To complement my “Better Know an Opponent” series, I’ve enlisted the help of some knowledgeable beat writers around the country who can help give a little more perspective about the teams the Hokies will be playing in 2013.
If you missed the first part of my look at Duke, you can get to it here.
Now to the questions …
LK: Duke is moving to more of a zone-read offense, which is quite the change in philosophy for head coach David Cutcliffe, who made his name thanks to two prolific drop-back passers (Peyton and Eli Manning). While Renfree could scramble if he needed to, he wasn’t a “running” quarterback, not by a long shot. Boone is, so there will be a lot more designed QB runs and option-type plays.
The Blue Devils will miss Renfree’s accuracy (.673 last season) and general offensive knowledge — he was an extremely smart guy. Boone has been in the system for a few years, as a redshirt junior, and led Duke to wins at Wake Forest and against Virginia last year. The accuracy, though, is a much bigger question mark.
AB: With receiver Conner Vernon gone and the running game coming off an uninspiring season, who are the play-makers in this offense and are there enough of them?
LK: Jamison Crowder, last year’s No. 2 WR (and he of the circus catch to win the game against North Carolina), will have to step into the No. 1 role. He’s undersized, listed at 5-foot-9 (that’s probably with shoes) and will have to prove he can handle the opposition’s best cover guy.
The coaching staff is really high on rising sophomore Max McCaffrey, saying the the spring that they are confident in his ability to be the No. 2 receiver. He’s got good bloodlines — his dad, Ed, was an All-American tight end at Stanford and had a 13-year NFL career. He caught two passes last year, both in the blowout at Florida State, but should be ready to handle a bigger role this year.
Tight end Braxton Deaver, who missed all of last year with a broken kneecap, is finally healthy. If he can stay that way, he could be a nice candidate for a breakout season. Also back on offense is Brandon Braxton, who played in the secondary last year after spending his first two years as a wide receiver.
As for the running backs, they’re all back from last year. Cutcliffe and Co. have never been able to establish a consistent run game in five years, so until proven otherwise, I’m not expecting a whole lot out of this group.
AB: Duke gave up an average of 280 yards on the ground in its final five games, all of which were losses. How much hope is there that the Blue Devils’ run defense, which ranked 101st nationally last year, will be better?
LK: The defensive line should be better. There were some fairly significant injuries along the line last season, but DEs Kenny Anunike and Justin Foxx, DE Sydney Sarmiento and NG Jamal Bruce are all back. Between them, they have a combined 68 starts, and there are capable backups, largely due to all of last year’s injuries.
Unlike with the running backs, where you can debate whether having the same group is a good or a bad thing, the experience on the defensive line is a definite plus. They should be better. And, for Duke to build on last year’s success they will have to be because…
AB: The secondary returns All-ACC corner Ross Cockrell but lost safeties Walt Canty and Jordon Byas and cornerback Lee Butler to graduation. Is the new group in for some growing pains? Who are the best candidates to emerge as reliable players?
LK: This is, by far, the weakest unit on the team. The secondary wasn’t good last year. This year, it’s a much younger bunch, so, yes, I’d expect some growing pains.
Two true freshmen, Quay Mann and Evrett Edwards took a lot of spring first-team CB reps (Cockrell was injured midway through spring, so that meant even more action for the young guys). I’d expect both to play next season.
Remember this name, though — Jeremy Cash. He’s a safety that sat out last year after transferring from Ohio State and, in the spring game, he looked like a big-time player. Despite not playing regularly since high school (he played a little as a true freshman at Ohio State), Cash will need to be a stud for Duke.
AB: The Blue Devils’ previous bowl trip in 1994 was followed by a 17-year drought. Do you think last year’s Belk Bowl appearance will be a similar oddity or has Cutcliffe and the school’s administration gotten Duke to the point where it will at least be able to realistically compete to qualify for a bowl game on a yearly basis?
LK: Duke should compete for a bowl berth every season. When Cutcliffe came to Duke before the 2008 season, he had nothing — not even a full-length practice field (it was 80 yards and the source of a lot of jokes about Duke’s red zone futility). What he and his staff have built, really, is remarkable. It’s been slow and steady progress, but the talent level keeps improving, and now the scheduling is more in line with expectations, too (no more dates against Alabama or Stanford).
Duke has never, ever made back-to-back bowl appearances. If they meet expectations, that should change this year.
- Alabama: Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- Western Carolina: Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- East Carolina: Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- Marshall: Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- Georgia Tech: Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- North Carolina: Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- Pittsburgh: Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- Duke: Team overview