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Leadership In Training: An Interview With Miles Plumlee

Duke

Blessed with a reported thirty-six inch vertical, a 6’11,” 247 lb. frame, and the mind of a high school salutatorian, Miles Plumlee is a rare specimen. On a relatively young squad, Miles, a twenty-three year-old third generation college basketball player, has started more games, forty-one, than any current Duke player. The team will need him to provide leadership, experience, and low-post production to a more featured frontcourt.

Already a national champion, having grabbed three rebounds in nine minutes against Butler in the 2010 Championship game, the eldest of four Plumlee progeny brings the hunger of a man anxious for one last good meal. The psychology major has tried to take advantage of the opportunities presented to him this summer. Initially, the one-time engineering student with an entrepreneurial zeal worked in New York for Jesse Itzler, a serial entrepreneur who created Marquis Jet. The Winona Lake, Indiana native followed that experience up by participating in the college portion of the LeBron James Skills Academy, as one of the twenty invited players, including his talented and gracious brother, Mason. Most recently, the former high school track star enjoyed a thirteen day around the world trip with his Duke University teammates as part of Duke’s Friendship Games, playing in Dubai and three Chinese cities, Kunshan, Shanghai, and Beijing.

In the three games competing against the Chinese junior national team, Miles Plumlee, who is the team’s second-leading returning scorer, rebounder, and shot-blocker, averaged nearly eleven rebounds and eleven points, while providing a vital role as a low-post scorer and offensive rebounder (corralling eight offensive rebounds in the final game against China’s large front court).

After Coach Trent Johnson left Stanford for Louisiana State, Miles Plumlee opted to open up his recruitment at Christ School in Arden, NC and ultimately decided to enter Duke University. At the time, he had a reputation for being more of a face-up four and had contributed to consecutive State Championships for the Greenies. Last summer, Miles transformed his physique and game by adding nearly twenty pounds of muscle. Near the end of the 2011 season, Coach Krzyzewski reinserted the eldest Plumlee into the starting lineup, where the Ft. Wayne-born big man immediately stepped up his game in the ACC Tournament, highlighted by his play against Maryland (10 points, 9 rebounds) and using his length against North Carolina’s finesse frontline (helping to hold Henson and Zeller to a combined 9 for 26 in the ACC Title game). Based upon his recent play, it appears as though he has continued to become more acclimated to the transition from a floating big to the team’s biggest physical presence, while seeking to maintain the athleticism that once allowed him to perform a 6’9″ high jump.

This year, with both brothers Marshall and Mason on the Duke’s campus, Miles Plumlee would like to take more of a leadership role in his final season of college basketball and go out with a second National Title. Miles spoke with BDN about a variety of topics, including stepping out of his comfort zone and into an increased leadership role, his relationships with both the coaching staff and his brothers, his team-centric focus, and an entrepreneurial future.

Maybe we can start with both leadership and your role on this team.

You know that’s the biggest thing I’ve been thinking about in this off-season. I’ve been focusing on it and, you know, I had an experience where I was doing an internship with one of the coaches’ friends.

I’m definitely going to get to that in just a moment…

Yeah, well, it kind of goes hand-in-hand.

Okay, great.

The biggest reason I wanted to go there is because I know [Jesse Itzler]’s a great leader in what he does and I learned a lot from him. I picked his brain and I got a lot of great advice. He started his own company a few times now, so he’s been successful and that was one area where I think it’s going to help me, but also coming back and being an older brother my life, you know, trying to apply that to the team. Just trying to bring that brotherhood to the whole team.

[private]

I wanted to get to the issue of you and brothers, too.
(laughs)

What are the expectations from your perspective and the coaching staff? What have they asked you to work on?

Well, I don’t have any personal accolades in mind, but all of my coaches know how high my ceiling is and I know how high it is. So, I’m just trying to reach a level that I’m really happy with, but more importantly, I’m concerned about the team competing for national championships.

Yes, absolutely. I mean you’ve already accomplished that once.

Yeah, but now to do that and be a leader on the team would be another thing. That’s the biggest goal on my mind.

Is being a captain something you aspire to? Have the coaches talked about you being captain or part of a committee, so to speak?

Yeah, I know, they said they’re going to wait and see how everything goes in China. They want to see how people’s roles surface, but, you know, I’ve been through more than anyone else on the team.

Right.

I’ve played with a lot of great leaders, like Jon Scheyer, a lot of great seniors growing up.

Who was the best leader you’ve played with? Is Scheyer the best?

He and Lance did a great job that year. There’s a reason why we won it. What was the initial question?

It had to do with leadership and whether you aspire to be a captain.

Oh, yes, they’re not going to make a decision until after China, but I’m already trying to assert myself and get out of my comfort zone because I’m not the most vocal guy.

Neither am I, but I try to push myself too.

Yeah, well, I’m trying to talk more on defense and also off the court. Yeah, you know, defensively, I can talk to people on the court, but I’m really trying to become a leader off the court. It’s not something I’m really comfortable with, but it’s something that I’m trying to grow into. I want to get that role.

Just out of curiosity, as you were saying it, I was thinking about being the oldest brother. I’m the oldest brother as well and by nature, you almost have to a leader among your younger siblings. Do you think that will help and have you found that to be the case?

Definitely, I think it’s a huge advantage in my position. I don’t think I’ve been the best big brother in the world, but I think there’s some things I’ve done right, and if I can learn from them..

God knows, I haven’t been.
(

laughs) Yeah, you know, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but all of them are experience that maybe an older brother has to have.

They can, sort of, learn from your own mistakes.

Yeah, yeah. Then, they can make their own. (laughs)

How do you think you’ve developed, both physically and from a skills perspective over the past few years? Physically, you’ve gotten a lot bigger.

Yeah, you know, I’m still continuing to push my body.

Always a work in progress.

I’m trying to get stronger and that, but I got really pretty athletic when I got to college and you know, I was more of a face-up player, but I’ve tried to adapt my game and become more of a back-to-the-basket player since coming to college.

Yeah, I wanted to touch on that as well.
Yeah, so you know, that’s probably been my biggest focus and the other stuff’s there and we’ve got such great guards coming to Duke each year. Yeah, maybe down the road I’ll use that more at the next level, but right now I want to make the biggest impact I can for our team and so that’s inside, giving us a low-post game.

In terms of mentoring, it sort of goes hand in hand with leadership, but how do you feel you’ve done as a mentor to your brothers and some of your future teammates this year?

I think it’s something I’m going to have to make a conscious effort to do. We have so many young guys and I need to mentor them and show them the ropes. We need them to win. They don’t even realize it yet. I mean, I was in that position as a freshman too, I didn’t know where I was at. We’ve got to bring them on board real fast and mentoring will be a big part of that.

You know him better than anybody, what dimension do you think Marshall can bring to program? Maybe give a scouting report on him to the fans that may not have seen him play.

Yeah, he’s surprised me. He’s really grown into his body. I think the number one thing if you’re scouting him is his motor. He never gives up, he goes full blast all the time he’s out on the court.

He’s a really nice kid, too.

Oh, yeah, he’s really nice, but he’ll take it to you on the court.

Yeah, he’s very serious and competitive on the court though.

Oh, yeah, definitely.

He said he’s very good at video games too.

Yeah, he is. Me and him always go at it.

In terms of a scouting report…

Yeah, a scouting report..he’s going to be going at you every minute of the game. He’s going to be busting his ass 100%. Yeah, I think that’s his biggest attribute right now is just running the court.

How do you think he differs from you and Mason at the same point in your lives?

You know, his whole life he always wanted to be a big guy for some reason, and it just so happened that he kept growing. You know, a lot of guys want to be big buys, but you can’t control that. So, I think he’s grown up wanting to be in the post doing the dirty work. He has fun just running the court and getting the ball. A lot of big guys don’t want to do that, they get spoiled, lazy, and they don’t want to do all of that work if they’re not going to get the ball every single time. That’s huge for a team. That changes the game.

Yeah, it does. I was just curious about that. What are you trying to work on this summer primarily on the court?

The same thing, but you know, just taking that post game to another level and getting more comfortable. I really thought that I made huge strides towards the end of last year, just having confidence when you get the ball in the post, and wanting the ball, and in the end, that makes a huge difference in the game when it comes down to the wire. You’ve got to want it.

Is it a “no hesitation” kind of thing for you?

Yeah, exactly. I really think that’s been my biggest setback is really getting out of your own head. You catch it and you immediately react.

I remember going to one of your practices a few years ago and Coach Krzyzewski was talking about how you were very hard on yourself, but that was a few years ago.

Definitely, that’s been my biggest problem. In practice, I play great for three years. Well, my freshman year was kind of tough, but for the last few years I played great in practice, and now the thing is to try to translate it to the games.

And it can happen, it’s just a matter of time and concentration.

Yeah, absolutely it can happen.

Can you touch on being an engineering student and how that differentiates your game? I remember you used to be an engineering student.

(laughs) Oh, no, that was way too much.

I was an Economics major there.

Yeah, my first semester there was the hardest of my life.

What’s your major now?

Psychology. You know, I think it’s something that’s applicable to anything I do in life, but, you know, it’s way more flexible for basketball.

Way more merciful too. They’re tough in terms of grades too.

Oh, yeah, it’s just tough.

The reason I was asking was because I was wondering if you saw the court differently by having somewhat of an engineering background.

Oh, yeah, you know I always thought I see angles differently. I don’t think a lot of basketball players realize what they’re seeing. I think it gives me a better sense of what I’m seeing…helps to visualize.

Would you describe your summer job as more of a finance job? How would you categorize it?

Yeah, well, it’s sort of hard to explain, it was really more of a company that Jesse Itzler founded, more of like a marketing thing. He founded Marquis Jets and now it’s like more of a marketing agency and a brand incubator. We came up with a few of our own products.

Would you like to get into that post-basketball? Perhaps be an entrepreneur?

Yeah, you know, that’s what it really opened my eyes to. An amazing opportunity would be to play in the NBA and not just squander it.

I’m glad you have your eyes wide open. There are so many sad stories, unfortunately.

Yeah, I know there are. Yeah, I want to make things happen. There are a lot of guys from Duke that have done great things like here or in China and you know, really have an entrepreneurial mindset just like him, and you know, it was a great experience.

What is your emotional reaction to finally get the opportunity to play with all of your brothers and be at the same school together? Excited? Happy?

So excited! I really think this is going to be the funnest year by far. You know, I’ve always had a blast, but you know, me and Marshall, we grew up hanging out together like non-stop and I was so much older than him, but, now, you know, we’re competing on the same level and it’s an adjustment.

Do the three of you ever just walk into the Y or something like that? Did the three of you walk in and people just go “Holy cow?”

(laughs) Yeah, I mean, we did, but we didn’t used to be this tall. Yeah, the last time I was at a place like that was back home and I was only like 5’9” or 5’10” as freshman. But I think it’s going to be a blast. It’s going to be a great senior year.

And what’s Mason’s take on all of this?

Oh, yeah, he’s been great. We both just love Marshall to death. It’s just fun to have all three of us together again.

Can you talk about the addition of the freshman class and Coach Capel? Those are the two big post-season additions to the program.

Yeah, I mean, everybody in the freshman class seems to have a great attitude. They’re really skilled, they’re really athletic. I think they all really have a great attitude, they all really want to get better. Coach Capel is just a great addition because he knows so much, he’s coached great players, and I love his positive attitude. He’s really good at pumping everybody up.

He can also relate to players. He’s still young and yet he’s got that head coaching experience, which is a great combo to add the staff.

Yeah, everybody’s pretty young and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a great group to be around.

What’s your relationship like with both Coach K and Coach Wojo?

First of all, I’ve got to say it’s like family. I mean, they’ve been there for me in more than just basketball. That’s just one small part of the whole thing. You..you come to Duke and I had no idea what it was all about. You become part of this family. They’ve become like fathers to me. There’s a bond. I come to them for advice on everything. I know..I know I’m going to stay in touch with them for the rest of my life. It’s something that’s really special to me.

I don’t think a lot of recruits necessarily realize that, to paraphrase Coach Holtz, it’s not a four year thing, it’s a forty year thing.

No, you know, I don’t think a lot of them realize it. You don’t realize what you’re signing up for. If they did realize it, I think even a lot more would jump on it, but I know that I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

How comfortable do you feel you are with your back-to-the-basket game and how far out do you feel your range is at this point? Because you still have that face-up game that you were talking about before.

I’ve always felt that I’m really versatile and now it’s not just a matter of how to use it, but when and where to use it, what opportunities you have and reading the defense. So, becoming a lot smarter and putting it all together. It’s something I’ve really worked on in the last year.

And in terms of your back-to-the-basket game?

Yeah, I’m realizing how much you can control the game with your back to the basket. Seeing, you know, guys like Tim Duncan and those kind of guys..taking your time, seeing the floor.

Is that what you worked on at the LeBron James Academy?

Yeah, you know, it was great playing against some of the best players and some of the best bigs. I was just trying to see where I stack up.

How did you do and what was the toughest guy for you to defend?

Dude, you know, everybody’s tough. Everybody’s good. I feel like I did as well as anyone. It was a great experience and I’m looking forward to where it takes my game.

What are your expectations or goals for the team this year? A National Title?

A National Title all the way, that’s all I’ve got to say. We’ve always got talent. I just feel like we’ve just got to bring it together and develop that chemistry along the way.

Thank you very much, Miles.

No problem.

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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

The Blue Devils will open the 2011 football season at home against Richmond September 3

BDN Game Week Q&A Exchange with Spider Bandwagon

The Blue Devils will open the 2011 football season at home against Richmond Saturday

It’s game week, Blue Devil Nation! After months of anticipation, the Blue Devils are ready to take the field and kick off the 2011 season against the Richmond Spiders. Richmond will travel down I-85 led by USC QB transfer Aaron Corp with a lot of confidence, having won their last two trips to Durham decisively. Meanwhile, Sean Renfree and the high-flying Blue Devil offense will look to get off to a hot start, and revenge for the 2009 season opening loss will certainly be in the back of their minds. With a new Head Coach and a young team, it’s hard to know what to expect from the Spiders on Saturday. Fortunately, we caught up with Spider Bandwagon to get their thoughts on the opening night match-up in Durham. Be sure to check out their site to read the BDN take on the game as well.

BDN: After the untimely resignation of Head Coach Latrell Scott during training camp, Offensive Coordinator Wayne Lineburg was named interim Head Coach. Given these events, what is the general mood around the Richmond program? What changes, if any, has Coach Lineburg made? How much of a distraction has this been for the players, as they prepare for Duke?

Everyone even remotely associated with the program is saying all the right things: next man up; stay the line; come together; [insert other clichés here]. For the most part, I’m buying the party line. Lineburg (pronounced Lynn-uh-burg) was brought in by Latrell Scott last summer as offensive coordinator. He’s from a coaching family and already was looked at by many as an eventual head coaching candidate. By all accounts he’s changed little in the day to day since taking over. He’s familiar with the players and vice versa. I really don’t think much will be lost in the transition. What’s more, this is Lineburg’s second stint at UR; he was on the offensive staff from 2004-06 and helped lay the foundation of the national championship team. Generally, I think most Spider players and fans would admit they’d rather go through this coaching switch than repeat last year’s four different starting quarterbacks fiasco.

USC transfer Aaron Corp will start at QB for the Spiders after missing most of 2010 with an ACL injury. Photo Credit-The Collegian

BDN: QB Aaron Corp had his first year at Richmond cut short by injury after transferring in from USC. How have his health and performance been heading into the season opener? What does he need to do to realize his potential, which had made him such a highly-touted high school prospect?

Simply put Corp needs to stay on the field and stay healthy. The knee should be 100% at this point. Despite only five games last season, I think he’ll benefit from a second year studying and learning Lineburg’s offense. As long as the offensive line can gel (three returning starters) to give Corp time and keep him on his feet, he should put up big numbers.

BDN: All-Conference WR Tre Gray is back and figures to be a favorite target for Corp this fall. What other weapons will the Spiders’ offense have? How do you expect Richmond to attack the Duke defense on Saturday night?

I actually expect a pretty vanilla offense on Saturday. The order of the day will be establishing the line of scrimmage. Look for a healthy dose of hand offs especially early to a committee following FB Kendall Gaskins. When the Spiders do throw, keep an eye on sophomore WR Ben Edwards getting space opposite Grey.

BDN: With the loss of CAA POY Eric McBride along with All-CAA defensive lineman Martin Parker, the Spiders’ defense will have big shoes to fill this fall. How will Richmond try to slow Duke’s prolific passing game? Which players will have to play well for the Spiders to keep the Blue Devils out of the end zone?

Luckily the Spider secondary figures to be the strength of this defense in the early going. Tremayne Graham and Daryl Hamilton return on the corners, and Cooper Taylor, a transfer from Georgia Tech, is expected to make a huge impact in taking over the safety spot. Up front, the focus figures to shift from the linebackers to the defensive ends. Kerry Wynn and Brandon Scott, 6’5” and 6’4” respectively, need to cause havoc in the backfield and give the young linebacking corp space to make tackles. If Wynn and Scott can’t get upfield, UR will be in for a very long evening.

We'll see you under the lights in Wallace Wade on Saturday!

BDN: Richmond has two straight wins against Duke in Durham, though the Blue Devils lead the all-time series 9-3. Vegas has the Spiders starting out as 8.5-point underdogs. How do you expect Saturday’s season opener to play out under the lights in Wallace Wade Stadium?

I think the Spiders will play well, keep things close for awhile, but come up short. This team is still very young. Finally getting away from camp will do this team some good, and Corp will have good numbers by the final whistle, but they’re not ready to knock off an FBS team. 27-14 Blue Devils.

BDN: Thanks for your insight. Good luck on Saturday!

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 travels to Miami to take on the Hurricanes on November 5

Duke will make their second trip to Miami on November 5 to take on the Hurricanes

Duke travels to Miami to take on the Hurricanes on November 5

The Blue Devils will finish up the 2011 season playing three of their final four games on the road, starting with their second trip to South Florida on November 5 to take on the Miami Hurricanes. Despite continued turnover struggles, Duke nearly knocked off “The U” last year in Durham, ultimately falling 28-13. While all eyes are on the Miami program’s off the field issues, we’ll keep this preview focused on the Blue Devils’ 2011 opponent on the field. Of course, that can be hard to predict at this point, with 12 Miami players under investigation by the NCAA for eligibility concerns.

To help us straighten all this out, BDN is pleased to welcome in Chris Stock from InsideTheU.com to give us an inside look at the 2011 Hurricanes.

BDN: We could talk for hours about the various allegations against the Miami program, but we’re here to preview the 2011 Hurricanes. With that in mind, how do you expect the investigation to affect the 2011 Miami season? Which current players might be ineligible or suspended, and how does their potential absence alter the expectations for this fall?

Regardless of who plays there is talent on the team.  If everyone is eligible, this team has the capabilities of competing for the ACC crown.  Now, we have been saying that for a number of years and it hasn’t happened, but first-year coach Al Golden appears to be onto something and the players appear to be buying in.  There’s no question the investigations can affect the team and the defense could take a hit, but there’s still reason for optimism in Coral Gables.  Lamar Miller has the ability to ease a lot of stressful minds and he’s nowhere near the investigation.  If quarterback Jacory Harris is deemed unable to play, Stephen Morris will be ready to go and with a solid offensive line, that will help tremendously in terms of putting together a successful season.

QB Jacory Harris' turnover issues may be the least of his problems this season

BDN: Talent never seems to be in short supply at The U, but that talent didn’t always translate into wins during the Randy Shannon era. What are some of the most important changes that have been made under new Head Coach Al Golden, both on and off the field?

Communication and organization are two key factors Golden has stressed.  These are two areas coach Shannon struggled with during his four years as the head coach.  Players now have a clear understanding where they stand on the depth chart and the program as a whole is more organized.  When it comes to on-field production, I think you will see a more inspired unit playing an intense brand of football from the opening whistle regardless of the opponent.  This was clearly not the case in recent years, which led to a number of losses.

BDN: Miami has been haunted by turnovers in recent years, and it has started at the quarterback position with Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris. What have been the reports from training camp on the play of the quarterbacks? With one of the conference’s top rushers in Lamar Miller, what do you expect from the Hurricanes’ offense in 2011?

Miami was last in the country last year throwing 27 interceptions.  That’s far too many especially considering the quarterbacks they have in Harris and Morris are very capable of being solid, dependable players.  Throughout training camp, the quarterbacks have thrown a very limited amount of interceptions.  In two scrimmages, the quarterbacks threw over 100 passes with just one interception.  That can be a double-edged sword as the defense failed to disrupt the passing game, but for a unit that was dead last a year ago, it has to be considered a positive sign.  UM led the ACC in total offense last year, but was just fifth in scoring offense.  Cutting back on penalties, which UM ranked among the nation’s worst, will be a key this season as well and I expect that to happen.  Miller will have a breakout season and back-up Mike James will provided steady play in a rushing attack that should pace the offense behind a big offensive line.

BDN: The Miami defense showed improvement in nearly all categories in 2010 from the previous year, and returns 7 starters in 2011, led by LB Sean Spence. What are the key question marks for this group in training camp, and what will be the strengths of new DC Mark D’Onofrio’s defense?

The UM defense is a question mark especially considering eight of the 12 players being investigated by the NCAA are on the defensive side of the ball.  In particular the cornerbacks have a lot to prove after three left for the NFL last season.  The linebackers, led by Spence, should be solid although they are not the biggest group around.  The defensive line could be plagued by a lack of depth.  The strength of a Miami defense is their speed, which they will have to use to their advantage.

BDN: Despite a significant talent gap, the Blue Devils have managed to compete with the Hurricanes in recent meetings. Why do you think Duke has had success against Miami? Do you think the Blue Devils are capable of pulling off the upset on Miami’s Homecoming this fall?

Point blank, UM did not respect Duke and came out flat against them, which nearly cost them multiple occasions.  Also, former Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis had some success against UM.  If Duke were to pull off an upset, quarterback Sean Renfree will have to show plenty of poise, stay on his feet, and attack UM through the air.  The two teams don’t play until November and a lot of things can happen between now and then.  For anyone to predict an upset by Duke, the Blue Devils will have to show they are capable of doing so before the UM game.

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

 

Previous week: October 29, Virginia Tech at Duke

Next week: November 12, Duke at Virginia

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