Is it September 3rd yet? Well, not quite, Duke Football faithful, but we know the feeling. With 60 days until kickoff, it's no longer too early to take an in-depth look at Duke's 2011 opponents. Over the next several weeks, BDN will team up with other college football insiders to preview the 2011 Duke schedule. Season tickets are on sale now at GoDuke.com, or through the Duke Ticket Office at (919) 681-BLUE.
For the Blue Devils, there is no game more important than the first one, which is a September 3rd matchup with the Richmond Spiders under the lights in Wallace Wade Stadium. Duke has opened with home games against the Spiders twice in recent years, and Richmond has emerged victorious in both contests. The last meeting occurred in 2009; the Spiders were the aggressors from the start, spoiling the opening to Duke QB Thad Lewis' record-setting senior year with a 24-16 victory. Though the Blue Devils outgained the Spiders overall, Richmond was able to control the line of scrimmage, stifling the Duke running game and scoring two touchdowns on the ground. Mike London has since left the program for Charlottesville, and in 2010, the Spiders finished 6-5 under first year Head Coach Latrell Scott. Though many of the coaches and players have changed, the Spiders are still expected to be among the top programs in the FCS in 2011, and their strengths continue to be along the line of scrimmage. In 2010, Duke struggled to consistently run the ball effectively and was among the worst FBS defenses against the run, making the 2011 opener with Richmond an intriguing early season test for the Blue Devils.
To get an inside look at the 2011 Spiders, BDN was fortunate enough to have the help of David Weissman, Online Sports Editor for The Collegian at the University of Richmond.
BDN: What have been the biggest changes within the Richmond program since Latrell Scott replaced former Head Coach Mike London?
The changes are few and far between as Richmond understandably didn't want a huge change with Coach London having as much success here as he had. Coach Scott actually coached under London for a few years and I think he realizes that he didn't need to mix too many things up in the program to have success. I'd say the biggest change I've noticed is in offensive philosophy. Coach Scott's offense proved much more run-oriented than in years prior and he seems to keep trying to establish the run throughout the game no matter how much success it is having. It's tough to tell if the offense will continue that trend this year or if the high amount of run plays called last year was an anomaly due to the quarterback injuries Richmond had last season.
BDN: The Spiders started four different quarterbacks in 2010 due to injuries. How has USC transfer Aaron Corp recovered from midseason ACL surgery, and what are the expectations for the Spiders' offense in 2011?
Based on all that I've heard coming from camp is that Corp is fully recovered and ready to go, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll carry the entire load at the quarterback position. Junior John Laub, who also got injured last season, was getting snaps even when Corp was completely healthy last year and London seems to like to put him in the game to run quarterback draws on third and short situations. As for the rest of the offense, the running game should be the strength with the offensive line looking stronger than last year and a number of backs that have shown the ability to have breakout games, led by Garrett Wilkins and Kendall Gaskins. The wide receivers are also looking good, but suffered last year without a consistent starter throwing them the ball. Senior Tre Gray is the most consistent of the bunch, with sophomore speedster Ben Edwards looking like he might have a breakout season.
BDN: Richmond will have to replace several starters from last year's defense, including CAA Defensive Player of the Year Eric McBride. Which players are expected to step up this fall, and which positions still have question marks?
The defense as a whole will definitely determine how many games the Spiders win this year. They were really inconsistent last season, at times looking unmovable and others, like they didn't start trying until the opponent was in the redzone. Martin Parker, Eric McBride, and Justin Rogers (who was drafted by the Bills) are going to be tough to replace as they anchored all three lines of defense for Richmond for as long as I can remember, but there is definitely no lack of talent to fill in. The major buzz coming out of camp is around safety Cooper Taylor who just transferred to Richmond from Georgia Tech. Some other guys the Spiders expect to step up are cornerback Tremayne Graham, linebacker Darius McMillan, and defensive lineman Corey Jackson. The biggest question marks look to be the linebacking corps, as the Spiders will need a couple young guys to step up into starting roles without much experience.
BDN: Richmond has won both of their last two trips to Durham. Why do you think the Spiders have had success against the Blue Devils?
It's hard to say why Richmond has been successful against Duke specifically, but I do know that as a whole, Richmond has a history of stepping up their level of play against the bigger, more well-known schools in all sports. The coaches do a good job of not letting the name on the opponent's jersey affect the way their players prepare and play, and I think maybe sometimes schools like Duke underestimate the ability of Richmond's athletics. A lot of the players here at Richmond were on the radar of ACC or SEC-type schools, but end up here and I think these guys like to be given the chance to show opposing coaches of these schools what they missed out on.
BDN: If you were an opposing coach, how would you plan to attack the Richmond defense and slow the Spiders' offense?
My gameplan would be dependent on my two lines. I'd say the keys to defeating Richmond are running the ball and stopping the run. The experience that Richmond does have on defense is mostly on the back end and I think the young guys on the line and in the linebacking corps could lead to a few big plays on the ground if you keep at it. As for defensively, London loves to run the ball as I mentioned before and the quarterbacks for Richmond did throw a good number of interceptions last year when they got put in third and long situations.
BDN: Thanks again for your help and insight, David!