Brandon Connette has been showing off his versatility early this season and he hopes to build on last weeks success against a tough Stanford team on the road this weekend. BDN will be in Palo Alto for our usual coverage, so check us out all week long as we bring you top-notch Duke Football coverage.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Welcome to Blue Devil Nations Video highlights from the Duke-Stanford game. The Blue Devils came up short, but the highlights are still worth a look. Let us know how you like the videos.
For the second straight season, the Blue Devils will host a top 10 nonconference opponent in Durham in September. A year ago, Duke took on top-ranked Alabama in front of a crowd of 39,042 fans, but the game was over by the end of the 1st quarter, when the Crimson Tide had gone up 28-0. To add insult to injury, the shock from that blowout led to a hangover against Army the following week. Duke and Stanford last met in 1972 in Durham, and Saturday’s game represents the front half of a home-and-home series between the two academic powers. While David Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils work tirelessly to rebuild the Duke program into an ACC contender, the Cardinal are already there. Even after the departure of Head Coach Jim Harbaugh for the NFL, Stanford entered the season with a top 10 national ranking and will be defending their PAC 12 title. By all accounts, new Head Coach David Shaw has been able to sustain the momentum built by Harbaugh, and the Cardinal have quickly become a top national program.
When previewing Stanford, all eyes are on Heisman favorite Andrew Luck, the redshirt-junior QB who turned down the NFL’s millions to get his degree. As a QB, Luck does many things well; in 2010, he broke John Elway’s school record for TD passes in a season, while also eclipsing the school’s QB rushing record. Overall, he finished with an impressive 3,338 passing yards for 32 touchdowns and just 8 interceptions. He loses his top 2 receivers from 2010, but picked up right where he left off in week 1, spreading the ball around to a deep group of receivers and tight ends, leading the Cardinal to a 57-3 blowout of former Duke DC Mike MacIntyre’s San Jose State team.
Stanford returns their top 3 rushers from a year ago, led by junior Stepfan Taylor. The running game got off to a slow start in week 1 against the Spartans, finishing with just 3.5 yards per carry, but did add 4 touchdowns on the ground. Conversely, the Stanford defense has been one of the top rushing defenses in the country, giving up just 121 yards per game on the ground in 2010, and allowing a paltry 0.8 yards per carry in week 1.
Overall, the Cardinal play a physical style of football, and they will challenge the young Blue Devils in every facet of the game. Duke, after a disappointing performance against Richmond in their opener, will have to put together four solid quarters of football to avoid a repeat of last year’s laugher against Alabama. Here are a few ideas to get them started:
KEYS FOR DUKE
1. Spread the field, move the chains
When you face an offense as potent as Stanford’s (#9 scoring offense in the country in 2010), the best defense is usually a good offense. The less Andrew Luck is on the field, the better. Unfortunately, Duke will be without two of its top three running backs on Saturday, leaving sophomore Juwan Thompson and senior Jay Hollingsworth will be left to carry the load. While many Duke fans were frustrated with some of the play-calling in the week 1 loss, the Blue Devils did control the clock, winning the time of possession battle. Of course, the flip side of that is that the offense frequently left the Spiders with a short field, so while Duke may have controlled the clock, they did not control the field. This week, Duke will have to do a better job of spreading the field, moving the chains, and winning the field position battle. They can’t afford to make life easy on Luck and the Cardinal.
2. Take some shots
All that being said, Duke has playmakers at wide receiver, and they need to do a better job of using them. This is a game where the Blue Devils have nothing to lose. If they are not aggressive out of the gate, they will be buried quickly by Stanford. During the offseason, there was a lot of talk about Sean Renfree’s growth and many tabbed him as the top returning QB in the ACC – let’s prove it on a national stage against the #6 team in the country. It’s not just about play-calling, either. Last year, Duke linebacker Kelby Brown made his Blue Devil debut in the 2nd half against Alabama. In week one, the Blue Devils played two of their true freshmen in Jamison Crowder and Blair Holliday. For those that have earned the opportunity, let’s see what they can do. There are several positions where Duke could use contributions from their younger players, and a physical Stanford team will be a great litmus test to see if they’re ready to play. The Blue Devils made a terrible statement in week 1, but they have a prime opportunity to make an important one in week 2, and they don’t have to pull off a miraculous upset to do it. Show the rest of college football that the Blue Devils, even without two of their top running backs, have an offense that will keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night.
3. Ground the Cardinal
With an offense like Stanford’s, it’s really pick your poison. Andrew Luck is an All-American and Heisman favorite, and Stepfan Taylor is certainly no slouch, but the defense has to try and take the ball out of Luck’s hands. In last year’s Orange Bowl, he was able to pick apart a pretty good Virginia Tech defense, and given the opportunity, he will easily move the ball against the Duke secondary. The Blue Devils were effective at slowing Richmond’s running game, and will hope to have the same success against Stanford Saturday.
Considering that Duke lost to Richmond in week 1 and Stanford had a big win against San Jose State, it’s no surprise that the Cardinal have a decided statistical advantage over the Blue Devils. That being said, if the Blue Devils play good, fundamental football, they have nothing to lose and could surprise a lot of people with their play on Saturday.
Stanford 0, Duke 2
In addition, Stanford forced 3 turnovers against San Jose State, while the Blue Devils came away with just 1 interception against Richmond. Turnovers have plagued Duke over the past year, and will continue to do so until they take better care of the football and apply more pressure to opposing offenses.
Stanford 2, Duke 0
Again, this stat works both ways, as the Stanford offensive line has done a good job protecting their Heisman candidate, not allowing a sack in week 1, while the Blue Devils allowed 1 against Richmond. Stanford has had to break in three new starters on their offensive line, but haven’t missed a beat so far.
Stanford 5/13 (38.5%), Duke 7/14 (50%)
It’s hard to give this one to the Blue Devils, as this stat also works both ways. The Stanford defense allowed just 3/14 (21.4%) on 3rd down in week 1, while Duke gave up 6/15 (40%) to Richmond.
It’s been the same old story for the Blue Devils. The defense continues to allow a few too many explosives, while the offense isn’t able to find them when they need them. Duke will have to open things up if they expect to keep up with Andrew Luck and his explosive offense.
Stanford 4, Duke 3
Both teams have QBs who can run it in themselves, but Taylor is much more proven than the Blue Devils’ running backs. Thompson had an impressive season debut, and if he can repeat that effort against a stingy Stanford run defense, it will be a good sign of things to come.
Stanford 2/2, Duke 0/2
Yikes, let’s not go there. Will Snyderwine will have to bounce back from week 1, but the reality is that if Duke has to settle for field goals, this game won’t stay close for long. Conversely, if the Duke defense can keep redshirt-freshman Jordan Williamson busy for the Cardinal in his first college road game (and I don't mean kickoffs), the Blue Devils should stay in the game.
Stanford 3-30 yards, Duke 3-14 yards
This one is another push, but Duke will have to continue to play disciplined football; they can’t beat themselves. Though they only had 3 penalties in week 1, the last of those came on a crucial 3rd and 2, ultimately preventing the Blue Devils from picking up a 1st down and sustaining the drive.
The Blue Devils will put together a better effort than in week one, but it will still come up woefully short against #6 Stanford. Andrew Luck will pick apart the Duke secondary with his deep group of talented receivers, particularly at tight end, which will cause significant match-up problems. With a banged up group of running backs, Duke will have to try to stretch the field and use some tricks to move the ball consistently against a Stanford defense that has yet to give up a touchdown. Expect a slightly more competitive game than a year ago against Alabama, but the Blue Devils ultimately won’t be able to keep it within three scores. Stanford 45, Duke 16
Are you ready for some football, Blue Devil Nation? Ok, you're fully immersed in our coverage of the Lebron James Skills Academy and Adidas Invitational. Or maybe you're on your summer vacation. Either way, football season is fast approaching, and there's nothing you can do to stop it. So get on board! Season tickets are on sale now at GoDuke.com, or through the Duke Ticket Office at (919) 681-BLUE.
Over the next several weeks, BDN will team up with other college football insiders to preview the 2011 Duke schedule. We kicked off our series earlier this week with help from David Weissman of The Collegian to help with our Richmond preview. There's no question that the season opener is a must-win game for the Blue Devils, and that game deserves the full attention of the players and staff. But as fans, we have the luxury of being able to look ahead to the marquee week 2 matchup with the Stanford Cardinal. We'll have lots more to say about this game between now and September 10th, but let's take a quick look at some of the story lines.
Duke and Stanford last met on the gridiron in 1972, and obviously a lot has changed with the two programs since that last meeting in Durham. Head Coach David Cutcliffe enters his fourth year at Duke in pursuit of the Blue Devils' first bowl game since 1994, having infused energy and optimism into a long-dormant program. It wasn't that long ago that the Cardinal found themselves in a similar position, coming off a 1-11 season in 2006. After Jim Harbaugh's arrival in 2007, well, as they say, the rest is history. Stanford is now a consensus top 10 team, having dismantled ACC Champion Virginia Tech 40-12 in last year's Orange Bowl. After Harbaugh's departure for the NFL, the 2011 Cardinal team will be led by first year Head Coach David Shaw, and he'll have Heisman favorite Andrew Luck leading the offense. In all, eleven starters return for Stanford, and they will open the season against former Duke Defensive Coordinator Mike Macintyre (and Simon Connette, younger brother of Duke QB Brandon Connette) and the San Jose State Spartans.
In 2010, Duke hosted a top-ranked Alabama team in September, which featured a defending Heisman trophy winner in Mark Ingram and had easily defeated San Jose State in their season opener. It's easy to see the potential parallels between that matchup and the 2011 non-conference clash with Stanford, but Blue Devil fans are hopeful for a much better outcome. With this game against a ranked opponent being nationally televised on ESPNU, it could be a golden opportunity for Sean Renfree and the Blue Devils to announce themselves on the national scene. Though Luck and the Cardinal will be a formidable opponent, it should be an exciting game in a packed Wallace Wade Stadium between two of the nation's most prestigious academic institutions.
To give us additional insight into the Stanford program, we are fortunate to have the help of Hank Waddles of GoMightyCard.com.
BDN: Many Duke fans point to Stanford's success as proof that top academic schools can produce championship football programs. It's hard to believe that the Cardinal were 1-11 just five seasons ago; to what do you attribute Stanford's meteoric rise and success? How much confidence do fans have in new Head Coach David Shaw's ability to continue that success?
I remember reading an article from a Duke perspective that made this same point some time around the Orange Bowl last January. The funny thing is that twenty years ago Stanford fans looked at Duke as proof that a university with a strong academic reputation could also field a competitive basketball team. When the Stanford football program was lost in the darkness of Buddy Teevens and Walt Harris, there were many who followed the team who felt as if the University had given up on the idea of fielding a winning football team. Even Bill Walsh felt that the stiff admissions requirements were too much to overcome. The arrival of Jim Harbaugh changed all that. That's no deep analysis, but I don't think it can be understated. Harbaugh took the job in 2006 because he believed he could win, and then he convinced everyone around him -- the players, the coaches, the fans, and the athletic department -- that it was possible. Belief is fine, but Harbaugh and his staff also did a great job bringing in players that could compete -- and dominate -- in the Pac-10. Harbaugh's departure was a disappointment, but it wasn't unexpected. David Shaw, I think, is the perfect man to replace him. A Stanford graduate himself, Shaw actually sees the University's academic reputation as an advantage in recruiting, and the football department recently send a letter to all recruits detailing the financial returns of a Stanford degree as compared to other schools whose football teams are in the top 25. The media has made much of the idea that Stanford won't be able to win without Harbaugh's personality to drive the bus, but what they're forgetting is that the 2011 roster is clearly -- clearly -- more talented than the team that we last saw running roughshod over Virginia Tech. Confidence is high.
BDN: Despite the departure of Head Coach Jim Harbaugh and with only 11 starters returning, expectations are still high for the Cardinal in 2011. What are the biggest question marks for this team as they head into training camp?
Any time a team loses a head coach -- and loses quality coaches from the staff -- that has to be a question, but as stated above, I think it's a question the Cardinal will answer. As far as what we'll see on the field, I'd say there are three main areas of concern. The defensive line will have to survive the loss of nose tackle Sione Fua, who was drafted by the Carolina Panthers. Behind the line, though, the linebacking corps is developing into one of the best units in the conference, if not the entire country, and the secondary is also a strength. On the offensive side of the ball, the biggest question is the offensive line, which lost three starters. The good news, though, is that the two who are returning were both All-Pac-10 selections. I think the line will be fine by the end of the season, but it will be interesting to see how well things will have come together for this matchup in the second week of the season. Finally, there are the wide receivers, which have been a question mark since last year. Chris Owusu could solve all this just by staying healthy, but it's been quite a while since he's played at full strength. Even if he is healthy, there is no true front runner for the second receiver. Hopefully someone will assert himself during training camp.
BDN: QB Andrew Luck made the laudable decision to return to school for his senior year and obtain his degree. How much has Luck meant to the Stanford program? Do you think he can play much better than his 3338 yards, 70.7% completions, and 32 touchdowns from a year ago (in other words, does he have a weakness)?
The thing about Andrew Luck is that I actually don't think people talk enough about how great he is. Even the very best college quarterbacks struggle at times. They miss wide open receivers, they throw head-scratching interceptions, they make terrible decisions, but Luck doesn't do any of those things. (There is a weakness, though. As much as the coaching staff drills it into his head, he stubbornly refuses to step out of bounds on his scrambles, preferring to seek out the contact.) He really is the perfect quarterback, but his value to the team extends far beyond the numbers, and it will extend far beyond his time at Stanford. He accepted a scholarship offer to play for what at the time was a mediocre football team because he wanted a great education and because he believed that the team could eventually become a winner. What he's done during his two years at quarterback is win twenty games, elevate Stanford football to a level never before seen, and stun the world by passing up the NFL's millions. His next year will bring a Stanford degree, possibly a Heisman trophy, possibly a national championship, and... the NFL's millions. I'm not sure whether or not Luck's numbers can improve this year, but offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton issued a tongue-in-cheek challenge during Stanford's spring workouts. He hoped that Luck would complete 100% of his passes this season. We'll see.
BDN: Duke and Stanford last met in 1972 and have split the historical series 1-1. With the cross-country road trip and a relatively unknown opponent, what are your expectations or concerns for the week two match-up with the Blue Devils?
This isn't new. In 2009 Stanford opened the season with a cupcake at home (Washington State) and then traveled across the country to play an ACC team in Week 2. That year it was Wake Forest, and it was kind of a disaster. The Cardinal looked good in the first half, but then everything went wrong in the second half, and the Demon Deacons rallied for a 24-17 victory. This year Stanford opens with the San Jose State Cupcakes, then travels east for the Duke game. The Cardinal should definitely win, but it's never easy for a college team take a trip like this and come away with a victory. (This is why even teams from the powerful SEC rarely venture more than a hundred miles from home for non-conference games.) My biggest concern will be the offensive line. I'll be interested to see how well they're playing as a unit early in the season. If they've meshed, look out.
BDN: After watching Andrew Luck pick apart ACC Champion Virginia Tech in the BCS Orange Bowl, there's no question Duke will have a tall task in trying to knock off the Cardinal. If you were an opposing coach, how would you try to contain Luck and the Cardinal offense? How would you attack the Stanford defense?
I bet that opposing coaches will initially think that the offensive line is a weakness, so they'll drop extra guys into coverage and dare the Cardinal to run. There are two big problems with this. David Shaw has made it clear that Stanford will be a running team. ("We'll get off the bus running power," he has said.) Also, not too many teams in the country have a better running back tandem than junior Stepfan Taylor and sophomore Anthony Wilkerson. The second problem is that even if you drop extra men and only rush three or four, Luck will still pick you apart. If he has time, he'll find the open receiver, even if you drop ten into coverage. He's better than any college quarterback I've ever seen at looking to his second and third targets. I think you have to treat Andrew Luck like an NFL quarterback. If he's comfortable in the pocket, he will destroy you, plain and simple. You have to blitz him on every single passing down and just hope that you're able to get to him before he finds the open receiver. The problem with this, of course, is that he's better than any college quarterback I've ever seen at reading defenses before the snap and identifying hot receivers, so the blitz better get there, and it better get there quickly. As for attacking the defense, the bad news is that San Jose State probably won't give the Duke staff much to work off of. Because the line will be a potential weakness, I'd say the Blue Devils will have to try to run early and run often. If they can gain yardage on the ground, they'll force the Cardinal defense to put away some of their usual blitzing schemes, simplifying things a bit for the offense, and the secret bonus will be that Luck will spend more time on the sideline than on the field, and that's never a bad thing.
BDN: Thank you for your helpful insight, Hank!
[private]The buzzer sounded in Cameron as the Duke Women upset the third rated Stanford Cardinal 56-52. As one might expect several of the victorious Blue Devils ran about the court in glee, but not Coach McCallie.
After Stanford coach Tara Vanderveer gave McCallie a cold fish hand shake, the second year Blue Devil coach calmly walked off the court, glancing back at her players as if to say we have to get on a flight to Los Angeles tomorrow to take on Southern Cal and Sienna in back to back games.
It was one of McCallies three most impressive wins as a coach at Duke. The other two, Maryland and Rutgers came last season and she obviously has hopes that there are more big wins to be had as the season progresses.
During the press conference McCallie, known to most as Coach P acted as if she expected to win over one of the countries better programs. She certainly praised her teams defensive effort which included a suffocating array of pressing defenses which resulted in 23 Cardinal turnovers.
McCallie also praised her teams effort on the boards where they completely dominated the glass after being dominated on them in the first half. She mentioned the effort of both teams in what was a physical match up. In fact, Stanford Coach VanDerveer more or less whined about bodies hitting the floor just minutes before.
What McCallie didn't do was respond to any questions concerning the losing coaches comments, nor did she seemingly act any different with this victory than proceeding ones this season. She instead kept the focus on her team and she once again prefaced her opening comments with "We can do a whole lot of things better.""
While McCallie may not have tipped her hand with a broad smile after the victory, she had to be elated with the victory. it was a big step towards her goal of continuing to prepare for a deeper run in March. She was clearly already thinking of the next game and while I don't know this for certain, the message to the team may have been we are supposed to do this, we are going to win like this and lets act like it.
So in a night where the ESPN camera crew asked her to come back out for an interview in front of a nationwide audience, McCallie served notice that her "smack you in the mouth" defense is a new, firm and solid staple for the program and that Duke can succeed with that style.
More importantly her team has developed depth, confidence and is playing together. The Dukies seem poised to turn another corner but to do so they must put this big win behind them and be ready for a quick turnaround, flying cross country to take on USC.
Judging from last nights performance and comments, Coach P recognizes this and hopefully her team realizes that consistency and two wins out West, will move them up the ladder one step closer to the top.
Duke climbed to 8-1 on the season and won their 26th game versus a non conferences opponent out of the last 27 home games. McCallie holds a 3-0 record versus Stanford Coach VanDerveer and won her third contest against a top five ranked team in under two seasons at Duke.
One of the stats which stood out was the fact that Duke outscored a tall Stanford team 12-1 on second chance points.
Duke came up big at the free throw stripe as well going 17-22. Duke also won the battle of the boards 40-39 after trailing 22-11 at the half.
The Games MVP - Sophomore Karima Christmas had a career high of 14 points and a career high of 9 rebounds as well. She hit here first three pointer of her career and ended up 2 for 2 betond the stripe.
Duke next plays at Southern Cal on 12-19 in a game televised on FSNW.[/private]