations are high for first-year starters David Wilson and Logan Thomas, and they have big shoes to fill. Can they carry the load for the Virginia Tech offense? What are the question marks for the 2011 Hokie offense?

GC: The question marks always exist on the offensive line. For the last four or five years, the offensive line has struggled due to injury or graduation at the beginning of the year and gets much better by the end. Then, in the offseason we’re told the line has turned the corner and that this year’s line is going to be improved. Then, it’s a disaster to start the season again and the process starts over. So until the line actually performs well at the start of the season, I’m not going to believe it.

As for Thomas, he should be fine as long as he isn’t asked to win games himself and the line is able to keep him upright. He’s thrown a few interceptions during fall practice, but he’s a first-year starter so I expect he’s going to throw a few of those. As long as we only ask him to manage the game, I’m confident in him. Plus, he has several veteran receives who will make his life easier. It won’t be like Taylor’s second year when the Hokies’ receivers had something like nine career catches and Taylor had no clue if the route called for them was going to be the one they ran.

Wilson’s already a folk hero on campus and as long as he stays healthy will have a big year. He’s not a concern, but what is a concern is what effect having to handle most of, if not all, of the significant carries will have on him.

BDN: We know how good the Virginia Tech defense and special teams units usually are, producing a +19 turnover margin in 2010. With just five starters returning on defense, who will be expected to step up this year alongside All-ACC candidates Bruce Taylor and Jayron Hosley?

GC: Anyone on the defensive line. And we have no clue who it will be. Every defensive end on the roster is a sophomore or freshman. All have little or no playing time under their belts. At defensive tackle, the injury to senior Kwamaine Battle means the Hopkins Brothers will start at the two DT positions and be backed up by true freshmen Luther Maddy and Corey Marshall, who is 6-1, 253. A 253-pound defensive tackle.

So really two or three of those freshman and sophomore have to step up. I think James Gayle, one of the sophomore defensive ends, is set to have a big year but at this point it’s anyone’s guess. Somehow, we have to do better than 4.7 yards per carry against, which was 10th in the ACC last year. If we do that again, I don’t care if you’re playing Alabama or Appalachian State in your opener, it’s just not going to get it done.

BDN: Last year’s game in Blacksburg seemed to be a blowout before Duke had even snapped the ball. In previous years, the Blue Devils had given the Hokies a bit of a scare. What do you expect to see in Durham this year, and what would the Blue Devils have to do to pull off the unlikely upset?

GC: I don’t think Duke’s going to go to a bowl this year, I do think they’re going to beat someone they have no business beating. Will be the Hokies? Well, in order for that to happen I think Duke’s going to have to catch Tech a little fatigued. It’s possible since Duke is the last game before Virginia Tech’s bye week and will be the Hokies’ ninth game in as many weeks. Then, the Blue Devils are going to force turnovers like they did in the 2008 game in Blacksburg. Then they’re going to have to get some production on the ground to take some pressure off Renfree. If all three of those things happen, then you might see an upset.

I’m biased, but I don’t think it’s going to be the Hokies. However, someone other than the usual suspects are going to go down against you guys this year. You guys had so many games last year where you looked good and then turned into a pumpkin that you can’t help but learn from that and find some kind of killer instinct.

BDN: Finally, Duke will host Andrew Luck and Stanford in week 2 this fall. After seeing his performance in last year’s Orange Bowl, do you have any advice for the Blue Devils?

GC: Sure, watch out you don’t get killed.

BDN: Thanks so much for your insight. Good luck this season!

 

Previous week: Wake Forest at Duke, October 22

Next week: Duke at Miami, November 5

Sean Renfree paced the Blue Devil offense in a situational scrimmage Tuesday evening. -BDN Photo

Renfree Highlights 60-snap scrimmage

Sean Renfree paced the Blue Devil offense in a situational scrimmage Tuesday evening. -BDN Photo

DURHAM, N.C. – Redshirt junior quarterback Sean Renfree completed 12-of-14 passes for 101 yards and one touchdown to highlight Duke’s 60-play situational scrimmage on Tuesday night at the Brooks Practice Facility.

Renfree’s scoring toss covered 10 yards to senior wideout Donovan Varner while senior tight end Cooper Helfet caught a scrimmage-high three passes for 45 yards.

“We got some good work in tonight,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said.  “We put ourselves in game-like situations to get a better feel.  This is the best camp we’ve had since we’ve been here.  It has been very competitive and very physical.  From August 8th until now, we’ve become a better football team.”

Sophomore running back Juwan Thompson headlined the ground attack with a 20-yard touchdown run.  The Blue Devils scrimmaged without the services of running backs Patrick Kurunwune and Josh Snead, and Cutcliffe expressed concern with the depth at the position.

“Josh Snead got hurt yesterday,” Cutcliffe said.  “We’ll wait for further evaluation by our medical staff before giving an update.  Patrick has missed some time.  Jay (Hollingsworth) has missed some time.  You do the math.”

Duke’s defense received a lift when senior safety Matt Daniels returned a fumble 29 yards for a touchdown.

The Blue Devils open the 2011 season at home against Richmond on September 3 at 7 p.m. in Wallace Wade Stadium.  Tickets are available online at www.GoDuke.com/tickets or by calling the Duke Athletics Ticket Office at 919-681-2583.