Tag Archives: Lee Butler

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.

All-American Will Snyderwine will anchor Duke's kicking game again in 2011 -Duke Photography

BDN previews Duke’s 2011 special teams units

Prior to the arrival of Head Coach David Cutcliffe, Duke fans remember all too well the days of missed field goals (and extra points!!), botched snaps, muffed punts, and missed tackles. Duke’s special teams is now light years ahead of where it was just a few seasons ago, and should continue to improve and become a strength for the 2011 Blue Devils.

 

All-American Will Snyderwine will anchor Duke's kicking game again in 2011 -Duke Photography

Kicking

Losses: Nick Maggio

Key returners: Will Snyderwine (R-Sr.), Paul Asack (R-Jr.)

Newcomers: none

2010 Review: Lou Groza semifinalist Will Snyderwine handled the kicking duties for the second straight season in 2010. After taking over for the injured Maggio in 2009, the former walk-on has now hit 38 of 44 (86.4%) field goal attempts in the past two seasons for the Blue Devils, with a career long of 52 yards at Georgia Tech in 2010. Snyderwine converted 32 extra points in 2010, extending his perfect career streak to 56/56. The combined field goal and extra point totals placed second all-time at Duke, with 95 points, and earned him All-American honors by the American Football Coaches Association, making him the first Blue Devil All-American kicker in school history. His value to the Duke team extended beyond field goals and extra points, as he increased his touchback numbers from 2/47 in 2009 to 11/60 in 2010.  Charged to work on on-side kicks last offseason by Coach Cutcliffe, Snyderwine delivered, as the Blue Devils were able to recover 4 of 6 on-side kicks in 2010. Overall, the Duke kickoff unit ranked 3rd in the ACC and 18th in the country, allowing just 19.71 yards per return, with opponents average start at the 24 yard line.

2011 Outlook: Snyderwine returns to anchor the kicking game again in 2011, and has already garnered several preseason accolades, including the Lou Groza Award Watch List and several preseason All-American honors. The former walk-on has developed into a potent weapon for the Duke offense and special teams units. Snyderwine appears ready to cap off a historic career at Duke with a big senior season. With increased depth throughout the roster, the kick coverage should continue to improve and become a strength for the Blue Devils. Big plays occasionally haunted the Duke coverage unit, and they did give up one touchdown return on the season against Alabama. The only concern with the Duke kicking game in 2011 might be depth at kicker, where an injury to Snyderwine could significantly weaken the Blue Devils.

Highly-touted freshman punter Will Monday will challenge senior Alex King

Punting

Losses: Kevin Jones

Key returners: Alex King (Sr.)

Newcomers: Will Monday (Fr.)

2010 Review: Jones lost the starting job to King after a botched punt against Wake Forest in 2010. King was mostly dependable for the Duke punting game, averaging 41.1 yards per punt, finishing 7th in the ACC. Of 55 punts on the year, King was able to pin opponents within the 20 yards line 21 times, with 6 touchbacks. The Blue Devils’ punters achieved a net of 33.6 yards per punt, which ranked 9th in the conference and 106th in the nation. The punt coverage, however, faired worse, allowing 14.4 yards per return, which ranked last in the conference and 117th in the nation. The Blue Devils were only able to force 7 fair catches on the season and allowed a punt return touchdown against Maryland.

2011 Outlook: Punting appeared to be the biggest weakness among Duke’s special teams unit in 2010, and stands to be an area of significant improvement in 2011. The hope is that with better depth, speed, and athleticism, the punt coverage unit will do a better job of limiting opponent returns. Punting should improve as well, as King now has nearly a full year of starting under his belt, and will be pushed by highly-touted freshman Will Monday.  The competition between King and Monday will definitely be one to watch this month.

 

Josh Snead led the Blue Devils' kick returners in 2010

Kick Return

Losses: none

Key returners: Patrick Kurunuwe (R-Jr.), Desmond Scott (Jr.), Conner Vernon (Jr.), Josh Snead (So.), Juwan Thompson (So.)

Newcomers: TBD

2010 Review: Scott, Snead, and Thompson were the leading return men for the Blue Devils in 2010, and Duke ended the season 4th in the ACC with an average of 20.9 yards per return. As true freshmen, Snead and Thompson ranked 7th and 8th individually with averages of 22.0 and 21.7 yards, respectively. The Duke return game provided the offense with an average starting position of the 27 yard line.

2011 Outlook: Duke has yet to return a kickoff for a touchdown under Coach Cutcliffe. Will 2011 be the year? With the three primary return men all back, Duke seems poised to continue to use kick returns as a strength. Scott, Snead, and Thompson will continue to share carries in the Duke backfield, and will also split the kick return duties. With their combination of size, vision, and speed, it may be difficult for any newcomers to break into the rotation, but the Duke staff has shown a desire to rotate multiple return men in an effort to keep players fresh throughout the season. The kick return job is another key competition to watch during training camp.

Senior Lee Butler is Duke's leading punt returner in 2011

Punt return

Losses: none

Key returners: Lee Butler (Sr.), Johnny Williams (Sr.)

Newcomers: ?Jared Boyd (Fr.), ?Tim Burton (Fr.), ?Jamison Crowder (Fr.)

2010 Review: Butler handled the vast majority of punt return duties in 2010, finishing with a respectable 8.6 yards per return, which ranked 5th in the ACC and 31st in the nation. With a season long of 33 yards, Butler was able to consistently advance the ball, but rarely broke out for big returns. Williams showed some explosiveness as a punt returner in 2009, but due to injuries and a position change, only returned 2 punts in 2010.

2011 Outlook: With both Butler and Williams back, along with a group of speedy youngsters headed by Jamison Crowder, Duke appears ready to develop the punt return game into a significant weapon. There is likely to be significant competition for the starting job, and with some improved blocking, 2011 might be the year that fans see an explosive punt return game from the Blue Devils. Coach Cutcliffe has historically emphasized the kicking game in past training camps, and the punt return unit is likely to see significant reps this August.

BDN Duke Football 2011 Offense Preview

BDN Duke Football 2011 Defense Preview

Bookmark Blue Devil Nation for in-depth coverage of Duke Football all season long, from training camp through the 2011-2012 bowl season.

Duke will hold its annual spring game Saturday at 3PM in Wallace Wade Stadium

Football Friday looks at Duke’s spring game

Duke will hold its annual spring game Saturday at 3PM in Wallace Wade Stadium

Duke Football will hold its annual spring game this Saturday at 3 PM in Wallace Wade Stadium. The event is free to the public and offers fans a chance to get a first look at the 2011 Blue Devils. Duke men’s lacrosse will host Georgetown at 1 PM in Koskinen stadium, so be sure to come out and support Duke athletics on what should be a fun Saturday in Durham!

 

Rejoice, Blue Devil fans! Football Friday is here. Ok, today is not a day for rejoicing. But let’s at least talk some football to take our minds off the…disappointment. And after today’s day of mourning, maybe you can put that bottle down and head out to Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday afternoon to check out the 2011 Blue Devils? Think you could do that for me, sport? Sure, why not!

Well, if you do go, and I truly hope you will, here are five questions to think about as you watch the spring game in Wallace Wade on Saturday:

1. Can the Duke defensive line slow down the run?

I’m sure most have already determined that I’m an eternal optimist when it comes to Duke football. That being said, I have no delusions of Duke having a dominant defense in 2011. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and for a squad that finished 2010 ranking113th out of 120 FBS programs against the run, Duke has a long way to go. In 2009, the Blue Devils ranked 74th against the run, and I’m hoping that with the addition of Rick Petri and a group of young and athletic linemen, Duke moves back in that direction. The defensive line should benefit from going up against a pretty good and healthy Duke offensive line, so this is definitely a matchup to watch on Saturday.

2. Can the Duke defensive line pressure the quarterback?

I promise, all the questions won’t be about the defensive line – just most of them. In addition to struggling against the run in 2010, Duke finished 108th in pass efficiency defense, 113th in sacks, and 109th in tackles for a loss. These are not numbers we want to show potential donors when pitching the Wallace Wade upgrades. There is no question that there was room for improvement in the Duke secondary last year as well, but in general, opposing quarterbacks were way too comfortable throwing against the Blue Devils. The good news is that Rick Petri comes from a Miami defense that led the country in tackles for loss, so he may have a few tricks to help Duke find their way into the backfield. We’ll also have to see if new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles has any new ideas for how to bring pressure from Duke’s linebackers and safeties.

3. Have Sean Renfree and the Duke offense taken a step forward this spring, especially in terms of taking care of the football?

In an earlier edition of Football Friday, I mentioned the key to 2011 success likely lies in the ability of the offense to take care of the football. The 2010 Blue Devils were turnover machines, finishing last in the ACC and 112th in the country in turnover margin. With a full year of starting experience under his belt, the hope is that Sean Renfree and his receivers will be able to eliminate many of their mistakes from a season ago. Of course, in the spring game, this is difficult to evaluate. If the offense takes care of the ball, is that because the defense didn’t apply pressure (see question 2)? These are things that the coaching staff, and fans, should keep a close eye on Saturday.

4. Will Duke be able to consistently run the ball behind a stronger, deeper offensive line?

If you’ve followed some of Duke’s spring practice reports, you might think that Duke has a stable of Heisman-caliber running backs, along with dual-threat QB Brandon Connette. Early in spring practice, many of Duke’s young defensive linemen were still getting their feet wet, and the defense as a whole was adapting to a new coordinator. By the spring game, many of those kinks should be worked out for the defense, and it should be a good matchup in the trenches. Duke’s running backs have been a little beat up this spring, but those who have played, have played fairly well. A consistent rushing attack will alleviate some of the pressure on Duke’s passing game and even the defense.

5. Who will step up and be the leaders of this year’s Blue Devils?

I debated whether to talk about leadership or surprise players in this last question, and I think leadership is more important. Some of the surprise players may not even be on campus yet, but this year’s leaders have to be. If Duke wants any chance of a bowl game in 2011, they will need a group of strong, vocal leaders on both sides of the ball. With a year of starting experience, I expect Sean Renfree to take control of the Blue Devil offense, aided by a group of upperclassmen at running back (Jay Hollingsworth and Desmond Scott), receiver (Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon), and the offensive line (Kyle Hill and Brian Moore). Defensively, leadership is much more of a question mark. Charlie Hatcher is a warrior and the lone senior along the defensive line, while seniors Matt Daniels and Lee Butler (who has missed all of spring practice) should anchor the secondary. Outside of those three players, Duke lacks significant game experience on defense, which means that players like sophomore Kelby Brown and junior Jordon Byas may have to assume leadership roles. On Saturday, keep an eye on the sidelines and in the huddle to see which players are ready to step up and lead this young Blue Devil team.

 

 

QB Sean Renfree is off to a good start this spring - BDN Photo

Football Friday interrupts March Madness

Even in the middle of March Madness, Football Friday is back to satisfy your weekly craving for Duke football. So far, we’ve covered Duke’s incoming freshman class, football recruiting 101, and a look at the fall schedule. While we love us some good recruiting scoop here at BDN, we think it’s also just as important to talk about the players we already have. With that in mind, this week’s Football Friday takes a look at the early reviews from Duke’s 2011 spring practice. [private]

Sir Nolan Smith leads Duke to Chapel Hill - Lance King Images

Duke travels to Chapel Hill

This weekend is all about Duke vs. North Carolina. The Tar Heels have dominated the Blue Devils on the gridiron of late, and that’s a trend that we’d all like to see come to an end this fall. More importantly, however, is to come away with a victory and the #1 seed on the hardwood Saturday, and I think the Blue Devils have a great chance to do it. The two teams match up with each other poorly, and that should make for another very interesting game. In the first game, UNC had no answer for Duke’s guards, while Duke struggled to contain UNC’s bigs. Kyle Singler and Harrison Barnes essentially neutralized each other. I expect to see much of the same on Saturday, and if either team can get a boost from their bench, that could end up being the difference. It’s Duke and Carolina, with the ACC regular season championship on the line, which means we’re in for another thriller.

Recruiting news

The Blue Devils hosted 26 prospects on February 19th for the second of their junior days. The prospects took in Duke’s practice, toured the facilities, and met with the coaches.

Duke commit Erich Schneider enjoyed his visit to Durham

Current Duke commit Erich Schneider made the trip from Florida and got to spend a lot of time with Coach Middleton and the tight ends. The long distance award goes to QB Bart Houston, who flew in from California for the weekend. Houston’s recruiting has recently picked up and offers are starting to come in for the talented signal-caller. A few other prospects were in town this past weekend to take in Duke’s spring practice, including offensive lineman Andrew Jelks. Jelks told BDN he really liked Duke and had high praise for Coach Cutcliffe and Coach Luke. The top Tennessee prospect intends to make visits to Knoxville, Tuscaloosa, and Oxford, Mississippi this spring.

Congratulations are due for Duke TE commit David Reeves, who helped Greensboro High School capture a Regional Championship on the hardwood. Best of luck to David and Greensboro as they continue their quest for an Alabama State Title.

With only 12 seniors scheduled to graduate this season, the Blue Devils will be particularly selective this year with their recruiting. No new offers were extended this week, and the top targets remain the same as we discussed in our earlier Football Friday. Invitations have been sent out to prospects for the spring game on March 26, and it will be important for the Blue Devils to have a good showing, both on the field and in the stands.

Spring Practice

Duke wrapped up the first half of spring practice on Wednesday, and will take a much-needed two-week break for spring break. No coach or fan wants to hear that Duke is banged up this spring, but it’s the truth. Duke has been practicing with about 55 players this spring, which can make it difficult to assess individual performances. In particular, the Blue Devils are thin on the defensive side of the ball, where Kenny Anunike, Kelby Brown, Lee Butler, and Quan Stevenson are out for the entire spring, and other key players have missed time. At this point, everyone is expected to be healthy for the fall, which obviously is most important, but with a young team, you’d like to see players play as many snaps as possible this spring.

QB Sean Renfree is off to a good start this spring - BDN Photo

Right now, the strengths of this team should be no surprise to most fans, and it starts with the play at quarterback and receiver. Sean Renfree has had a very good start to spring practice, and Brandon Connette and Anthony Boone have also made strides since the fall. Renfree told BDN last week that he feels as comfortable as he ever has playing football, and it’s shown on the field. For the most part, he’s been on the same page with his receivers and his offensive line, which has made things difficult for the Duke defense. As we mentioned last week, the Duke offense must take a big step forward in taking care of the football if the Blue Devils are to have any success this fall. So far, Renfree and co. look poised to do just that.

For those who have followed Duke’s spring scrimmage statistics, you’ll note that the running backs have put up some impressive numbers. Josh Snead has been out with a MCL sprain, but Desmond Scott. Patrick Kurunuwe, and Juwan Thompson have played well and shown the ability to break out big runs. The real credit here goes to Duke’s offensive line, where they lose only one starter in center Bryan Morgan. Brian Moore shifts over from right guard to take the starting center spot, and Duke has been working in Conor Irwin, Joey Finison, and Dave Harding as well. Overall, the line looks much improved, and projects to start Moore at center, Kyle Hill at left tackle, Harding at left guard, John Coleman at right guard, and Perry Simmons at right tackle. Redshirt-freshmen Laken Tomlinson and Tacoby Cofield have both played well this spring and will likely back-up Coleman and Simmons this fall.

As you can expect with several starters out, defensively, Duke has had mixed results this spring. The theme on defense seems to be athleticism and inconsistency; Duke is clearly stronger and faster than they have been in past years, but they are extremely inexperienced with only 5 seniors on the entire defensive unit. The key for the Blue Devils will be the play up front, and newcomers Jamal Bruce and Jordan Dewalt-Ondijo have shown some play-making ability and will compete for playing time this fall. New DL Coach Rick Petri is working hard with his young linemen, which include 10 underclassmen. Over the course of the spring and fall, the expectation is that this group, led by returnees Charlie Hatcher, Sydney Sarmiento, and Justin Foxx, will develop under Coach Petri into a solid ACC defensive front, but there will continue to be growing pains along the way. Among the defensive backs, the Blue Devils’ athleticism has been evident, as players such as Austin Gamble, C.J. France, and Jordon Byas appear ready to contribute this fall.  Duke has the athletes on defense to improve from last season’s ACC-worst unit, and consistency will be the key to the group’s success this fall.

In summary, at this point in the spring, the offense is clearly ahead of the defense, which is what you would expect to see with a more veteran group. I think Coach Cutcliffe said it best with his assessment of the first half of spring practice: “I’m not disappointed at all. What you see is that we don’t have a lot of people who are ready to play 50 or 60 snaps of ACC football, so there’s a learning process to that.” Overall, the effort and energy from the Blue Devils has been excellent. The team continues to work hard this spring and improves each day, which is exactly what you want to see from a young team.

Next week

We’ve got lots more football prospect interviews coming your way, so be sure to check back during your March Madness downtime. Until next week, GTHC.

WE ARE DUKE.

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Stats Update: Duke runs over Virginia

I remain convinced a team must successfully run the ball to consistently compete to win. After rushing 45 times for 142 yards in the win at Navy, Duke followed up by rushing for 230 yards on 45 attempts with six rushing touchdowns in Saturday’s 55-48 victory over the Virginia Cavaliers. So far in 2010, through nine games, Duke is averaging 132.8 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 85th out of 120 Football Bowl Series teams. Last season, Duke finished 120th in rushing.

On Saturday, Desmond Scott rushed for 97 yards on 17 carries including the decisive 35 yard touchdown scamper on a toss sweep. Brandon Connette was Duke’s second leading rusher gaining 78 yards on 12 carries, followed by Sean Renfree who gained 22 yards on 10 carries. Connette and Renfree each scored two rushing touchdowns.

Wide Receiver Donovan Varner was the fourth Blue Devil to score a rushing touchdown when he went in motion out of the slot, received an inside hand-off from Connette on a QB option, and darted off tackle for nine yards into the end zone. Varner gained 14 yards on two carries.

Improvement in the ground attack is a positive indicator Duke continues to progress toward turning the football program into an ACC contender.

It is no coincidence Duke has a plus five (+5) turnover margin in their three victories while being minus 14 (-14) during the six losses. Turnovers kill a team’s ability to win games. Duke remains last in the ACC in turnover margin at minus nine (-9) so if they are to extend their current two game winning streak they must value the football.

With all the success Duke has had running the ball recently, make no mistake, the Blue Devils remain a pass oriented offense. Duke is third in the ACC in passing offense averaging 261.3 yards per game. Sean Renfree has passed for 2270 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.

Conner Vernon (5.4), Donovan Varner (5.2) and Austin Kelly (4.4) are first, third and eighth in the ACC respectively, in receptions per game. With Austin Kelly out for the game and Conner Vernon injured returning a kick-off, tight end Cooper Helfet stepped up and caught seven passes for 126 yards against the Cavaliers. Helfet has 20 catches in eight games this season for a 2.5 receptions per game average. He was named one of the ACC players of the week for the second consecutive week.

On Duke’s game winning drive, Donovan Varner converted the critical first down when he caught a 26 yard pass on fourth and 18.

The kicking game is another phase of the game where Duke is excelling. Will Snyderwine is ranked number three in the ACC in scoring (kick) with 72 points. He has made 15 field goals out of 16 attempts plus all 27 extra points attempted.

Duke has attempted six onsides kicks this season and been successful four times.

Lee Butler averages 9.5 yards per punt return, which is fifth in the ACC. His longest return this season is 33 yards and he returned one punt for 26 yards in this week’s victory.

Desmond Scott is sixth in the ACC in all purpose yards with 957. Scott has rushed for 489 yards, gained 260 on kick returns, and caught 22 passes for 208 yards this season.

On the defensive side of the ball, Abraham Kromah ranks second in the ACC in tackles per game at 10.1. Kelby Brown is eighth with 7.6 and Matt Daniels is tied for eleventh with 6.9.

Injuries are starting to mount and could become an issue over the last three weeks of the season so I’m awaiting Thursday’s injury report with trepidation. Duke seeks to extend their winning streak to three games when the Boston College Eagles visit Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday.

Stats Update: Josh Snead and Lee Butler Shine

Except the lopsided final score, Duke survived the Alabama game from a statistics perspective, which goes a long way toward validating the humorous saying often quoted, “Liars, damn liars, and statisticians.” There is more to football than numbers. However, that is equally true of the final score, which was the result of being overmatched against the best team in the nation. As Coach Cutcliffe stated when he addressed the media, “After getting into the game tape, multiple times, I’m more encouraged than discouraged about our athleticism, future, immediate future…we have some athletes…we have capabilities in place…”

There are several legitimate positive takeaways from Saturday’s loss starting with one offensive category not addressed in last week’s article: rushing offense. Duke is averaging 155.7 yards per game on the ground, which places them at number eight in the ACC and number 61 in the nation. The significance of these rankings is the improvement over last season when Duke was ranked number 120 or last in the FBS. With three games under their belt, all indicators show Duke will be able to run the ball in 2010, a fact with serious implications for defensive coordinators of future opponents who now must prepare a defensive game plan to counter a balanced offensive attack by the Blue Devils.

Desmond Scott and Josh Snead have both shown they can successfully run the ball, and the offensive line has demonstrated the ability to run block. Snead’s 83 yards from scrimmage against the Crimson Tide and Scott’s 129 the previous week against Wake Forest provide Coach Cutcliffe with a tailback tandem to factor into future game plans. Teams which successfully run the ball routinely feature two running backs. Duke has rushed for 467 yards in 2010, which is more than two and a half times the 184 yards Duke totaled during the first three games in 2009.

Punt and kick-off return performance are two more areas which were not addressed in last week’s article. Lee Butler is ranked number 15 in the nation in punt returns. He is averaging 15.25 yards per punt return after three games by returning four punts for 61 yards. Butler is also Duke’s leader in tackles with 21 on the season including six against the Crimson Tide.

Josh Snead is ranked number 31 in the nation in kick-off returns. He is averaging 25.75 yards per kick return by returning four kick-offs for 103 yards. Kick return performance is an area where Duke can gain an advantage over opponents in the critical starting field position statistic.

All statistical rankings quoted throughout this article are from www.theacc.com and www.ncaa.com.

Offensive statistical categories which remain impressive:

1. Total offense: Duke remains impressive in the total offense category by averaging 443.7 yards per game, which ranks number three in the ACC and number 27 in the nation. Performance in this category will climb with the Alabama game in the rear view mirror.

2. Time of possession: At 32 minutes and 27 seconds per game, this statistic is a bit misleading due to Alabama scoring on quick strikes. Duke is number one in the ACC in this category.

3. Third down conversions: successfully converting on 23 out of 48 opportunities (47.9%) is good for a number three ranking in the ACC and number 27 in the nation.

4. Red zone offense: Duke remains at 100 percent success in the red zone scoring eight touchdowns and four field goals in 12 opportunities.

5. First downs: Duke remains number one in the ACC with 71 first downs. The Blue Devils have rushed for 22, passed for 43, and been awarded six via penalties. These numbers result in Duke being tied with Notre Dame at number 16 in the nation.

Defensive statistical categories still need to improve:

1. Total defense: Duke ranks last in the ACC and number 117 in the nation by allowing 510.7 yards of offense per game to opponents.

2. Scoring defense: It is no surprise Duke is last in the ACC giving up an average 47.7 points per game. Those numbers rank number 118 in the nation. This is the statistic Duke must correct as the season moves forward. A defense can afford to bend as long as it does not break; however, Duke has given up way too many points so far this season.

3. Opponent first downs: Duke’s defense ranks last in the ACC and number 115 in the nation by giving up 75 first downs. Opponents have rushed for 33, passed for 36 and been awarded six via penalty.

4. Red zone defense: Opponents have scored on Duke in 13 out of 14 red zone opportunities, but the good news is Duke stopped Alabama once last Saturday. Duke is number nine in the ACC and number 98 in the nation.

5. Turnover margin: With a three to one turnover advantage this past Saturday; Duke now has a plus two (+2) in turnover margin, which is ranked number five in the ACC and number 33 in the nation. While the turnover advantage was irrelevant against Alabama, this remains a key statistic to follow for success on the gridiron.

Noteworthy individual performances:

1. Sean Renfree’s passing efficiency rating dropped to 135.6, which ranks number seven in the ACC and number 51 in the nation. His efficiency rating along with his conference and national rankings should climb moving forward. Renfree threw for 144 yards this past week dropping his season average to 284 yards per game, which is number two in the ACC and number 13 in the nation.

2. Conner Vernon was held to 10 yards on two receptions so his individual national rankings fell. He is number two in the ACC in receiving yards per game at 106.7 and tied with Donovan Varner for number two in the ACC in receptions per game at 6.7. Those numbers rank number 13 and 21, respectively, in the nation.

3. Desmond Scott remains at number two in the ACC in All-purpose yards but drops to number 23 in the nation with 153 yards per game. While he only rushed for 41 yards this past weekend he returned four kick-offs for 59 yards and had 28 yards receiving to total 129 all purpose yards. Scott fell from number one in ACC to number five in rushing yards. His 79.3 yards per game is currently number 54 in the nation.

This week’s contest against the Army Black Knights is a crucial game as the Blue Devils attempt to even their record at 2-2. All eyes are focused upon the defense after they’ve given up 116 points in the previous two games. If Duke is to record a victory over Army, the defense must step up and stop the Cadets offense. Be sure and check back with Blue Devil Nation next week for an updated stats report where we hope to report about improvement on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage.