So, how was National Beer Day? Yeah, I bet. If only we could have that every weekend…oh wait, it’s Beerfest in Raleigh this weekend. Sweet. It’s also time for Football Friday.
Since the Blue Devils managed to go an entire week without a commitment, there’s not much new on the recruiting front to talk about. The Spring Evaluation period kicks off this weekend, and with several top prospects coming off the board over the past few weeks, the coaching staff will be out in full force to check in on prospects and extend new scholarship offers. BDN Premium Members will be the first to know about the latest on Duke’s recruiting efforts. You see what I just did there?
Spring practice is officially in the books, but the team continues to work to improve on an individual level. The spring semester is winding down and we wish the best to all our departing seniors, and a strong finish to the academic year to all our student-athletes. In just a few short weeks, the newest members of #dukegang will move into campus, and the preparations for the 2012 season will begin in earnest. With that in mind, it’s time to kickoff our look at 2012 Duke Football schedule. The scheduling gods didn’t do Duke any favors, as the Blue Devils will face one of the toughest schedules in the ACC and the country. It all starts with the home opener against a tough FIU team on September 1st in Durham.
September 1: FIU at Duke
Under Head Coach David Cutcliffe, the Blue Devils are 2-2 in their season openers, pulling out victories against James Madison and Elon, while losing twice to pesky Richmond. This fall, Duke opens their season with a FBS opponent for the first time since a 2007 defeat to Connecticut. In 2011, the Blue Devils traveled to South Florida in week 5 and pulled out a thrilling 31-27 victory against T.Y. Hilton and the Golden Panthers. FIU went on to finish the season 8-5, earning the program’s second ever bowl game. For the second offseason in a row, Head Coach Mario Cristobal turned down multiple BCS coaching opportunities to remain at FIU. In 2012, the Golden Panthers remain a program on the rise, despite the losses of Hilton and QB Wes Carroll; with a favorable schedule, they should be expected to compete for another Sun Belt Championship.
Offensively, FIU may not be as explosive as a year ago, but return enough starters to remain a formidable threat to score points. The Golden Panthers return their top rusher in Kedrick Rhodes, and four starters along the offensive line. Two young QBs, sophomore Jake Medlock and redshirt-freshman Laranzo Hammonds, are the frontrunners to take over for Carroll, and Hammonds may even see time in an occasional Wildcat scheme. Moreso than a year ago, the Golden Panthers will look to have a lot of success on the ground, making them an excellent early season test for the Blue Devils’ defensive line. Other than Hilton, the Golden Panthers return all of their top receivers, led by senior Wayne Times. A year ago, the Blue Devils allowed 568 total yards to this offense, and if it weren’t for a late fumble forced by Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, may have come home with a loss. This year, the Duke defense will have to be more effective than last season’s “bend but not break” effort against a very deep and experienced Golden Panther offense.
When Duke traveled to FIU a year ago, the Blue Devils’ coaches were concerned about the tremendous speed of the Golden Panthers’ defense. Sean Renfree and the Duke offense were up to the challenge, putting up 31 points and 384 yards of total offense. Most encouraging, however, was that the Blue Devils finished the game without giving up a sack or a turnover. As they prepare for their 2012 season opener, the Duke coaches will have many of the same fears, as the Golden Panthers return 10 of 11 starters on defense. Overall, FIU’s defense was inconsistent in 2011, but did finish the season by holding their final 6 opponents to no more than 20 points. With another year’s experience, this defense will be a stout challenge for the new up-tempo Duke offense. In particular, the Blue Devils will have to contain a speedy pass rush led by senior DE Tourek Williams. The secondary is just as formidable, highlighted by senior safety Jonathan Cyprien. In all, the Golden Panthers should have 16 upperclassmen on their defensive 2-deep entering the fall.
This isn’t a pretty picture we’re painting, here, is it? Much like a year ago, the Blue Devils will have to come out of the gates ready to play if they expect to start the season with a win. A year ago, a less talented but confident Richmond team was able to steal a win in Wallace Wade Stadium. Coming off two straight bowl appearances, the Golden Panthers will be just as confident, and seeking revenge for last season’s loss in Miami. Over the past few seasons, we’ve seen how crucial a good start can be for this improving, but still fragile, Duke program. This season will be no different, and if the Blue Devils have any hope of improving upon their 3-win total of the past two seasons, they will have to play at a high level on September 1. It should be a great atmosphere in Wallace Wade Stadium, filled with the hope and optimism of a new season, and it should also be a highly competitive game on the field. We can’t wait for kickoff. WE ARE DUKE.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
Prior to the arrival of Head Coach David Cutcliffe, Duke fans remember all too well the days of missed field goals (and extra points!!), botched snaps, muffed punts, and missed tackles. Duke’s special teams is now light years ahead of where it was just a few seasons ago, and should continue to improve and become a strength for the 2011 Blue Devils.
Losses: Nick Maggio
Key returners: Will Snyderwine (R-Sr.), Paul Asack (R-Jr.)
2010 Review: Lou Groza semifinalist Will Snyderwine handled the kicking duties for the second straight season in 2010. After taking over for the injured Maggio in 2009, the former walk-on has now hit 38 of 44 (86.4%) field goal attempts in the past two seasons for the Blue Devils, with a career long of 52 yards at Georgia Tech in 2010. Snyderwine converted 32 extra points in 2010, extending his perfect career streak to 56/56. The combined field goal and extra point totals placed second all-time at Duke, with 95 points, and earned him All-American honors by the American Football Coaches Association, making him the first Blue Devil All-American kicker in school history. His value to the Duke team extended beyond field goals and extra points, as he increased his touchback numbers from 2/47 in 2009 to 11/60 in 2010. Charged to work on on-side kicks last offseason by Coach Cutcliffe, Snyderwine delivered, as the Blue Devils were able to recover 4 of 6 on-side kicks in 2010. Overall, the Duke kickoff unit ranked 3rd in the ACC and 18th in the country, allowing just 19.71 yards per return, with opponents average start at the 24 yard line.
2011 Outlook: Snyderwine returns to anchor the kicking game again in 2011, and has already garnered several preseason accolades, including the Lou Groza Award Watch List and several preseason All-American honors. The former walk-on has developed into a potent weapon for the Duke offense and special teams units. Snyderwine appears ready to cap off a historic career at Duke with a big senior season. With increased depth throughout the roster, the kick coverage should continue to improve and become a strength for the Blue Devils. Big plays occasionally haunted the Duke coverage unit, and they did give up one touchdown return on the season against Alabama. The only concern with the Duke kicking game in 2011 might be depth at kicker, where an injury to Snyderwine could significantly weaken the Blue Devils.
Losses: Kevin Jones
Key returners: Alex King (Sr.)
Newcomers: Will Monday (Fr.)
2010 Review: Jones lost the starting job to King after a botched punt against Wake Forest in 2010. King was mostly dependable for the Duke punting game, averaging 41.1 yards per punt, finishing 7th in the ACC. Of 55 punts on the year, King was able to pin opponents within the 20 yards line 21 times, with 6 touchbacks. The Blue Devils’ punters achieved a net of 33.6 yards per punt, which ranked 9th in the conference and 106th in the nation. The punt coverage, however, faired worse, allowing 14.4 yards per return, which ranked last in the conference and 117th in the nation. The Blue Devils were only able to force 7 fair catches on the season and allowed a punt return touchdown against Maryland.
2011 Outlook: Punting appeared to be the biggest weakness among Duke’s special teams unit in 2010, and stands to be an area of significant improvement in 2011. The hope is that with better depth, speed, and athleticism, the punt coverage unit will do a better job of limiting opponent returns. Punting should improve as well, as King now has nearly a full year of starting under his belt, and will be pushed by highly-touted freshman Will Monday. The competition between King and Monday will definitely be one to watch this month.
Key returners: Patrick Kurunuwe (R-Jr.), Desmond Scott (Jr.), Conner Vernon (Jr.), Josh Snead (So.), Juwan Thompson (So.)
2010 Review: Scott, Snead, and Thompson were the leading return men for the Blue Devils in 2010, and Duke ended the season 4th in the ACC with an average of 20.9 yards per return. As true freshmen, Snead and Thompson ranked 7th and 8th individually with averages of 22.0 and 21.7 yards, respectively. The Duke return game provided the offense with an average starting position of the 27 yard line.
2011 Outlook: Duke has yet to return a kickoff for a touchdown under Coach Cutcliffe. Will 2011 be the year? With the three primary return men all back, Duke seems poised to continue to use kick returns as a strength. Scott, Snead, and Thompson will continue to share carries in the Duke backfield, and will also split the kick return duties. With their combination of size, vision, and speed, it may be difficult for any newcomers to break into the rotation, but the Duke staff has shown a desire to rotate multiple return men in an effort to keep players fresh throughout the season. The kick return job is another key competition to watch during training camp.
Key returners: Lee Butler (Sr.), Johnny Williams (Sr.)
2010 Review: Butler handled the vast majority of punt return duties in 2010, finishing with a respectable 8.6 yards per return, which ranked 5th in the ACC and 31st in the nation. With a season long of 33 yards, Butler was able to consistently advance the ball, but rarely broke out for big returns. Williams showed some explosiveness as a punt returner in 2009, but due to injuries and a position change, only returned 2 punts in 2010.
2011 Outlook: With both Butler and Williams back, along with a group of speedy youngsters headed by Jamison Crowder, Duke appears ready to develop the punt return game into a significant weapon. There is likely to be significant competition for the starting job, and with some improved blocking, 2011 might be the year that fans see an explosive punt return game from the Blue Devils. Coach Cutcliffe has historically emphasized the kicking game in past training camps, and the punt return unit is likely to see significant reps this August.
After their week 6 off week, Coach Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils will host yet another top 10 opponent in Wallace Wade Stadium on October 15th, as the Florida State Seminoles travel to Durham. Despite the loss of starting QB Christian Ponder, the Seminoles are the consensus favorite to win the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2011. In Jimbo Fisher’s second season in charge in Tallahassee, FSU returns 18 starters from last year’s Chick-fil-a Bowl Championship team that finished with a 10-4 overall record. Expectations are high for this fall, and with a win against top-ranked Oklahoma in September, the Seminoles could vault themselves into the national championship picture.
The Seminoles have always been a tough opponent for the Blue Devils, as Duke is 0-16 all-time against Florida State. This year will be no exception; Duke will certainly have their hands full against an experienced and confident FSU team on October 15th.
For Duke’s week 7 match up against FSU, we are fortunate to have the insight of onebarrelrum from Tomahawk Nation.
BDN: In his first year as Head Coach in Tallahassee, Jimbo Fisher led the Seminoles to their first 9-win season since 2003. What were the biggest changes seen on the field and within the program?
We’ll start with program changes because that is what dictates and influences what happens on the field. Bobby Bowden’s approach to the FSU program was that of CEO of a company much like Mack Brown at Texas. He delegated many responsibilities to other coaches. Fisher, however, is much more hands on with every facet of the program. Sure, his assistant coaches have their own responsibilities, but Fisher doesn’t watch practice from a tower. He is on the practice field, managing and coaching, utilizing direct interaction with coaches and players.
Beyond Fisher’s approach to coaching, there have been vast improvements in numerous areas including weight training, player tutoring, psychology, and nutrition. An army of support staff was brought on board to help boost all of these areas in an effort to improve the quality of play on the field. Under the waning years of Bowden, these areas had not kept up, or come close to matching other elite programs. Fisher has done an admirable job reorganizing and retooling the program so that it can compete with modern day elite teams.
On the field, the largest changes in x’s and o’s is most noticeable in the transition from Micky Andrew’s man heavy scheme to Stoops’ balanced defense that utilizes much more zone. FSU fans would like to all but forget the 2009 defense. It was the worst defense fielded by a Bowden coached team. In 2009 FSU was starting a 225 pound walk-on at defensive end. This year, the first and second string DE position will feature 4 players all over 265 pounds. It was also revealed that the defense was not provided playbooks in 2009. To say the least, Stoops had a lot of issues to address when he stepped on campus.
BDN: Florida State is the consensus top pick in the ACC in 2011, and will almost certainly receive a top-10 preseason ranking. With a win against Oklahoma on September 17th, many expect the Seminoles to vault towards the top of the BCS rankings. What does this team need to do to beat the Sooners, and is FSU ready to return to college football’s elite and compete for a National Championship?
Last year, many ‘Nole fans did not expect to win in Norman against the Sooners. They also didn’t expect FSU to get absolutely destroyed. It was a learning year for the Florida State defense, and the first exam was against OU. They obviously failed miserably as OU scored on its first five possessions. The FSU offense was in shock and could not come close to offering enough points to help as they dealt with their own struggles. This year, the defense has got to get at least a few stops. The offense has to manage the clock and keep OU’s offense off the field and out of rhythm. Last year, the OU no huddle decimated FSU’s young, learning defense and that can’t happen again if they want a chance to win. The plan should be to shorten the game with long drives and converting on 3rd down (easier said than done, I know). If FSU is successful at limiting OU’s offensive snaps, it will have a shot at winning in the 4th.
As for the second part, time will tell. If FSU can keep the game at least close with OU, it will have shown major strides since 2009. While competing for a title is extremely difficult for any team, I think FSU has the structure, players, and coaching staff to once again start competing with and beating the nation’s elite.
BDN: While most of the ACC will be breaking in a new quarterback in 2011, Florida State and Duke have to feel pretty good about their QB situation. E.J. Manuel filled in admirably for Christian Ponder over the past two seasons, leading the Seminoles to bowl victories over West Virginia and South Carolina. What do you expect to see from Manuel in his first year as a starter? With three explosive backs and top receiver Bert Reed returning, what questions remain for the FSU offense?
You are right about EJ, fans have been very pleased with his effort filling in when Ponder was injured. EJ is an extremely talented QB with smarts to boot. Though this year FSU fans hope he is even better. He had a mechanics problem in his throwing motion which eventually lead to needing shoulder surgery. The surgery and improved mechanics have helped him with velocity and hopefully accuracy. He is excellent in the option game and keeping his eyes downfield when flushed from the pocket. I look for Fisher to utilize him in the running game quite a bit on designed runs this year to make defenses account for all 11 offensive players. EJ has bulked up to over 240 pounds, hopefully preparing his body for the long season. Outside of his talents EJ is a vocal leader on the team. He also has great chemistry with a lot of the receivers having thrown to some of them for years in practice. Hopefully all those reps will pay off this season.
As of right now, going into fall camp, the biggest question mark for the offense is the offensive line. There are returning players with experience but it is a question of how healthy they will be for the season. Both tackles, Zebrie Sanders and Andrew Datko had to go under the knife and miss spring ball. Guard David Spurlock had multiple concussions last year keeping him out of a number of games and also missed spring ball. Fisher says that they are all healed up and should be fine. If they are really 100 percent then there is a lot less to worry about for the FSU offense, but I’d wait until fall practice gets going before I breathe a sigh of relief. At the beginning of last season receivers Willie Haulstead and Rodney Smith struggled. They had route issues, timing issues, and just needed quite a bit of time to get used to the college game. FSU needs them to continue their maturation and be ready to become major contributors. They will be counted on more than ever with the departure of WR Taiwan Easterling (left for pro baseball).
BDN: Mark Stoops did a nice job with a young FSU defense in 2010, though the group was inconsistent at times. With 8 starters returning in 2011, what improvements need to be made defensively for the Seminoles to compete for an ACC and National Championship?
For the defense, the most improvement should come from being in the new system for another year. While 2010 was a year to learn the basics, this year should show the grasp the players have of the different schemes and the understanding of their roles on any given play. Another issue last year was depth along the front. With so many young players, fatigue became an issue by the NC State game. FSU did not force a single punt in the second half of that game. Russell Wilson, time and again, was able to use his legs and arm to convert on 3rd and long. This year, there should be some serious depth along the front, along with another year of strength training, maturity, and familiarity with a new scheme. Same goes for the linebackers and secondary. With the way FSU is recruiting on the defensive side of the ball and Stoops’ scheme, I have no doubt that FSU will field an elite defense in the not so distant future. A defense that can be leaned on to win games and perhaps a championship. There is some hope among fans that this defense won’t have to wait another year to be special. Of course, we won’t have to wait too long to find out.
BDN: Florida State is 16-0 all-time against the Blue Devils, and the series hasn’t been competitive, with the Seminoles winning each game by at least three scores. Having last met in 2007, the two programs will have to get reacquainted in 2011. Duke has made strides under Head Coach David Cutcliffe, but will still be a significant underdog at home on October 15th. What have you heard about Coach Cutcliffe’s Blue Devils and what will they need to do to compete with the Seminoles?
From what I understand Duke has made very good strides under Coach Cutcliffe. After this season it wouldn’t be surprising to see a program offer Cutcliffe a pay increase. Duke was a scrappy team last year and proved to be much better than an annual speed bump in a number of ACC games. I look for that same level of play or even better from Duke this year. I can say it’s a good thing FSU’s defense has been tuned up since the 2007 match up. If these two teams faced off in 2009 I could have easily seen a Virgnia/Duke 2010 type shootout.
I know Duke likes to throw, but if they want to stay in it with the ‘Noles this year, they need to shorten the game. They will have to eat up some clock with runs. Duke needs to seize some momentum early and hope for the best. If FSU puts up 2 or 3 quick TD’s all hope may be lost as the revamped defense will be looking for pass. It will be the 3rd road game in a row for FSU, perhaps impacting how much time FSU spends on studying Duke’s offense and defense. Best thing to do would be break tendencies and do the unexpected. For heavens sake, don’t kick field goals on 4th and 3 inside the 25 or even 30 yard line. Duke will have to maximize every chance it has at TDs, as FG’s just won’t get it done.
BDN: Thanks so much for your help! We look forward to hosting the Seminoles on October 15th!
If you think football season is close, consider this: there is only one more Football Friday before Duke opens training camp. If that doesn’t get you excited, hopefully the rest of this column will. Early analysis suggests that this may be the longest Football Friday ever, so pace yourself!
No sales pitch this week. If you’re reading this, you already know how good BDN is. One other note: Duke football season tickets are still available, so if you haven’t got yours yet, time is running out. Away game tickets are also available, and we can say from experience that it’s a lot of fun to be part of the Duke faithful in watching a big Blue Devil road victory. Starting on August 1st, Duke will make single game home tickets available at GoDuke.
I don’t know what else to say. Last weekend, all seemed well at the ACC Football Kickoff in Pinehurst. Though still somewhat hard to believe, Butch Davis continued to weather the storm and appeared poised to lead the Tar Heels in 2011. Then, Wednesday happened. For reasons that still remain unclear, Chancellor Holden Thorp fired Davis after a closed-door meeting with the Board of Trustees. Thursday, Athletic Director Dick Baddour announced that he will be stepping down as well, and the Tar Heels later tagged Defensive Coordinator Everett Withers as interim Head Coach. The timing of all this is puzzling, to say the least, and leaves the Tar Heel players, fans, and administration in a difficult position. In addition to the financial costs associated with Coach Davis’ termination, the Tar Heels will now have to pay off their stadium improvements. With many players, fans and boosters upset with the handling of the football scandal for one reason or another, UNC is certainly in an unenviable position. We could spend all Football Friday talking about the scandal and these recent developments, but we’ll just highlight two points:
First, in the current climate of NCAA athletics, let’s be thankful for those who do things the right way. Duke is fortunate to be led by good people who want to win, and want to do it honestly. Thank you to Coach Krzyzewski, Coach Cutcliffe, Dr. Kevin White and Dr. Richard Brodhead for their outstanding character and dedication to Duke University. Every program has problems, but the Blue Devils’ leadership has handled these situations appropriately, consistently, and with class. And thank you to all of the coaches and administrators throughout the NCAA who continue to improve the lives of thousands of student-athletes and uphold the integrity of college athletics.
Those responsible should be held accountable for the egregious transgressions within the North Carolina football program, athletic department, and academic administration. It appears that this is finally being done, and one could argue that there is no wrong time to do the right thing. That being said, this puts the football program in a difficult position, and while it may be difficult for any Duke fan to say something nice about a Tar Heel, we all want what’s best for the ACC and the student-athletes. We want to see the ACC become a more competitive football conference, and we want to see programs win the right way. Hopefully, the Tar Heels will eventually arise from this scandal as a better program and a more respectable member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Congratulations to Duke’s Brandon Harper
With the NFL lockout finally over, Duke’s Brandon Harper was the first former Blue Devil to earn an opportunity as a professional, signing a free agent contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. BDN wishes the best of luck to Brandon and all of the Blue Devil alumni pursuing their NFL dreams!
Dondo Files, episode 4
Duke senior receiver Donovan Varner has started a video blog, the Dondo Files, and released episode 4 this week. He has great messages for young players and fans about hard work and achieving your goals. This week, he discusses being able to take constructive criticism. With that in mind, how about more than 1 touchdown this year, Donovan? In all seriousness, though, we’re looking forward to a big year from the senior receiver and are proud to have him as a role model for young Blue Devils and players everywhere.
BDN previews continue
We hope you’re enjoying our week-by-week preview of Duke’s 2011 opponents. This week, we wrapped up Duke’s first half of the season with Tulane and Florida International, two important, but tough, games for the Blue Devils to win. After the off week, Duke will face yet another top 10 opponent in Wallace Wade Stadium as the ACC-favorite Florida State Seminoles invade Durham. Check back next week for a look at FSU along with Duke’s week 8 opponent, Wake Forest.
Last week, we took a look around the Atlantic Coast Conference, and our predictions weren’t too terribly out of line with the rest of the ACC media. The Blue Devils landed two players on the preseason All-ACC team in WR Conner Vernon and K Will Synderwine. Now that we got the ACC predictions out of the way, let’s take an in-depth look at the team that really matters – the Blue Devils. There are high hopes for a bowl game in 2011, and a lot of that may depend on how good the Duke defense can be, but the reality is that the Duke offense will have to carry this team for much of the season. For that reason, we kickoff our 2011 Duke Football Team Preview with a look at the high-flying Blue Devils’ offense. If this unit lives up to expectations, there should be plenty of excitement in Wallace Wade Stadium this fall.
BDN Duke Football 2011 Team Preview: Offense
With considerable youth and inexperience on defense, the 2011 Duke Football team will rely on a veteran offense that finished 2nd in the ACC in passing offense and 7th in total offense a year ago. While the Duke offense showed flashes of dominance in 2010, there will need to be dramatic improvements across the board if the Blue Devils hope to make a bowl in 2011.
Key returners: Sean Renfree (R-Jr.), Brandon Connette (So.)
Newcomers: Anthony Boone (R-Fr.)
2010 Review: In his first year as a starter, Sean Renfree showed glimpses of his potential, but overall was inconsistent in leading the Duke offense. In particular, Renfree struggled with turnovers, finishing the season with an ACC-high 17 interceptions. Coming off of season-ending knee surgery in 2009, Renfree’s mobility appeared to be limited at times, particularly early in the season. More importantly, and not unexpectedly, the redshirt-sophomore struggled with his confidence throughout the season, especially on the heels of Duke’s embarrassing loss to Alabama. Despite the struggles, it wasn’t all bad for Renfree. He led the Blue Devils to three wins, finished third in the ACC with 3,131 total yards and completed 61.4% of his passes, including a midseason stretch of 16 consecutive completions and 28/30 completions against Navy, both school records. The 3,131 yards were the 3rd highest total in Duke history and helped to earn him the Carmen Falcone Award as Duke’s Most Valuable Player. The biggest area for Renfree to improve is certainly turnovers, and he demonstrated tremendous growth throughout the 2010 season. After throwing 15 interceptions in the first 7 games of the season, Renfree finished the season with just 2 interceptions in the Blue Devils’ final 5 contests.
In 2010, dual-threat QB Brandon Connette served as Renfree’s primary back-up and earned significant playing time with his legs. Connette set a Duke freshman record with 8 rushing touchdowns and finished the year with 321 yards on 78 carries. He struggled to move the ball through the air when called upon, finishing just 10/22 with 2 interceptions.
2011 Outlook: Simply put, the Duke offense will rely heavily on the play of Sean Renfree. If Renfree is unable to significantly reduce his turnovers, the Blue Devils will not be bowling in 2011. Now nearly two years removed from knee surgery and with a year of starting experience under his belt, Renfree’s mobility and confidence should be drastically improved from this time last year. With three of his top four receivers returning, along with 4 of 5 offensive line starters, Renfree will be surrounded by familiar faces and will be counted on to lead the Blue Devil offense. While there is no doubt within the Duke program that Renfree is the clear starter, he will continue to be pushed by a sophomore Connette and redshirt-freshman Anthony Boone, which should only help the Duke offense. Reports from spring practice were overwhelmingly positive for all three quarterbacks and for Renfree in particular. Coach Cutcliffe has anointed Renfree as the best returning quarterback in the ACC in 2011, and believe he is poised to have a “special” season. If the Blue Devils plan on playing in December or January, he will have to play like the best quarterback in the conference.
Newcomers: Jamison Crowder (Fr.), Blair Holliday (Fr.), Nick Hill (Fr.)
2010 Review: As you might expect, the performance of Duke’s wide receivers mirrored the ups and downs of QB Sean Renfree. Overall, Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon make up one of, if not the, top receiving tandem in college football. After his All-ACC campaign in 2009, Varner became just the 2nd Duke receiver to post back-to-back 60-reception seasons, finishing 2010 with 60 catches for 736 yards and 1 touchdown. After a breakout freshman season that earned him freshman All-American honors, Vernon topped his 2009 campaign with 73 catches for 946 yards and 4 touchdowns. The duo of Varner and Vernon partnered with senior Austin Kelly to form the top receiving trio in Duke history in 2010. Kelly battled injuries throughout his senior year, but still finished tied for the team lead with 4 touchdown catches. Outside of the top three, Duke’s younger receivers had an inconsistent 2010. After a good spring, freshman Brandon Braxton had an up and down season in his first year of college football, playing in 11 games and starting 5. Braxton finished 2010 with 14 catches and 1 touchdown; however, of those 14 receptions, 8 went for a Duke first down. Overall, fans should be excited with his potential and can pencil him in as the third starter alongside Varner and Vernon in 2011 after a strong offseason. Redshirt-freshmen Corey Gattis and Tyree Watkins saw the field sparingly in their first year of college eligibility.
2011 Outlook: Despite the loss of Kelly, Duke’s third-leading receiver in 2010, expectations are extremely high for the 2011 Duke receiving corps. Led by upperclassmen Varner and Vernon, this should be one of the top receiving units in the country. As good as Duke’s receivers were in 2010, they will need to be better in 2011, particularly in finding their way to the end zone and securing passes (not all of Dukes 2010 turnover troubles can be blamed on the QB). Expected improvements in the Duke running game should open up big play possibilities for Duke’s receivers, allowing them to eclipse their previous career highs. With Varner and Vernon likely to draw significant attention from opposing defenses, the opportunities will be there for Duke’s young receivers to step up and make plays. Braxton will get the first shot as the third starter at receiver, and is beginning to develop good chemistry with Renfree. Expect Braxton, Watkins, and Gattis to show dramatic improvement over 2010, and they should be pushed by true freshmen Blair Holliday and Nick Hill for playing time. The athletic ability of freshman Jamison Crowder will be hard to keep off the field, and he may find some time at slot receiver in certain offensive sets. Led by two determined, dynamic upperclassmen, this group has the potential to be the best in the ACC.
Losses: Brett Huffman, Brandon King
Key returners: Danny Parker (R-Sr.), Cooper Helfet (Sr.), Jack Farrell (R-So.)
Newcomers: Braxton Deaver (R-Fr.), David Reeves (Fr.)
2010 Review: For the past several years, the Duke tight end position has been led by two warriors in Brett Huffman and Brandon King. Seemingly always injured, it took a lot to keep them off the field. With some struggles along the offensive line, Huffman and King were called upon to aid the Blue Devils’ blockers for much of their careers, and did so admirably. The Duke staff likes to move the tight end around in their offense, and the versatility of Huffman and King allowed them to thrive in multiple roles. While Huffman and King assumed roles as the unheralded warriors of the Duke offense, junior college transfer Cooper Helfet emerged as another potent weapon in Sean Renfree’s arsenal. After struggling with an ankle injury early in the season, Helfet finished the year with at least 4 catches in Duke’s final 5 games, leading the team in receiving in two contests and earning two ACC Player of the Week honors.
2011 Outlook: Huffman and King will not be easily replaced in the Duke offense, but with two seniors and a talented group of young players, the tight end should remain a strength for the 2011 Blue Devils. Helfet appears poised for a breakout senior campaign and will be joined by redshirt-senior Danny Parker, who redshirted in 2010 after seeing 232 snaps as a junior in 2009. Redshirt-freshman Braxton Deaver should be ready to contribute in his first season of college eligibility and true freshman David Reeves may be too good to keep off the field in his first year in Durham. The concern for this group will be replacing the blocking of Huffman and King, but their receiving numbers should improve over 2010.
Key returners: Jay Hollingworth (Sr.), Patrick Kurunuwe (R-Jr.), Desmond Scott (Jr.), Josh Snead (So.), Juwan Thompson (So.)
2010 Review: The 2010 Duke running game had nowhere to go but up, finishing last in the FBS in rushing in 2009. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the Blue Devils took significant steps forward in 2010, increasing their rushing averages by 46.5 yards per game and adding 13 more touchdowns on the ground from 2009. Still, Duke finished last in the ACC in rushing and 104th in the country in 2011. Desmond Scott led the Blue Devils in rushing for the second straight season, finishing with 549 yards and a 4.4 yards per carry average. Scott established himself as Duke’s best all-around back and endeared himself to the Duke faithful with his game-winning touchdown dive against Virginia. Freshman Josh Snead showed flashes of his ability before injuries interrupted his season, but still finished with a team-best 4.9 yards per carry. Fellow freshman Juwan Thompson saw his offensive role increase as he adjusted to the college game, but was primarily limited to kick return duty. Junior Jay Hollingsworth came on strong late in the season, igniting the Duke offense with impressive 2nd half runs against Miami. Redshirt-sophomore Patrick Kurunuwe saw limited action on offense and special teams.
2011 Outlook: Duke returns all of their running backs in 2011, along with four of five starters along the offensive line. While blocking may be partly to blame for Duke’s struggles in the running game, Duke’s rushers must continue to improve their vision, burst, and strength. Improved confidence could go a long way to improving Duke’s running, as some of Duke’s best runs in 2010 appeared to come when the Blue Devil backs were “running with a purpose.” Scott has emerged as the face of Duke’s running game, and must become a consistent threat both on the ground and through the air for the Duke offense. While Scott is likely to again see the majority of carries, Duke’s depth at running back means that there will be significant competition for snaps in training camp and throughout the season, which should force this group to continue to improve. Snead and Thompson should take a big step forward in their second year of college football, and the overall depth at running back should allow Duke to do a better job wearing down opposing defenses. Thompson, in particular, appears poised to be a breakout candidate for the Duke offense. While no one should expect Duke to become a great running team overnight, the pieces are there for the Blue Devils to continue to improve on the ground, open things up in the passing game, and keep opposing offenses off the field.
Key returners: Kyle Hill (R-Sr.), Jon Needham (R-Sr.), Brian Moore (R-Jr.), Conor Irwin (R-Jr.), Dave Harding (R-So.), John Coleman (R-So.), Perry Simmons (R-So.)
Newcomers: Takoby Cofield (R-Fr.), Laken Tomlinson (R-Fr.), Marcus Aprahamian (Fr.), Lucas Patrick (Fr.), Cody Robinson (Fr.), Matt Skura (Fr.)
2010 Review: After watching Thaddeus Lewis play under seemingly constant pressure for four years, the Duke offensive line appeared to take a step forward in 2010. The group struggled again in run-blocking, but finished near the top of the ACC in sacks allowed per pass attempt. Morgan, though undersized, was the anchor up front, starting at center for 36 consecutive games. With little depth, the offensive line was asked to play through injury in 2010. For many weeks, Duke’s starters sat out practice but suited up on Saturday. That warrior mentality showed through on the field, as Duke improved their rushing by 46.5 yards per game, and the line successfully protected their first-year QB coming off knee surgery (25 sacks allowed, only 5.1% of dropbacks).
2011 Outlook: Of all the position groups on the Duke offense, the offensive line appears the most ready to take a big step forward in 2011. That being said, this group loses seniors Morgan and Harper and will need to continue to work hard and produce results on the field. Duke’s starting offensive line is expected to average close to 290 pounds in 2011, and that increased size and strength should help in both pass and run blocking. For the first time since Coach Cutcliffe’s arrival in Durham, the Blue Devils will be able to go two-deep across the offensive line without significant drop-off. In fact, there should be interesting position battles in training camp at right tackle and right guard, where redshirt-freshmen Takoby Cofield and Laken Tomlinson will push Perry Simmons and John Coleman for snaps. A talented group of freshmen offensive linemen should help solidify the position for the next several years and could see the field in the event of a significant injury. For the first time in several years, Duke has multiple NFL prospects among their offensive linemen, led by Brian Moore, Kyle Hill, Laken Tomlinson, Takoby Cofield, and Cody Robinson. Overall, the size, skill, and depth has improved, but this group will need to produce results on the field for the Duke offense to realize its full potential.
There’s more? Sure, why not? To reward our loyal members, let’s take a quick look at where Duke stands with a few uncommitted 2012 prospects:
Running back: Jela Duncan is the guy here, and Duke would love to try and secure a commitment from him soon, though he seems content to wait out other offers. Earlier this week, we took a look at possible destinations for the Mallard Creek star, and the smart money is still on the Blue Devils here, whether it’s sooner or later. There’s no telling what will happen with North Carolina, but they remain in play for a few other backs, and with scholarship restrictions on the horizon, new offers will be few and far between. Scholarships are also scarce at South Carolina, another potential competitor for Duncan’s services. As for his current offers, Duncan hasn’t shown a lot of interest in Pittsburgh, Purdue, or Wake Forest up to this point. Some other prospects to keep an eye on include Dondre Brown, Jamie Gilmore, and Chris Mangus, but Duncan is the clear priority.
Best available: Outside of running back, the Duke coaching staff feels very good about the class of 2012 and will be in a position to take the best available players with their last 2 or 3 scholarships. In the past week, Duke has hosted OL Robert Conyers and ATH Ryan Janvion, and it looks like a good bet that the Blue Devils will find themselves among the finalists for both of those Florida prospects.
In addition, we’ve long reported Duke’s interest in Korren Kirven, but they face a huge uphill battle against his in-state ACC schools and several top SEC programs. Kirven is expected to narrow his list soon, and it would be nice for the Blue Devils to make the cut, but there are no guarantees. Elsewhere along the defensive line, Duke is still very much in it for Alabama standout Torey Agee, and will likely be a finalist along with Vanderbilt. BDN’s thinking is that Auburn or Georgia Tech would jump to the lead for Agee, if they were to offer. Duke is a longer shot for Greensboro’s D.J. Reader, who plans to play both football and baseball in college. With the academic requirements at Duke, it takes a very dedicated student-athlete to balance classes along with two sports.
Duke has been the leader for top in-state linebacker Keilin Rayner, but something has kept him from pulling the trigger for the Blue Devils so far. He’s been busy on the camp circuit this summer, and we’ll see where things stand with him soon. It appears that other schools have closed the gap, but Duke is still in the running for his services and a good start in September could help the Blue Devils’ chances. Florida athlete Marcus Allen is another intriguing prospect who looks like a good fit in Durham with his success in the classroom and on the field, but with a Florida State offer in hand, it may be tough to pull him out of the sunshine state. California LB Jeremiah Allison is another star student-athlete who seems to fit the Duke mold, and if the Blue Devils can maybe get him on campus for an official visit, they could become a serious contender in his recruitment.
As always, BDN will keep you posted with new developments. By securing a solid 2012 recruiting class early in the summer, the Duke coaching staff has been able to get a head start on evaluating the class of 2013, and we’ll slowly start to introduce members to some of the early targets as we head into the fall.
Ok, seriously, I can’t write any more, and I bet your eyes hurt if you’ve made it this far. So next week, Duke defense preview time. Until then, WE ARE DUKE.
Are you ready for some more football, Blue Devil Nation? Alright, I’ll concede that Mark Watson’s Peach Jam coverage has been out of this world this week, and things are really heating up for Duke basketball. So once you’ve had a chance to read and re-read all of that great coverage, get ready for a little Duke football. Duke football season is fast approaching, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. So get on board! Season tickets and new 3-game ticket packs are on sale now at GoDuke.com, or through the Duke Ticket Office at (919) 681-BLUE.
To preview the 2011 Duke football season, BDN is teaming up with other college football insiders to give an in-depth look at Duke’s opponents. We kicked off our series earlier this month with a look at Richmond and Stanford, and continue this week with Duke’s ACC opener at Boston College.
Duke fell to the Eagles in 2010 in Durham, 21-15. If it wasn’t for a late goal line stand by LB Luke Kuechly and the BC defense, the Blue Devils may have pulled off the upset behind one of their better defensive efforts of the year. What should we expect from the 2011 matchup? We brought in BC insider BCHysteria of BC Interruption to help us preview the 2011 Eagles.
BDN: When looking at Boston College, we have to start with their defense. The defense loses senior leader Mark Herzlich this year and returns only 5 starters. We know how good All-American LB Luke Kuechly is, but who else is expected to step up for the Eagles, and what question marks remain heading into August?
There are a few names that you will need to know going into the 2011 season. First of all Kevin Pierre Louis is coming off a fantastic season where he logged in 93 tackles. Mix him in with Kuechly and BC should have a very dynamic linebacking corps this season. Another player that you should look out for is corner back Donnie Fletcher, who led the Eagles in interceptions last year. I expect big things out of him this season. One of the biggest questions for the Eagles has to be their defensive line, which is filled with unknowns. Max Holloway led the team last year in sacks, is returning, along with Kaleb Ramsey, but the rest remains one giant question mark. Who will step up on the line?
BDN: After an inconsistent 2010, there were mixed reports regarding the BC offense coming out of spring practice. With nine starters returning, including the dynamic rushing duo of Montel Harris and Andrew Williams along with a more experienced QB in Chase Rettig, what changes do you expect to see in the offense under new coordinator Kevin Rogers this fall?
Reports have come out that Rogers isn’t going to be tweaking the offense that much from the style they played last year. Meaning a pro style passing game, with a few wrinkles here and there, but he’s not going to suddenly turn the style into an Option style. During the spring game he did show some different looks like 5 WR sets which we did not see last year. I think what frustrated BC fans last year was a stale, predictable game plan and with Gary Tranquill gone, we hope to see that change this year. Hopefully that means much more success through the air and more points on the board.
BDN: After making two straight ACC championship games in 2007 and 2008, the Eagles seemed to take a small step back the past two years. With a tough road schedule in 2011, what are the expectations for the 2011 season? Which games are the most crucial on the Eagles’ schedule?
That is the million dollar question haunting BC fans right now. We have watched the Eagles continue to step backwards (mostly on offense), but with Rogers will this change? BC has a very tough schedule this year starting with two solid out of conference opponents in Northwestern and UCF. Those two games could easily dictate the tempo of the season. Another important stretch for BC will be their October slate which includes Clemson, VT, Maryland and Wake Forest. If BC can take at least two of those, they will be in good shape to at least a bowl. So basically if BC starts off slow, they could easily finish 5-7, but if they turn it around like I hope they will 8-4 might be a possibility.
BDN: Due to the new ACC scheduling, Duke and Boston College have been relative strangers in recent years. Duke last traveled to Chestnut Hill in 2006, and the Eagles have won the last 4 games in the series, though Duke did give the Eagles a scare in Durham last fall. What are your predictions for this year’s matchup in Chestnut Hill? What does BC need to do against the Blue Devils to prevent an upset?
Last year was one of the scariest/frustrating games for BC fans. BC basically handed that game to Duke. If BC wants to win this year they are going to need to contain David Cutcliffe, last year Sean Renfree had his way against the Eagles secondary in the 2nd half. BC also has to not be stupid with the ball, Montel Harris’ fumbled twice in the red zone. He is a much better running back than he showed in that game, and if he can hold on to the ball I expect BC to control the tempo of the game. I dont need to tell you, but Duke’s defense was putried last year, if BC’s offense can turn around their equally putrid offense, they should win.
BDN: With a stingy defense and a new-look offense, Boston College will be a tough early season matchup for the Blue Devils. How do you expect teams to try and attack the Eagles’ defense this season? What will be the best way to slow Montel Harris and the Eagles’ offense?
BC’s defensive achilles heel has always been through the air. If you can get the ball in the air, and avoid the pressure you can beat the BC corners. This may change this year with a new look secondary, led by Fletcher, but keep your eye on highly recruited DB Albert Jean Louis. He is a hard hitter, who may keep opposing QB’s from looking his way. Montel Harris can be stopped, and many teams found that out last year. Just frustrate Rettig, force him into a few bad decisions, and Spaz will hand the ball off incessantly to Harris. Harris wears down rather easily, and when D’s know what’s coming, they can load the box up and stuff him. Happened most of last season.