Tag Archives: Shaun Wilson

Football Friday: A Look at the Running Backs

DSC_0058The calendar has flipped to July, which means August and the start of football practice is just around the corner. Anticipation is building for what promises to be another solid year in the ongoing resurgence of Duke football so the time is right to resurrect the Blue Devil Nation weekly Football Friday feature.

Some folks, talking heads and analysts, are looking at 2015 as a possible rebuilding year in Durham due to the players who left. A better approach is to focus on the players who are back and there are lots of players returning in 2015 who were part of the successes achieved in 2014 and 2013. Add in 13 redshirt freshmen and a true freshmen or two and Duke will send a bunch of talent onto the gridiron in 2015.

This first article will take a look at running back, which is one of the deepest and most talented position on the roster alongside safety.

Shaquille Powell will be the starting running back in Duke's single back offensive formation. He is a powerful between the tackles runner who has 1,055 career rushing yards as a Blue Devil. The best descriptor for Powell is workhorse, he is a player willing and able to do the dirty work - whatever it takes - blocking, running up the middle for a tough yard, catching the ball out of the backfield.

Powell has rushed for four touchdowns in his career with his signature moment coming in the 4th quarter of Duke's 48-30 win over Miami in 2013. On 4th and 1 at the Miami 33 yard line, Duke opted to go for the 1st down and Powell took an hand-off and broke free up the middle for a touchdown.

Shaun Wilson set the Duke single game rushing record with his 245 yard performance against Kansas on 9/13/2014. Wilson, who possesses elusive moves and breakaway speed, rushed for 598 yards and five touchdowns on 78 carries for a 7.7 yards per carry average as a true freshman last year. He also caught 18 passes for 179 yards.

During Spring practice, there was some buzz about Wilson lining up in the slot as well as split wide. Coach Cutcliffe has previously stated his desire to maximize the playmakers on the field so Wilson seeing action as a slot receiver in addition to lining up in the backfield as a running back is a distinct possibility.

Jela Duncan rushed for a combined 1,115 yards during his freshman and sophomore seasons prior to missing the 2014 season. He was the team's leading rusher as a true freshman in 2012. Duncan's return to action provides the Blue Devils with another powerful runner to complement Powell, especially when Duke switches up the offensive look and goes to a two back formation.

The return of Duncan is a huge positive, which is tough to overstate. He is a versatile back who runs with power and speed, in addition to being able to catch the ball out of the backfield or serve as an additional pass blocker.

Joe Ajeigbe is the last of the quartet of running backs. He carried the ball 41 times for 150 yards in 2014. Ajeigbe's marquee performance was when he rushed for 53 yards on eight carries in Duke's 31-25 upset of Georgia Tech in Atlanta on 10/11/2014. He has the potential to provide increased production with more touches in his sophomore season.

An increased emphasis on the running game is expected in 2015 due to several factors. First, the talent and experience at running back on the roster; second, two quarterbacks who are strong, fast runners; third, an offensive line that continues to be a team strength. Combine those factors together and the result is a team which will look to run the ball with authority.

With four talented running backs in the rotation, look for Duke to spread the carries around once again in 2015 in order to keep pounding away at the opponent's defense with fresh legs.

Be sure and check back next Friday for another football article as Blue Devil Nation ramps up the coverage through practice and on to opening kick-off in New Orleans on September 3rd.

Duke vs Tulane Preview

DSC_0108Duke vs Tulane
12:30 PM ET
Saturday, September 20
Durham, NC
Radio: Blue Devil IMG Sports Network, Sirius Ch 112 and XM Ch 201
Duke in 2014: 3-0
Tulane in 2014: 1-2


QUESTIONABLE - Dezmond Johnson (DE), Lucas Patrick (OG)
OUT – Dan Beilinson (TE), Johnathan Lloyd (CB), Trip McNeill (OL), Jake Sanders (OL)
OUT FOR SEASON – Kelby Brown (LB), Braxton Deaver (TE), Taariq Shabazz (DE)

TULANE INJURIES - not available

Duke and Tulane last faced each other on September 24, 2011 in a game Duke won 48-27 at Wallace Wade Stadium. Tulane leads the overall series 2-1 with wins over Duke in 1964 and 1973. Duke defeated Kansas 41-3 last week, while Tulane defeated Southeastern Louisiana 35-20.


Executing on special teams, achieving balance on offense and ball hawking on defense will be the paths to success for Duke this Saturday.

In Tuesday press conference, Head Coach David Cutcliffe emphasized his desire to pin teams inside the 15 yard line on kick-offs. Look for Duke to use Jack Willoughby to hang the ball up just in front of the goal line in an effort to force Tulane to start their offensive possessions inside the 20 yard line. Moreover, Tulane is averaging 30.6 yards per punt on the season so Duke has an opportunity to exploit this weakness to win the field position battle.

When talking Duke and offense, balance is the key. Duke is averaging 510 yards offense per game through three games with 262.7 of those yards coming via the run game and 247.3 yards via the passing game. Not surprisingly, everyone is buzzing about the emergence of freshman running back Shaun Wilson and his record setting performance against Kansas; however, Duke starts three talented receivers who have the skills to burn the opponent's defense. Taking a look at the season statistics to date: Max McCaffrey has 16 receptions for 178 yards and two touchdowns; Jamison Crowder has 16 receptions for 177 yards and two touchdowns; Issac Blakeney has 13 receptions for 173 yards and three touchdowns. Add in proven upperclassmen running backs Josh Snead and Shaq Powell, and Duke has a laundry list of options the opponent must account for when designing a defensive game plan. Involving all the offensive options to keep Tulane guessing is how Duke will achieve success.

On defense, Duke must pressure Tulane quarterback Tanner Lee and force him to make mistakes. Lee has thrown six interceptions in three games so it is imperative Duke mixes up coverage looks to confuse Lee while simultaneously bringing the heat to hurry him up. If Duke can force Lee out of his comfort zone, odds are he will make mistakes. It is up to Duke's defensive playmakers to capitalize on Lee's mistakes.


Turnovers and Tulane's speed are the two things Duke needs to be concerned with on Saturday. Duke has not turned the ball over in their first three games and that needs to continue for Duke to achieve success against the Green Wave. If Duke gets sloppy with the ball, the results could be disastrous. Tulane will be the fastest team Duke has faced in 2014 so Duke must be prepared to counter speed with speed and solid fundamentals. Players must execute their assignments and tackle and block with precision. Tulane has the speed to convert a small mistake into a big advantage.


The Blue Devils are looking to wrap up the out-of-conference schedule with a victory to improve to 4-0 on the season and equal last season's non-conference record. After being held to 14 yards on two receptions last week, Jamison Crowder will crank up his star power and combine with quarterback Anthony Boone to lead the stacked Blue Devils offense to victory.

On defense, Duke will emphasize keeping the plays in front of them to limit explosive opportunities to Tulane's offense, while mixing in blitz packages in an effort to create turnover opportunities.

Finally, Duke will utilize superior athleticism to dominate on special teams to win the vital field position battle. With Tulane facing a long field and Duke playing on a short field it will be a long afternoon for the Green Wave.


Duke has too many offensive weapons for Tulane to handle. Add to the mix a Blue Devils defense that has allowed opponents to score only 10 points in the 2nd half through three games, against a turnover prone Tulane offense and this event ends up as a game where Duke opens it up in the 4th quarter to win by four touchdowns.

Duke 38, Tulane 10