Tag Archives: Will Snyderwine

Duke travels to Atlanta to face the Ramblin' Wreck this Saturday.

Blue Devils will host Georgia Tech for Senior Day

Duke will host the Ramblin' Wreck on Senior Day this Saturday.

Duke (3-7, 1-5 ACC) will look to turn their season around on Senior Day this Saturday when they host Georgia Tech (7-3, 4-3 ACC) in Wallace Wade Stadium. While many Duke fans may be tempted to look ahead to basketball season, there are two final chances to watch the Duke senior class with the most wins since 1995 take to the gridiron. This Duke senior class is headlined by All-ACC stars Matt Daniels and Donovan Varner, but also includes 18 other tremendous student-athletes who will leave the Blue Devil Football Program in a much better place than they found it four years ago. Thank you, seniors!

GAME INFO

Georgia Tech at Duke

12:30 PM ET, Saturday, November 19

Radio: Blue Devil IMG Sports Network; Sirius XM Radio (Channels 94 & 193)
TV: ACC Network – Tim Brant (Play-by-play), Dave Archer (Analyst) and Mike Hogewood (Sideline)
Internet: GoDuke.com; theACC.com

KEYS FOR DUKE

1. Win the line of scrimmage: Broken record time, but seriously. Football is won and lost in the trenches, especially against the Georgia Tech option offense. The Yellow Jackets bring in the top rushing offense in the ACC, averaging just under 320 yards per game. It’s a five-headed monster for Georgia Tech on the ground, led by Tevin Washington, who averages over 70 yards per game, along with 4 other players who average over 30 yards per game in David Sims, Orwin Smith, Embry Peeples, and Roddy Jones. While fans can argue the merits of the Georgia Tech offense, the bottom line is it is effective and will challenge the Duke defense for 60 minutes. If the Yellow Jackets’ big, physical linemen are able to control this game, it will be a long afternoon for the Blue Devils. Conversely, with an offense that is difficult to get off the field, the key for Duke will be getting into the backfield and forcing fumbles. With the number of pitches in the option offense, the Yellow Jackets are prone to putting the ball on the ground (GT has 23 fumbles on the year) and Duke will have to capitalize (GT has lost just 8 fumbles overall).

Tevin Washington leads an explosive Georgia Tech offense

2. Explosive plays: Georgia Tech brings in one of the most explosive offensive units in the conference, averaging over 36 points per game and nearly 6 yards per carry on the ground. WR Stephen Hill is the top threat through the air, though his production has dropped off in ACC play. Still, the Yellow Jackets’ offense leads the ACC in yards per play both on the ground (5.8) and through the air (11.6). Those are scary numbers for a Duke defense that is banged up across the board. With key injuries to the defensive line and in the secondary, and the potential absence of both starting linebackers, Duke will need to find several unsung heroes on defense. Expect Matt Daniels to be used heavily against the run, as the Blue Devils will have to gamble and hope that Ross Cockrell can handle Hill in single coverage.

3. Duke on offense: Which Duke offense will we see on Saturday? Will they put together a full 60 minute effort? Georgia Tech is allowing nearly 25 points and over 360 yards of total offense on the season, so opportunities will be there for the Blue Devils to score points. The Blue Devils had the Yellow Jackets on the ropes a year ago in Atlanta, but a costly turnover killed their upset hopes. If Duke can take care of the football and put together 60 minutes of offense, they could find some redemption on Saturday.

Thank you, seniors! -BDN Photo

WHAT TO WATCH

1. Special seniors: It was alluded to in the opening, but bears repeating. This will be the last home game for a Duke senior class that has won 15 games over the past four years. Kyle Hill will watch his Senior Day from the sidelines, ending an impressive streak of 46 straight starts on the Duke offensive line. The remaining seniors will put forth an inspired performance as they look to end their careers with a big upset win in Wallace Wade Stadium. The Blue Devils will graduate 20 student-athletes from the program on Saturday: Paul Asack, Matt Daniels, Jeff Faris, Guillermo Freile, Ryan Hall, Charlie Hatcher, Cooper Helfet, Kyle Hill, Jay Hollingsworth, Jeffrey Ijjas, Alex King, Jon Needham, Danny Parker, George Pearkes, Kevin Rojas, Preston Scott, Will Snyderwine, Josh Trezvant, Donovan Varner, and Johnny Williams. Thank you, Seniors!

2. More records: Last week, Duke fans watched as senior WR Donovan Varner became the all-time school receptions leader. Varner will look to add to that record over his final two games, but will also look to set a new school record with a catch on Saturday. Last Saturday, Varner caught a pass in his 35th consecutive game, tying Scottie Montgomery for the all-time Duke record. Also on Saturday, Varner and Vernon will look to become Duke’s top all-time receiving duo if the pair haul in 5 catches.

3. All-American: Senior Matt Daniels has put together an impressive career at Duke, topped off with an outstanding senior campaign. The quarterback of the Duke defense, Daniels is 2nd in the country in pass break-ups, passes defended, and tackles by a defensive back. Throughout his career, whenever the Blue Devils have needed a stop, it seems that Matt Daniels is there. He has been a tremendous leader for this program and will almost certainly be playing on Sundays next year.

PREDICTION

A year ago, the Blue Devils faced three option offenses, but this season, just one. The option offense is difficult to prepare for and with a plethora of injuries on both sides of the ball, Georgia Tech will represent a significant challenge for Duke. Duke should have success moving the ball against Georgia Tech if they stick to an aggressive gameplan; expect another big day for Duke’s “Killer V’s.” An emotional pair of seniors in Matt Daniels and Charlie Hatcher will try to will the Blue Devils’ defense to an upset victory, but the explosive Yellow Jacket offense will still find its way into the end zone.

Georgia Tech 35, Duke 24

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.

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

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

Progress: it’s all relative

Expectations were high for David Cutcliffe's 4th season in Durham - BDN Photo

David Cutcliffe is now two games into his fourth season as Head Coach of the Duke Football program, and with the Blue Devils opening the year 0-2, fans are asking whether progress has in fact been made. Progress, however, is a relative term, and one can easily see progress or a lack of progress depending on the context.

Start with the big picture. Where was Duke football in 2007 and where is it today in 2011? The Blue Devils opened the 2007 season 0-2 with losses to Connecticut and Virginia. In 2011, they are again 0-2 with losses to Richmond and Stanford. Just as they were in 2007, Duke is again expected by most to finish at or near the bottom of the ACC. At face value, progress has not been made, and it’s a reasonable argument.

Duke football fans are anxious for something to cheer about - BDN Photo

The opposition to that argument is that building a winning football program doesn’t happen overnight. Since Coach Cutcliffe’s arrival, there have been substantial improvements made off the field. Overall, attendance is up and there is a new-found enthusiasm for football at Duke. The University and its boosters have made a substantial investment in the program, both from a coaching and a facilities standpoint. Duke has a veteran group of coaches and football facilities better or equivalent to every other ACC school. Improvements to Wallace Wade Stadium are in the works, though that will require a significant investment and better production on the field.

Speaking of on the field, let’s look at the early return on the University’s investment. So far in 2011, the wins aren’t there, so let’s look at the talent level. In 2007, Duke had 1 returning All-ACC player on the roster in Eron Riley. In 2011, Duke returns 3 players who have been awarded All-ACC honors in Conner Vernon, Donovan Varner, and Will Snyderwine. Looking at the makeup of the roster itself, the 2007 Blue Devils entered the season without a single redshirt-sophomore, junior, or senior. In 2011, Duke has 18 redshirt-sophomores, 10 redshirt-juniors, and 7 redshirt-seniors on the roster. The team is developing the kind of depth and experience that is needed to compete week in and week out over the course of a college football season. Based on an informal eye test, the Blue Devils are still an undersized football team, but that is slowly changing. Each recruiting class appears to get a little bigger and a little faster, and recruiting as a whole appears to be paying dividends, with young players like Juwan Thompson (leading rusher), Laken Tomlinson (starting OL), Kelby Brown (2nd leading tackler), and Jamison Crowder (10th in ACC in all-purpose yards) all producing an immediate impact on the field.

Freshman Jamison Crowder has had an immediate impact, ranking 10th in the ACC in all-purpose yards - BDN Photo

Let’s step away from the big picture and take a deeper look at Duke’s 2 losses. A loss to Richmond was inexcusable and a big step in the wrong direction for this team. The mistakes made in that game appeared to be “the same old Duke;” missed FGs, fumbles, and consistently inconsistent play throughout the game. It certainly felt as if we had all traveled back in time to the Carl Franks era of Duke football, a period defined by mistakes and winless seasons. The Blue Devils appeared to be playing not to lose, highlighted by the overly vanilla and poorly executed game plan. Those around the program simply shook their head and thought, “Duke should be better than that. This shouldn’t be a bad football team.”

A week later, Duke welcomes #6 Stanford and Heisman favorite Andrew Luck to Wallace Wade Stadium. Most Duke fans, and even some media members, fear a repeat of last year’s disaster against Alabama, where the game was seemingly over for the Blue Devils before the ball was snapped. Sure enough, the Cardinal came out and caught Duke off guard with a trick play, ultimately driving the field for an opening touchdown and 7-0 lead. Here we go again. Instead, Sean Renfree leads Duke on a 9-play, 70 yard drive on their first possession to set up a FG. Will Snyderwine, last week’s goat, comes in and misses yet another chip shot FG. Here we go again.  Instead, Duke’s much-maligned defense makes the Heisman contender look uncomfortable for the next 4 possessions, coming up with 2 sacks, and 3 QB hits. Senior safety Lee Butler caps off the improbable start with a 76-yard interception returned for a TD. Duke recovers an onside kick after the PAT, and Wallace Wade is rocking with belief. The Blue Devils appear to be the aggressor and Duke is ready to compete with the #6 team in the country.

The Blue Devils ran out of steam against Stanford in the 2nd half - BDN Photo

Of course, that didn’t last long, as things quickly turned on the Blue Devils and they were unable to sustain their early momentum. The offensive line stumbles and the Duke drive stalls to close the half. Andrew Luck then returns to his Heisman-caliber form and leads the Cardinal to a 17-7 halftime lead. The 2nd half is dominated by Stanford, with the lone bright spot being a late 4th quarter TD drive engineered by redshirt-freshman QB Anthony Boone. The final score is a lopsided 44-14, and unanswered questions still abound about the state of the program.

Was that momentary flash – when we all started to believe – was that real?

Who is this Duke team? Are they the team that disrupted the Stanford offense and drove the length of the field with ease to open the game? Are they just the same old Duke, characterized by mistakes and missed opportunities?

Has progress been made? It is clear that significant improvements and investments have been made made off the field, but that hasn’t yet translated into wins, the ultimate measuring stick. It’s been an uphill battle, but Duke must continue to persevere and get better every day – on the field, in the coaching box, and on the recruiting trail. You either get better or you get worse. What will it be for you, Duke Football?

The Blue Devils are entering the most crucial part of their schedule, with 3 very winnable games leading into the bye week. Many of our questions about Duke will be answered, beginning with this week’s trip to 0-2 Boston College, followed by a homecoming game against Tulane and then a trip to surging Florida International. The Blue Devils must emerge from these three games with at least a 2-3 record, and should be capable of entering their bye week at 3-2 if they work hard to improve their red zone efficiency. After opening 0-2, 3 straight wins would be strong evidence that progress has, in fact, been made.

Ross Martin, the top HS placekicker in the country, hits the game-winning FG in his season opener.

Duke commit Ross Martin updates Blue Devil Nation on his senior season

Ross Martin, the top HS placekicker in the country, hits the game-winning FG in his season opener.

The Blue Devils secured a commitment from the nation’s top high school kicker over the summer in Ross Martin of Walsh Jesuit in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Martin told BDN earlier this summer that Duke has “always sort of been my dream school, because of the combination of world-class academics and D1 ACC football.” With the impending graduation of senior Will Snyderwine, Martin will have an immediate opportunity to contribute to the Blue Devil program in 2012, but first, he has big goals for his senior season at Walsh Jesuit. Since BDN last spoke with Ross, he has been named an Under Armour All-American, and nailed a game-winning 29-yard field goal in his season opener.

Ross checked in with BDN this week to update Duke fans on the start to his season:

Week One Game Summary:   Our season opener against the Louisville Leopards ended in a thrilling finish, as I drilled a last second game-winning field goal as time expired to seal the win for the Warriors.  We were down 26-24 with 2 seconds on the clock when I hit a 29 yard FG to win the game 27-26 as time expired.  I also made my only other field goal attempt from 42 yards to take the early lead 3-0 in the first quarter. I kept Louisville pinned back all night with my kickoffs and punts, as they never started any drives from beyond their own 20 yard line.  I earned the team award for special teams player of the week and was selected as Player of the Game by WHBC who provided local televised coverage of the game.

Week Two Game Summary:   Our second game was another big rivalry game vs. St. Vincent St. Mary.  Falling behind early by a score of 28-3 the Walsh Jesuit Warriors engineered a great comeback and fought back with passion to pull within two points of the Saints with the Warriors falling in a tough loss 48-46.   I earned the team award for special teams player of the week. 

Week Three Game Summary: Last night we hosted the defending State Champions, Columbus Bishop Watterson.  It was another tight game going down to the last few seconds with us connecting on a 15 yard pass for a touchdown with 35 seconds remaining to take the lead 26-24, which was also the final score of the game.  We now have a record of 2-1 on the season.  I was 2 for 3 on field goals, hitting from 35 and 34 yards, and the one that I missed was on a mishandled snap that was laying flat on the ground instead of standing upright.  On the season I’m now 5 of 6 on field goals with conversions made from 42, 35, 34, 29, and 27 yards.  I also went 2 for 2 on PAT’s last night and am now 10 for 10 on the season and extending my high school career streak to a perfect 54 for 54.  In addition, I had another great night of punting for the Warriors with an average of 48 yards on 4 punts and a long of 61 yards. 

SEASON STATS:

PAT’s:                   10 for 10  (Extending perfect HS career streak to 54 for 54)

FG’s:                     5 for 6  (42, 35, 34, 29, 27)

KO’s:                    10 of 12 for touchbacks

Punting:               Average Distance: 42 yards  / Long: 61

Thanks for checking in with us, Ross! Enjoy your bye week and good luck against Lake Catholic on September 24!

BDN will have periodic updates from Ross and his future 2012 Duke classmates throughout the season.

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