KICKOFF - 12:00 noon, Wallace Wade Stadium, Brooks Field
What we learned in week one
Duke will play a lot of true freshman this season. Several newcomers on the defensive front and in the back got significant snap counts. The Blue Devils ran all over the NCCU defense as they walloped their cross town foe 60-7. The only truly concerning thing in the game was a missed extra point.
The Wildcats are picked 2nd only to Wisconsin in their Big Ten West division. They return 16 starters off a bowl team and could be the most experienced team Duke will face this season.
Northwestern is really strong on the defensive front with physical veterans at every position and they are solid on the back side of the defense as well. Their top three recruits are even defensive lineman, so running the ball against them will be a challenge. Phil Steele rates their DB's as 2nd best in the Big Ten and touts their QB and RB situation as 3rd and 2nd respectively.
The Wildcats feature a veteran duo of QB Clayton Thompson and RB Justin Jackson on offense. Both of these players are among the nations best at their positions. Thompson racked up 352 yards passing in their opening win over Nevada. The Wildcats at over 500 yards in total offense.
How Duke can win
The Blue Devils are tabbed a 3.5 underdog at home against Northwestern. The Wildcats will test the young Duke secondary in a big way, so limiting big plays is a key. This weeks opponent is very balanced in all phases of the game but their special teams are suspect.
Duke will need to establish enough of a run against a tough front to help the passing game. With Shaun Wilson and Brittain Brown this is possible. The Blue Devils will also need some big plays of their own while not turning the ball over.
The main key could be special teams play. Duke cannot afford a missed chip shot against a good team. Nor can they allow for a big momentum swinging returns to the end zone as happened recently in this series.
If you want to beat Northwestern, you cannot play from behind. Duke needs early success on the scoring front or it could prove to be a long day of playing catch up against a veteran team. Northwestern has perhaps their best team in a decade on paper and David Cutcliffe is 0-3 against them. As fate would have it, they go off the schedule next season when they will be rebuilding. That said, now is the time for some sweet revenge.
Duke is young for sure, but they are also talented and fast. Northwestern knows how to win, but this Saturday they face a fired up group of Blue Devils who gut out a close win.
Duke Head Coach David Cutcliffe has built a reputation of producing NFL quarterbacks throughout his career. In truth, his offenses have produced nearly as many NFL running backs, including players like Jamal Lewis, Deuce McAllister and Arian Foster. This fall, the Blue Devils should feature one of their deepest backfields in recent years, headlined by senior Desmond Scott along with last year's leading rusher Juwan Thompson and speedy redshirt-sophomore Josh Snead. They will be joined by two outstanding freshmen in Jela Duncan and Shaquille Powell. Duke's running backs are utilized in all areas of their offense - rushing, receiving, and blocking.
Looking ahead to the class of 2013, the Blue Devils are looking to add to their running back stable, and were among the first to offer a scholarship to Joseph Ajeigbe. Ajeigbe is a 5'9" 195 pound prospect from Norco High School in California, the same program that has produced incoming Duke safety Corbin McCarthy. In addition to McCarthy, the Norco program is known for producing hard-nosed running backs, including former Stanford star Toby Gerhart and current Stanford sophomore Kelsey Young. As a junior, Ajeigbe took over the starting running back job and flourished, finishing with 20 touchdowns and 1,673 yards rushing.
The powerful rising senior spoke with BDN about his recruitment and his interest in Duke. [private]
BDN: How would you describe your strengths as a player?
Some of my strengths are probably my speed through the hole, and my strength, and I run with a lot of power. Maybe some areas that I need to improve on would be my break-away speed, but other than that, I have pretty good vision and pretty good balance.
BDN: What are you working on this offseason as you prepare for your senior year?
I just want to be able to pull away from defenders in the secondary, just have that speed to be able to make big plays. I have good speed now, but I just want to get to that next level so I can be ready for college football, because everybody’s fast in college football so I just want to try and get to that next level. My senior year, just break a lot of records down here that are set by Toby Gerhart. I’ve been running on those overspeed treadmills, we have those incline treadmills and everything, so I’ve been running those and working with the running back coach running hills and stuff, just trying to get to that next level of speed to get ready for college.
BDN: As you approach your college decision, what are the most important things you are looking for in a school?
First and foremost for me is probably education, looking at what the school can offer me other than athletics. In case football doesn’t work out and I don’t end up in the NFL, I need something that I Can fall back on. Education is really important to me. Then I’ll be looking at the football program, how good the football program is, what I can contribute to the football program, if I can go in there and help them out, if I can fit in the offense, the coaching staff, if I feel comfortable with the coaching staff, that’s a lot of the things to take into consideration when considering a school.
BDN: Where do you stand with offers and interest from schools now?
I got offered by Arizona, that was my first offer, University of Arizona, and then a couple days after that, Duke offered me. Now, yesterday, or two days ago, I was talking to Coach Jerry Brown from Northwestern, We had like an hour-long conversation on the phone, they sound pretty interested, I think they’re going to offer me pretty soon. Around here, I’ve been talking to UCLA a lot, earlier I was hearing a lot from USC, I’m hearing from Boise State, Tennessee has been sending me a lot of letters and everything, talking to my coach. And then Cal – I’ve heard a lot from Berkeley, I’m pretty interested in Berkeley.
BDN: Which schools have you had a chance to visit or do you have plans to take any visits later this spring or summer?
UCLA and USC, they’ve been in contact with me a lot, so I went out to USC’s Junior Day, I think it was in February. I went out there and got to meet all the coaches and everything, and I like USC. A couple weeks ago, I went over to UCLA’s Junior Day, got to check that out, got to meet running backs coach Steve Broussard, we went over the offense and everything, he said he was interested in me as a player and said the next couple weeks they’d be in contact about maybe an offer or something. Other than that, I haven’t really been out to check out any other schools. I plan, probably in the summer, get on the East Coast and check out the schools that have been recruiting me like Duke, maybe get over to Tennessee, and then check out Northwestern.
BDN: You’ve obviously got schools all over the country that are recruiting you. How much of a factor will location be when you make your decision?
You know, I kind of want to keep all my options open, but I guess I would say location does play a pretty big part in it, UCLA and USC do catch my interest a lot, but I’m kind of open to anything at this point, so I’d be willing to go almost anywhere, but the closest schools, UCLA and USC, kind of do have my preference.
BDN: I know you have a teammate that will be heading to North Carolina to play at Duke this fall. How familiar are you with the program and what are your thoughts on Duke?
Yeah, Corbin [McCarthy]’s committed to Duke, so a couple months after that Duke started showing me some interest. I started looking into Duke as a football program, because I already know, well everybody knows that Duke is a good educational school, so I started looking at their football program. They’re doing some good thing in their conference and they’re trying to build a new program. I think it’s really cool to be a part of a growing program. The coaches, I’ve talked to Coach Lubick and Coach Loebner, they both seem pretty cool, they seem really interested to me as a player, and academics seem really big to them. Duke seems like a good program and I’ll have to look into that.
BDN: Do you have a timeline in mind for when you plan to narrow things down or make your final decision?
I kind of want to keep my options as open as possible, see how many scholarships I can get and keep considering and looking into schools that offer me. I might want to make a decision by sometime close to the beginning or the middle of my senior season just so I can know where I will be going by the end of my season. But for now I just want to kind of keep my options open.
The Blue Devils have had a lot of success throwing the ball under Coach Cutcliffe and his spread offense over the past few seasons, including at the tight end position. With the graduation of Cooper Helfet, Duke hopes that their young tight ends Issac Blakeney and David Reeves will be able to help fill the void this fall, but the coaching staff continues to look towards the future on the recruiting trail.
One tight end prospect has recently caught the attention of the Blue Devil coaches, and was extended a verbal scholarship offer on a visit to Durham last weekend. Nathan Marcus is a 6'5" 220 pound tight end from Glen Ellyn, Illinois. After leading Glenbard West to a 10-1 record as a junior and receiving All-Conference and Academic All-State honors, Marcus has seen his recruitment take off this spring, collecting scholarship offers from Boston College, Duke, Indiana, Northwestern, Toledo, and Wake Forest, along with interest from several other schools, including Illinois and Vanderbilt. The Blue Devils hosted Marcus on an unofficial visit this past weekend, and hope he'll become the next big pass-catching tight end in their spread offense. [private]
BDN: How would you describe your strengths as a player?
I’m mostly a wide receiver-type tight end. I like to get out in space and catch the ball, but I’ve also been used as a tackle for the youth football team, so I’m comfortable on the line and split out.
BDN: What are you working on this offseason and what do you hope to accomplish this fall?
Winning a state title, obviously. But personally, I’d like to see the ball more in the air and catch it and work on my blocking, trying to become a more well-rounded tight end.
BDN: As you approach your college decision, what are the most important things you are looking for in a school?
Definitely being able to compete football-wise, and then off the field, academically, because once the football ends, I’d like to be able to have a good job and have a degree from a very good school.
BDN: Which schools have you been hearing the most from and where do you stand with offers?
Who has been contacting me most would be like Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Illinois, those are like the main three, and also Boston College. Now, once I’ve visited Duke and Wake Forest, they’ve both offered me and I’m pretty liked with them too.
BDN: Which schools have you had a chance to visit?
I went to Duke and Wake Forest and now I’m at Vanderbilt right now. I really liked both Duke and Wake [Forest], they’re pretty similar. I’m not really sure if I’m going to see any more [schools], because they’re both pretty high up there and I’m probably going to make my decision sometime soon, maybe late summer or early fall, I’ll decide what school I’m going to commit to.
BDN: What was it that stood out to you about Duke and Wake Forest?
They’re both pretty high-powered offensive programs, so you’ve got to like that as a tight end, and they both pass the ball pretty well, so you’ve got to like that as a tight end that likes to catch the ball. I really liked their academics, and it’s kind of good to get away from Chicago and the snowy weather.
You still haven’t joined BDN Premium? Man, you’re missing out!
…collapsing the distinction between the exasperatingly silly and the charmingly naughty...
...delivers plenty of wit, verve and surreal mayhem to entice…
A piece of fluff as artificially sweetened as a fuchsia Peep…
Thanks to its fondness for smushing together seemingly incongruous elements…is just demented enough to deliver a fleeting sugar rush... [private]
Surprisingly, those were the reviews for the movie Hop, not Football Friday, but I sure would have been honored. Oh well, I don’t let the critics read my column, anyway. We start on two down notes today, but we'll rally down the home stretch.
Deadly storms in the South
Our thoughts and prayers are with all of those affected by the strong storms and tornadoes that tore through the South on Wednesday, claiming nearly 300 lives. Neighborhoods and communities have been severely damaged and destroyed. It will take many months to piece back together the lives of the families affected, and there are many noble organizations that have quickly mobilized relief efforts. Please consider donating your time, money, goods, blood - whatever you can - to help those in need: American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, among many other deserving national and local groups. Head Coach David Cutcliffe, an Alabama native, will assist with a Time Warner Cable Recovery Drive today at 4 PM.
Anita Caldwell passes at age 103
There are only a select few who could honestly lay claim to the title "Duke Football's Greatest Fan," and Mrs. Caldwell would make the short list. The widow of former Duke Assistant Coach Herschel Caldwell, who came to Duke as an assistant one year before Wallace Wade, Mrs. Caldwell passed away this week on her 103rd birthday. A remarkable woman, Mrs. Caldwell missed only two Duke football home games in the past 77 years. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to The Good Samaritan Fund, c/o Duke Memorial United Methodist Church, 504 W. Chapel Hill Street, Durham, N.C., 27701 or to The Discretionary Fund, c/o Father Bert Eaton, St. Peters by the Sea, P.O. Box 337 Swansboro, N.C., 28584.
Recent visitors on campus
In today’s recruiting, it’s a rarity for a prospect to commit to a school sight unseen. Thus, getting a prospect on campus for an unofficial visit, whether it’s for a game, a junior day, a summer camp or just a campus tour, is an important component of the recruiting process. In the world of emails, texting, and Facebook, there’s still no substitute for seeing coaches, players, and facilities in person. Even though spring practices are well behind us and the spring evaluation period is underway, three key prospects have been on campus over the past week.
Max McCaffrey: the 6’2” 180 pound wide receiver prospect from Highlands Ranch, Colorado made the trip to Duke with his mother recently. The son of former NFL and Stanford WR Ed McCaffrey, Max is also the nephew of former Duke men’s basketball player Billy McCaffrey, who transferred to Vanderbilt after the 1991 National Championship. Max and his younger brother, Christian (a rising sophomore running back) will look to lead Valor Christian to their third state championship this fall. Max currently has scholarship offers from Duke, Wake Forest, and Arizona State.
Eric Olson: Coach Luke would love to continue his success in recruiting talented offensive linemen, and Olson would certainly fit the bill. An athletic 6’6” 265 pound prospect from Cambridge, Massachusetts, Olson also played basketball briefly for Buckingham Browne & Nichols (per BDN’s Andrew Slater). Olson was on campus last weekend for an overnight visit, just a month after visiting for Duke’s spring game. Olson grew up a Duke basketball fan and the Blue Devils remain a major player in Olson’s recruitment, even though he is now up to 8 offers, including Boston College, Connecticut, Virginia, and Wake Forest, with interest from Northwestern and Stanford.
Dan Beilinson: If it’s good to get a prospect on campus for a visit, then it has to be very good to get a prospect on campus frequently. There are a handful of North Carolina prospects who have been frequent visitors to Wallace Wade Stadium, and the 6’5” 220 pound tight end Beilinson is one of them. Out of nearby Panther Creek in Cary, Beilinson has focused his visits so far on the three Triangle schools, and has developed a close relationship with the Duke staff. With some added weight, Beilinson has the tools to be a complete tight end that could thrive alongside current 2012 commit Erich Schneider in the Blue Devils’ prolific passing offense. The talented athlete already has five scholarship offers, including Duke, NC State, and Vanderbilt, with interest from Auburn, Florida, North Carolina, and Wake Forest.
Deconstructing some myths about Duke Football
Have you ever seen that show “Myth Busters?” I haven’t. I don’t even know what channel it’s on. If it’s any good, let me know. Anyway, most of us here at BDN, myself included, like to keep our fingers on the pulse of all things Duke athletics. Though happily entrenched here at BDN, I will admit that I occasionally do lurk on other free message boards to try to obtain some insight into the hearts and minds of Duke fans, especially when it comes to Duke football. As a self-admitted eternal optimist when it comes to Duke, it can be tough to read some of the unfounded criticism that is out there. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of room for criticism – when your last bowl game was in 1994, there’s obviously a lot of things wrong with the program. However, it’s important to keep in mind that Rome wasn’t built in a day. For those who have followed the program through the bad times, it’s hard not to see that things are heading in the right direction. I apologize in advance for my ranting, but I have to vent about some of the things I’ve heard and read recently about Duke football. Let’s take a look at some of the less-than-factual criticism from some of the more impatient Duke football fans:
1. Coach Cutcliffe always speaks in hyperbole, creating unrealistic expectations.
First of all, what college head coach doesn’t? It’s basically in the job description. In Coach Cutcliffe’s case, he inherited a program defined by its culture of losing. Before you can succeed, you have to believe you can succeed, and that mentality has to be embraced throughout the program – from the administration to the coaching staff to the players to the fans. There’s no question that Coach Cutcliffe has done a remarkable job of changing the culture at Duke, to the point that coaches, players, and fans expect Duke to win games. Perhaps the best indicator of this is the incoming recruiting class of 2011 – several players have told BDN that they’re coming to Duke not just for the education or the chance to play football, but they plan on winning an ACC Championship. As for this year’s squad, when asked about the Blue Devils’ 2011 bowl chances, Cutcliffe said, “I don’t think there’s any question we’re at that level. We don’t have a huge margin of error just yet, but not anybody does, for the most part.” With a potent, veteran offense and a young, athletic defense, that sounds like a pretty fair assessment.
2. Duke has not been recruiting 4- and 5-star talent.
The correct criticism here is that Duke has not been bringing in 4- and 5-star talent, but it isn’t from a lack of effort. In the class of 2010, the Blue Devils offered at least 3 5-star prospects and 38 4-star prospects (and secured an initial commitment from LB Aramide Olaniyan). In 2011, Duke offered at least 4 5-star prospects and 51 4-star prospects (and nearly landed TE Cam Clear). While the class of 2012 rankings have yet to be released, Duke is going up against national powers for some of the top recruits and appears to be holding their own in at least a few cases so far. There’s no question that Duke needs to land some of these commits, and winning games will go a long way to helping that cause.
3. Duke has focused too much on regional recruiting.
There are two things wrong with this presumption. First, focusing on regional recruiting is probably the right thing to do. The majority of football players don’t go to school far from home, so it makes sense to spend a significant amount of time building relationships and recruiting within a home region. Let’s look at the number of in-state players on the rosters of four private schools that many love to compare Duke to:
Wake Forest: 29%
If you expand those percentages to within a region (Midwest, Southeast, West Coast), they grow even larger, but it’s clear that Duke is not over-emphasizing in-state players relative to other schools. The in-state numbers are also similar when comparing the incoming class of 2011:
Wake Forest 19%
The second problem with the presumption is that it’s simply wrong. Less than one-third of the roster is from in-state, and with regards to recruiting, let’s look at the top states represented on the recruiting board, which contains only the players Duke actively recruited, from the past two years:
2011: AL (10), FL (37), GA (19), NC (50), NJ (7), OH (20), PA (8), SC (11), TN (11), TX (15), VA (14)
2012: CA (11), CO (5), FL (22), GA (16), MA (5), MD (10), NC (39), OH (23), PA (5), SC (12), TN (12), TX (6), VA (6)
Those numbers indicate to me that Duke is recruiting where the talent is, but by all means, please check my math.
4. It’s still the same old Duke.
Bottom line, the talk of rebuilding our football program is getting tiresome to many fans, but progress is being made. The university has invested in the football program (check out our new indoor practice facility – sah-weet!) and fans are trickling back in to Wallace Wade Stadium, as season ticket sales have steadily increased. Even with a 3-win season in 2010, the Blue Devils have won more games under Coach Cutcliffe than they did in the previous 8 seasons (12 wins 2008-2010, 10 wins 2000-2007). No one is more tired of the talk than the players and coaches, who are ready to produce results on the field. Behind a strong offensive line, a solid stable of running backs, an All-ACC receiving corps, and arguably the best returning QB in the conference, this Blue Devil team has high hopes for the fall. There’s no question that the next step is to put together a winning season, and I can’t wait to find out if this Blue Devil team is tough enough to do it.
With Duke’s prolific passing offense, it’s no surprise that the Blue Devils have had success recruiting and developing talented wide receivers in Durham, most notably All-ACC performers Eron Riley, Donovan Varner, and Conner Vernon. After adding a talented California WR in the class of 2011 in Blair Holliday, the Blue Devils continue to recruit West Coast receivers in 2012. Duke is the first school to offer Justin Johnson, a 6’1” 190 pound receiver from St. John Bosco in Bellflower, CA. As a junior, Johnson formed one of the country’s top receiving tandems with Bryce Treggs, finishing with 27 catches for 365 yards. Highlights from his junior season can be viewed here.
BDN: Can you start off by describing your strengths for fans who haven’t had a chance to see you play?
As a receiver, my strengths are, I’m kind of a power runner, I’m not as quick as some of the smaller receivers because I’m like 190, and I get good releases when someone’s in my face. I run good routes, my catching ability is good, and I’m an excellent blocker, all of the things a receiver needs to play in a football game.
BDN: What are some of the things you have been working on this offseason?
This offseason I’m working on getting off on bigger corners, because I know when I go to college, the corners are going to be way bigger than the corners that are in high school right now. I’m working on getting out of my breaks a little better than I already do. And I’m just working on breaking the cushion on corners, so I run track and am getting faster at doing that.
BDN: What are your goals for yourself and your team for your senior season?
We plan on winning it all, going to state. I think it’s the perfect year to do because we have all the talent and the discipline we need to do it. We didn’t do it last year, last year was a shaky season and this year should be better than last year. I’m just trying to better myself so I can do better than we did last season.
BDN: As you look at your college decision, what are the most important factors you are looking for in a school?
I’m just looking for academics first, the sports will come, because when I graduate, even if I don’t make it to the NFL like I plan to, I can always have my degree to fall back on, and graduating from a place like Duke, all the doors that can be opened for me with a degree from Duke.
BDN: You stressed the importance of academics and a degree; is there a specific field that you’re interested in studying?
Right now, I’m thinking about aerospace engineering or computer science, but I’ve looked into majors, those are the two that I’m interested in, it might change, it might not change. I wanted to be business, but some schools don’t offer business as an undergraduate major, so I would have to do that postgraduate.
BDN: You mentioned you have an offer from Duke, but what are the other schools that you’ve been in contact with and have a good relationship with?
I’m developing a relationship with Northwestern, with Cal, with Stanford, San Diego State is coming, and Washington, I’m going to their spring game next week.
BDN: Ok, so you’ll be visiting Washington next week; have you had a chance to make any other visits or do you have any other visits planned?
I went to Junior Day at Stanford back in February, I believe. And that’s about it. I’m going to visit Duke the first weekend of June.
BDN: Are there any coaches in particular that you have a good relationship with at this point in the recruiting process?
As of right now, the only coach that I’m really close with is Coach [Matt] Lubick from Duke, and Coach Jerry Brown from Northwestern. Those are the only coaches that have had a lot of contact with me.
BDN: Do you have an idea for when you would like to make your final decision or how you would like to narrow your list down?
I would like to weigh all my options at the end of the summer and then probably make my decision before the season or midway through the season. If it’s a real hard decision, then I’ll probably wait until after the season.
BDN: Is there anything else that you think is important for college football fans to know about you?
As a player, when I go to college, I like to bring a bit of excitement to the team and I have a winning aspect about myself, I don’t like to lose, so I will do anything in my power when I do get to college to make the team win and put us on top of the map as far as rankings or however it goes. I just want to win.
BDN: Thanks a lot, Justin, and best of luck to you.