Tag Archives: Duke-Richmond

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

Anything can happen on opening day

17It’s the eve of  Duke Football’s opening day game against Richmond and you can bet that David Cutcliffe and his staff have done everything they can to prepare their troops for battle.

Going into the game there is some natural concern as to whether Duke’s offense will execute what they have been taught.  “I stayed up thinking about the game some  last night.  I could see us making some good plays and I could see some dropped balls,” said Cutcliffe during Tuesdays media gathering.

“Anything can happen in opening day games,” said Cutcliffe as he walked away from the podium after the press conference.

And he’s right in that anything can indeed happen.  Just last night the N.C. State Wolfpack sputtered offensively for the second straight year against South Carolina, yet they were supposed to be laying in wait for revenge the entire off season.

Throw the favorites out the door some may say while others will get a taste of reality the second the kickoff takes place.  The bottom line is that despite playing the opening game over and over in your minds eye before hand means little once the whistle blows.  Listen all you want to talking head experts tell you whats going to happen on TV or radio, but know all of that chatter is just that once that ball is in the air around 7:04.

Just four years ago in 2005 who would have thought Richmond would come into Wallace Wade and beat Duke?  Okay, maybe there were a few, but for those who went to the opener with high expectations, did you think Duke would be shut out?

Can anyone remember thr 1994 opener when first year head coach Fred Goldsmith took over a team that went 3-8 the year before?  That team came out of the gate on fire posting a 49-16 shellacking  of Maryland.  Nobody was expecting to see Duke walk over the Terp’s that day.

But then again, who thought Duke would give up 70 points to Florida State to start off the very next season.

What if Duke won 3-0 on Saturday?  Odd score you say?  Well, one of Cutcliffes Mississippi teams won an opener over Memphis by that score.

Even last year, James Madison was expected to come into Wade and give the Devils all they could handle, but Duke took advantage of several opportunities and won easily 31-7 to start the Cutcliffe era

This seasons opening day  opponent is the defending FCS National Champion Richmond Spiders.

While we in no way advocate gambling, we do like to use the lines for entertainment purposes and one might note that Sagarin ratings has Richmond a few percentage points the favorite, making the game a virtual toss up in their eyes.  Off shore sites have Duke just a two point favorite.

On paper the Richmond defense looks deep and tough begging the question, will Duke’s offense click or will there be some untimely dropped balls.  Or maybe big catches will be made and Duke rolls to a win, but then again …

Like Cutcliffe, Duke fans are playing this one over and over in their minds eyes, but who knows what will happen?  That’s why you need to be there in royal blue, to see for yourself the anwers to the many questions.

Recap of today’s Press Conference with Coach Cutcliffe

Lewis preps for Richmond - BDN Photo
Lewis preps for Richmond - BDN Photo

Coach Cutcliffe held his weekly press conference at the newly completed visitors locker room on Tuesday.  BDN was there and here’s a recap of what was covered -

Coach pleased with morning workout - Cutcliffe praised his team for their efforts in a morning workout.  “They knew where to be on the field and executed the plays well,” said Cutcliffe .   The second year coach also pointed to better team speed.

Recruiting period is hot! - Coach Cutcliffe stated that his staff could talk via phone and electronic mail starting today and that if his phone rang the media would just have to wait, for prospects were a priority.  The Duke staff will work the phones and such in an effort to land some of their high school senior targets.

High priase for Richmond - “There coming off a nine game winning streak and play 15 redshirt seniors and 7 redshirt juniors.  I don’t know that I have ever faced a team with that much experience,” said Cut.  Richmond returns 17 starters from last season championship team.

Rebuilding defensive depth -Duke has seven freshman (6 of them true freshman) on their two deep depth chart to start the season.  Cutcliffe mentioned that three first year linebackers would see time, those players being, August Campbell, Austin Gamble and Tyree Glover.  Two other freshman who will see lots of snaps are Zach Greene and the MVP of last season NC-SC Shrine Bowl,  Walter Canty in the secondary.

Duke is young – Coach made no excuses but did point to the number 38.  That’s how many freshman are on this seasons roster making this a very, very young team.

Bowl game? - Despite the youth Cutcliffe claimed there were seniors in key positions and that they could lead the team to a bowl if everything falls right.  The coach also admitted that a few might raise their eyebrows at a bowl claim, but that he truly believed this team could make it to one.

Team Walk – Once again the team will walk through campus from the Duke Library to the stadium two and a half hours before each game.

Injuries - Young-Wiseman is out for the season.  DB Randez James has a broken hand.  Nick Maggio.

Cut wants a “Sea of Blue” - Cutcliffe wants all Duke fans to come wearing “Duke Blue,” to the game.

Game Captains for Richmond announced - Firstly, Duke will name different captains for each game this season.  Four seniors, Vince Oghobasse, Thaddeus Lewis, Re’quan Boyette and Vinnnie Rey are the captains for the Richmond game.