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BDN Football Friday: Spring Game Preview

 

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

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

 

Logistics

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

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

Scouting the Blue Devil Offense

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

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

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

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

Scouting the Blue Devil Defense

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

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

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

Scouting the Blue Devil Special Teams

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

Recruiting still sizzling

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

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

Stats Update: Blue Devils Shine in the Red Zone

With wins over Tulane and Florida International, Duke heads into their Bye Week with a 3-2 record riding a three game win streak. In the two wins, the Blue Devils racked up 868 yards total offense and scored 79 points, while allowing Tulane and Florida International to combine for 886 yards total offense and 54 points.

Vast Improvement

Seeing as Red Zone performance was prominently featured in “The Ugly” section of this season’s first stats article, it seems appropriate to address the team’s success at the top of this update. Duke scored on all 10 Red Zone possessions in the last two games. Eight of the ten scores were touchdowns. Juwan Thompson ran for four touchdowns of 20, 9, 6 and 1 yards. The ability to successfully run the ball in the Red Zone is a development, which should pay huge dividends in the future.

Duke made all four field goals attempted in the two games. Will Snyderwine made three successful kicks and Jeffrey Ijjas was successful on one kick.

While Duke has shown vast improvement in these two areas, it is worth noting they still rank last in the ACC in these categories due to the bad start so it is important for the team to maintain improved performance.

Key Team Accomplishments

Obviously, the most relevant team accomplishment the past two weeks was winning the games. In the final analysis, the final score is the most important statistic.

Passing Offense improved from 297 to 311 yards per game. Duke is now ranked three of 12 in the ACC (up from number five) and 19 of 120 nationally (up from number 25). Numbers for Total Offense are also impressive with Duke’s 409 yards per game ranks six of 12 in the ACC and 56 of 120 nationally.

The ability to sustain long drives results in Duke being ranked two of 12 in the ACC and number 17 of 120 nationally in Time of Possession at 32 minutes and 56 seconds per game. Against Tulane, the Blue Devils reeled off touchdown drives of 18, 12 and 9 plays; while against Florida International they had an 11 play drive which ended with a field goal.

Duke’s four touchdown drives in the FIU game were short drives of 1, 3, 4 and 5 plays.

Even though Duke achieved success running the ball in the Red Zone the past two weeks, overall Rushing Offense remains a concern. At 97 yards per game, Duke is 11 of 12 in the ACC and number 108 nationally.

Key Individual Accomplishments

Conner Vernon leads the ACC in Receptions per Game. His 6.8 receptions per game place him at number 23 in the nation. Vernon is also third in the ACC in Receiving Yards per Game at 101.

Matt Daniels leads the ACC in Passes Defended. His 1.8 passes defended per game place him at number five in the nation. Additionally, he is sixth in the ACC in Tackles with 48.

Sean Renfree is third in the ACC in Passing Average per Game. His 272.2 passing yards per game place him at number 25 in the nation.

Jamison Crowder is sixth in the ACC in Kick Return Average and ninth in the ACC in All Purpose Yards. He is averaging 21.8 yards per kick return and 127.4 all purpose yards per game.

Alex King is fifth in the ACC in Punting averaging 41.2 yards per punt.

Donovan Varner is seventh in the ACC in Receptions per Game at 5.8.

Moving Forward

The next three games will be played in Wallace Wade Stadium so Duke will have home field advantage accompanying momentum gained during the current three game win streak. It is time for the Blue Devils to step up and record a signature victory in order to make the rest of the ACC sit up and take notice. The first opportunity will be on October 15th against the Florida State Seminoles.

FIU hosts Duke on October 1 for a Homecoming night game in Miami

BDN Previews Duke’s week 5 trip to FIU

FIU hosts Duke on October 1 for a Homecoming night game in Miami

The Blue Devils will look to make it three in a row on Saturday as they travel to FIU to take on the Golden Panthers. The matchup will be televised on ESPNU at 7PM ET and will also be FIU’s Homecoming Game. Duke evened their record at 2-2 last week with a convincing win over Tulane behind impressive performances by QB Sean Renfree and the Blue Devil defense. Renfree finished with 278 passing yards and 1 touchdown, and added 2 rushing touchdowns as well. The Blue Devil defense held the Green Wave without an offensive touchdown for the first three quarters and allowed just 2.5 yards per carry for the game. Despite numerous injuries, including the loss of ACC sacks leader DE Kenny Anunike for the season, Duke dominated the game, controlling the ball for 36:12 while building a 48-13 lead by early in the 4th quarter.

FIU is one of the youngest programs in the FBS, having played its first season in just 2002. The Golden Panthers are coming off their first winning season in 2010, which saw them claim a Sun Belt Conference co-Championship and a Little Ceasar’s Pizza Bowl victory. When the Golden Panthers take the field, all eyes are on Heisman Trophy candidate T.Y. Hilton, the reigning Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year and one of the most exciting players in all of college football. Hilton lines up at wide receiver for the FIU offense, but also handles the punt and kickoff return duties. This season, Hilton helped FIU to a fast 3-0 start to the season, including over 200 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns against Louisville in week 2. A hamstring injury limited Hilton in week 4 against Louisiana-Lafayette, and the Golden Panthers dropped to 3-1 after a 36-31 defeat to their Sun Belt Conference rival. The Blue Devil defense will have a stiff test on Saturday night as they try to slow the speedy Hilton and the Golden Panthers.

KEYS FOR DUKE

1.       Contain T.Y. Hilton

When you face a talent such as Hilton, the key is to minimize his impact on the game, both offensively and on special teams. The probable return of CB Ross Cockrell should help the Duke defense keep tabs on the speedy Hilton, who is utilized in a variety of roles in the FIU spread offense. With Hilton as his favorite target, redshirt-senior QB Wes Carroll has completed over 61% of his passes and thrown for 3 touchdowns. After injuries to Hilton and Carroll forced FIU to rely heavily on RB Kedrick Rhodes in week 4, expect the Golden Panthers to try and get their passing game back on track against Duke. Paul Asack and Alex King would be wise to try and avoid good return opportunities for the always dangerous Hilton.

FIU's T.Y. Hilton is one of the top players in all of college football

2.       Match FIU’s speed

Relying heavily on the fertile South Florida recruiting grounds, Head Coach Mario Cristobal has built this FIU team around speed, headlined by Hilton, but exemplified up and down the roster. The Golden Panthers are balanced on offense, averaging 198 yards passing and 138 yards rushing per game. Defensively, FIU ranks fifth in the country with 15 sacks per game and has also recorded 7 tackles for loss. On special teams, Hilton averages over 33 yards per kickoff return, good for 4th in the nation. Under David Cutcliffe, Duke has made a deliberate effort to improve their team speed, and it will be put to the test in all phases against a FIU team capable of making explosive plays all over the field.

3.       Protect Sean Renfree

Renfree has played outstanding over the past two weeks, spreading the ball around the field to his deep group of receivers and leading Duke to a top-20 passing offense in the country. The Duke offensive line has allowed 8 sacks so far on the season, but Duke fans have seen Renfree sustain several other hard hits. Against an athletic FIU pass rush, the Blue Devil offensive line will have to provide Renfree enough time to deliver the ball down the field to South Florida natives Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner. If Renfree is able to establish a rhythm with his receivers against a FIU secondary that allowed 363 passing yards to Louisville, the Blue Devils will be in good shape.

GAME ANALYSIS

Turnovers

FIU +2, Duke -3

What a difference a year makes. The Blue Devils have significantly cut down on their turnovers from a year ago and find themselves playing better football as a result. The Duke defense is still struggling to turn opponents over, but have managed to force a few key miscues. With a redshirt-senior QB in Wes Carroll, the Duke defense likely will again have difficulty winning the turnover battle on Saturday.

Sacks

FIU 15, Duke 7

The Duke offensive line will have its hands full as they try to protect Sean Renfree against one of the top 5 pass rushes in the country. FIU’s defensive speed will particularly challenge the Blue Devils with their blitz packages, as they will try to penetrate Duke’s pass protection. With Brian Moore still sidelined, Duke will need another strong effort from redshirt-freshmen Laken Tomlinson and Takoby Cofield.

3rd Down

Duke 46%, FIU 29%

Duke’s success on 3rd down has been a big part of their #7 national ranking in time of possession. The Blue Devils have converted 28/61 3rd down opportunities while holding opponents to just a 38% conversion rate. Conversely, FIU has struggled to sustain drives, picking up just 14/49 3rd downs while allowing opponents to be successful on 35% of their opportunities. Both 3rd and 4th down conversions have been key to their current 2-game winning streak, and they’ll look to continue that success on Saturday.

Explosives

T.Y. Hilton is explosive, and FIU’s speed can burn opponents. If Hilton is allowed to make plays for the Golden Panthers, it will be a long night for Blue Devil fans. Duke, of course, has playmakers of their own. If it is to be a happy homecoming for Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner, Duke will have to continue to get them the ball down the field. Freshman Jamison Crowder showed a glimpse of his explosiveness last week with a punt return touchdown that was later voided by penalty. With Crowder and Hilton in the return game, there will be explosive athletes on both sides of the ball in all phases on Saturday.

Rushing TDs

Duke 10, FIU 9

Coach Cut says, “When you run out of room to throw the football, find a way to run the ball in.” Despite the loss of QB Brandon Connette, RB Desmond Scott, and RB Josh Snead, the Blue Devils have been successful rushing the football in the red zone in their past two contests. In fact, Duke was able to convert all 7 of their red zone chances against Tulane, including 2 rushing scores for Sean Renfree and 2 more for Juwan Thompson. With the possible return of Scott and/or Snead, the Blue Devils will have plenty of weapons to punch it in on the ground. For FIU, Kedrick Rhodes has been the primary threat on the ground, but the always-dangerous Hilton can run it in from anywhere.

Field Goals

FIU 5/6, Duke 2/8

Welcome back, Will Snyderwine the All-American. After a disastrous start to the 2011 season, the Blue Devils’ kicker got back on track with a 40-yard FG against Tulane. Though he is still nursing an ankle injury, Duke fans should be able to breathe a small sigh of relief when the Blue Devils line up for a field goal. FIU’s Jack Griffin has been perfect from inside 50 yards so far in 2011.

Penalties

Duke 20-168 yards, FIU 21-183 yards

The Blue Devils continue to clean up their act, but are far from playing error-free. Against an energized and veteran FIU team, Duke will have a very small margin for error on Saturday, meaning that penalties could be costly. The Blue Devils will have to match the Golden Panthers’ speed with good fundamentals and avoid ill-advised penalties.

PREDICTION

ESPNU was wise to televise this game, as it should be both entertaining and competitive. Both offenses feature explosive talents that are likely to put up points on the board. The Blue Devil defense is playing with renewed confidence after two victories, while the Golden Panthers will look to fight back from a disappointing conference loss to Louisiana-Lafayette. Uncle Mo is on the Duke side, and it should be enough to carry the Blue Devils into their off week at 3-2 behind another strong performance by Sean Renfree.

Duke 31, FIU 27

Looking at the Stats: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Duke notched their first win of the season on Saturday with a 20-19 victory over the Boston College Eagles to improve to 1-2 on the season. The victory was Coach David Cutcliffe’s third conference road victory and 13th overall win at the helm of the Blue Devils.

With three games in the books, season statistics start to have meaning by showing trends so here is a look at where Duke is shining and where they are in need of improvement. Even though this article is titled The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, there is no more relevant starting point than the ugly.

The Ugly

Duke’s performance in the Red Zone has been abysmal! In fact, Duke is ranked 120 out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams having ventured into the Red Zone 10 times with a success rate of 40 percent. Duke has missed three field goals, thrown an interception, turned the ball over on downs, and had time expire to end the 1st half on the six unsuccessful possessions.

The need to solve the Red Zone woes cannot be overstated. The Blue Devils must capitalize and come away with points at a much, much higher percentage on future trips into the Red Zone.

Equally troubling is Duke’s 0-6 performance on Field Goal attempts. A healthy Will Snyderwine back on the field should solve this problem. However, until Snyderwine is able to resume the kicking duties, Duke could be looking to try to convert fourth down into first down when in field goal range.

Enough discussion on the ugly stuff…

The Good

Defensive End Kenny Anunike leads the ACC in Sacks with four and is third in Tackles for Loss with five. An inability to pressure the quarterback has been a concern for the Blue Devils’ defense so Anunike’s performance the past two games is an exciting development and a statistic worth watching closely the next couple of weeks.

Staying on the defensive side of the ball, Matt Daniels is fifth in the ACC in Tackles averaging 10.3 per game and Kelby Brown is 17th with 6.7.

A known strength of the Blue Devils offense is talent and depth at the wide receiver position. All three of Duke’s starting wide outs are ranked in the ACC Top 10 in Receptions per Game. Conner Vernon is tied for third with 6.7, Donovan Varner is number six with 6, and Brandon Braxton is number seven with 5.7. Additionally, Vernon is tied for fifth in Receiving Yards per Game averaging 97.3.

Combining the Blue Devils’ wide receiver talent with quarterback Sean Renfree, results in Duke being ranked 25 of 120 nationally, and five of 12 in the ACC, in Passing Offense averaging 296.67 yards through the air per game.

Renfree set Duke’s single game completions record in the game against Boston College. His 41 completions this past Saturday surpassed Thaddeus Lewis’ previous mark of 40 completions set in 2009 against N.C. State.

Another noteworthy performer is true freshman Jamison Crowder who is ranked fourth in the ACC in Kick Returns averaging 21.2 yards per kick. Crowder has displayed good speed and looked good running the ball so fans should keep an eye on him because he has a good chance to break off a couple of long returns before this season is over.

Lee Butler is fourth in the ACC in Punt Returns averaging 7.7 yards per return.

The Bad

At 18.3 points per game, Duke is 11th in the ACC in Scoring Offense. With the arsenal of weapons available on offense, this is a statistic which must improve and a statistic everyone associated with the program expects to improve. Simply stated, Duke is too talented on the offensive side of the ball to continue to struggle scoring points.

Finally, the Blue Devils have failed to consistently run the ball in their first three games and are currently rank tied for 10th in the ACC at 96.3 yards per game. The struggles can be partially attributed to injuries sustained by Desmond Scott in the first game of the season and Josh Snead during preseason, but Duke needs to show improvement in the running game as the season progresses.

Juwan Thompson has been impressive averaging 5.4 yards per carry on the season but he needs help sharing the running responsibilities. The pending return to action of Desmond Scott in the next week or two will certainly provide Thompson the support he requires as Scott has been Duke’s leading rusher the past two seasons.

Moving Forward

The next two weeks will be critical as Duke faces non-conference foe Tulane (2-1), in Wallace Wade Stadium, followed by a trip to Miami to face the Florida International Golden Panthers (3-0). The expectation is Duke will build off the road victory over Boston College and play inspired football against the last two non-conference opponents this season. The objective is to reach Bye Week with a 3-2 record and then focus upon the tough ACC schedule in October and November.

Blue Devil Nation will be all over the action providing Duke Fans complete football coverage including an updated look at the statistics after the trip to play FIU.

BDN Rapid Reaction: Duke 20, Boston College 19

Duke emerged the victor in Chestnut Hill this afternoon with a 20-19 victory over the Boston College Eagles. It was an up-and-down game for both sides, but the Blue Devils were able to persevere.

No good!

Miscues in the kicking game were the story for both teams, highlighted by Nate Freese’s 23-yard FG try off the left upright with 43 seconds remaining. Freese also had a costly missed extra point earlier in the game. Duke had more than its fair share of kicking struggles, headlined by a blocked Alex King punt, a missed 33-yard FG by Jeff Ijjas, and a kickoff out of bounds by Paul Asack. Duke may have come away with the victory, but the question marks in the kicking game persist, and one has to wonder how long Duke can leave freshman Will Monday on the sideline if Will Snyderwine remains injured.

Killer V’s back on track

After an inconsistent start to the season, Duke’s dynamic receiving duo returned to their All-ACC form on Saturday, finishing with 18 catches and 194 receiving yards combined. Both took a few hard hits from the BC defense, but managed to secure the football and move the chains. Junior Conner Vernon had two impressive TD catches and finished with 6 catches and 112 yards. Senior Donovan Varner had his best game of the season and a career-high 12 catches. Brandon Braxton added 9 catches for 60 yards and tight end Cooper Helfet finished with 6 receptions for 59 yards. Juwan Thompson had 104 all-purpose yards, and overall, the Duke offense racked up 465 yards of total offense.

Renfree gets his mojo back

The story of the day for the Blue Devils, however, was the play of Duke QB Sean Renfree, who finally put up the kind of numbers Duke fans have come to expect from the redshirt-junior. Despite hit after hit from Luke Kuechly and the BC defense, Renfree stood strong and finished with 40 completions, 359 yards, and 2 touchdowns. His 1 interception came on a tipped pass that certainly could have been caught. Perhaps most importantly, it was Renfree, and not redshirt-freshman Anthony Boone, who pushed his way far enough into the end zone for the go-ahead 1-yard TD in the 4th quarter. This definitely was a performance for the second-year starting QB to build on.

Costly mistakes

Duke fans have seen their share of close losses over the years, and it certainly seemed like this was shaping up to be another heartbreaker. Instead, the disappointment falls on Boston College, who squandered their opportunity to win in the final seconds. The Blue Devils, however, made things difficult on themselves with numerous costly mistakes. In addition to the kicking woes, the Blue Devils were whistled for 9 devastating penalties for 79 yards. At least three of those penalties negated first downs for the offense, and a personal foul on the final BC drive nearly cost the game. The Blue Devils will have to eliminate these costly mistakes if they hope to play winning football. Fans and players should enjoy this victory today, and carry the good vibes into next weekend against Tulane. Starting tomorrow, however, it is back to work for #dukegang.

Bring on the Green Wave! WE ARE DUKE!

Duke and Boston College square off in their ACC opener Saturday

BDN previews Duke’s ACC opener at Boston College

Duke and Boston College square off in their ACC opener Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KEYS FOR DUKE

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

GAME ANALYSIS

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

Turnovers

Duke 3, Boston College 3

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

Sacks

Duke 2, Boston College 2

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

3rd down

Duke 33%, Boston College 31%

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

Explosives

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

Rushing TDs

Duke 4, BC 2

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

Field goals

Duke 0/4, BC 2/4

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

Penalties

Duke 7-52 yards, BC 11-73 yards

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

PREDICTION

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

Duke 28, BC 13