2011 Pre-Season Preview: Duke Blue Devils

2010 Record: (1-7, 3-9 in ACC)

Head Coach: David Cutcliffe (12-24 at Duke, 56-53 All-Time)

Last Bowl Game: 1994 Hall of Fame Bowl (lost to Wisconsin 34-20)

2010 Duke Preview

 

CFBZ Duke Links

ACC Roundtable

Pre-Spring All-ACC Team

Returning ACC Offensive Firepower

Spring Football Questions: ACC Atlantic


Schedule

9/3: Richmond (2009 result: lost 24-16)

9/10: Stanford

9/17: at Boston College (2010 result: lost 21-16)

9/24: Tulane

10/1: at FIU

10/15: FSU

10/22: Wake Forest (2010 result: lost 54-48)

10/29: Virginia Tech (2010 result: lost 44-7)

11/5: at Miami (Fl) (2010 result: lost 28-13)

11/12: at Virginia (2010 result: won 55-48)

11/19: Georgia Tech (2010 result: lost 30-20)

11/26: at UNC (2010 result: lost 24-19)


2010 Offensive Statistics:

Scoring: 25.3 ppg (7th in ACC, 75th in Nation)

Rushing Yds/Game: 110.0 yds/game (last in ACC, 104th in Nation)

Passing Yds/Game: 271.3 yds/game (2nd in ACC, 22nd in Nation)

Total Yds/Game: 381.3 yds/game (7th in ACC, 59th in Nation)

 

2010 Defensive Statistics:

Scoring: 35.4 ppg (11th in ACC, 109th in Nation)

Rushing Yds/Game: 208.2 yds/game (last in ACC, 113th in Nation)

Passing Yds/Game: 241.8 yds/game (last in ACC, 96th in Nation)

Total Yds/Game: 450.1 yds/game (last in ACC, 108th in Nation)

 

2010 Misc Stats:

Turnover Margin: -0.83 per game (last in ACC, 110th in Nation)

Penalties: 40.6 yds/game (2nd in ACC, 12th in Nation)

 

Returning Starters:

Offense: 8

Defense: 6

Kicker/Punter: 2

 

Top Returning Statistical Leaders:

Passing: QB Sean Renfree, Jr (285 of 464 for 3131 yds, 14 TD, 17 INT)

Rushing: RB Desmond Scott, Jr (120 for 530 yds, 3 TD)

Receiving: WR Connor Vernon, Jr (73 rec for 973 yds, 4 TD)

Tackles: FS Matt Daniels, Sr (93)

Sacks: LB Kelby Brown, Soph (1.5)

Interceptions: CB Ross Cockrell, Soph (3)

 

When I was doing research for this preview I can across some pretty startling facts. I know Duke football has been down for a long time but the fact that they have only been to two bowl games since 1960 is pretty amazing. In 2008 David Cutcliffe took a team that only won 1 game the previous year and improved to 4-8. In 2009 they took another step forward, albeit a small one, as they posted a 5-7 record. But last year, Duke took a step back as they finished 3-9 and won two less conference games than the previous season. A positive trend for David Cutcliffe has been the offense and in every season the team has increased their average points per game. The bad news? Since making a positive improvement from 2007 to 2008, Duke has given up more points every year (23.4 in 2008, 28.3 in 2009 and 35.4 in 2010). Duke has some weapons on offense but it’s obvious that their defense needs to step up for them to win ball games. We talked to Patrick from Blue Devil Nation to get the scoop on Cutcliffe’s 2011 team.

 

Duke was 11th in conference in scoring defense last season giving up 35.4 points per game. What was done this spring to try and correct this area of concern?

The Blue Devils will have their third defensive coordinator in the past three years as Jim Knowles takes over for the departed Marion Hobby. In 2010, Hobby tried to institute a 3-4 defense, but the Blue Devils just had too many question marks up front to consistently slow opposing offenses, and particularly struggled against the run. This spring, Knowles installed a 4-2-5 scheme that aims at putting Duke’s best athletes on the field, highlighted by a group of dynamic players at safety, led by senior Matt Daniels. The success this season likely still hinges on the play of the front six, who will have to do a better job of pressuring opposing quarterbacks. Sophomore Kelby Brown is the leading returning linebacker, but missed all of spring practice recovering from knee surgery. Senior Charlie Hatcher will anchor the defensive line, and Duke hopes that a group of young redshirt-freshmen and sophomores will mature sooner rather than later.

 

Going into fall practice, what are the biggest question marks that still need to be addressed?

The biggest questions remain among the front six defensively. Are the young linemen and linebackers ready to stop ACC offenses? Which players will step up and take the majority of snaps along the defensive front? Duke will need players like Sydney Sarmiento and Justin Foxx to take a big step forward in stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback.

 

Who are some newcomers or under-the-radar guys that have the ability to make an impact on the field this year?

The strength of Duke’s incoming freshman class lies in the group of offensive linemen, where most are expected to redshirt this fall due to Duke’s returning depth along the offensive line. The most likely new faces to make an impact this fall are the redshirt-freshmen, led by Isaac Blakeney at safety and defensive linemen Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and Dezmond Johnson. Blakeney had a very good spring and could emerge as a playmaker in Duke’s secondary. Highly-touted freshman Will Monday is likely to give incumbent Alex King competition for the starting punter job. Offensively, Duke will be led by the familiar faces of QB Sean Renfree, RB Desmond Scott, WR Donovan Varner, WR Conner Vernon, and TE Cooper Helfet.

 

Looking at the schedule, what are the most important games this year?

When you’re a team that has struggled as much as Duke has in the past decade, you can’t overlook any opponent, and for that reason, the most important game of the season may be the season opener against Richmond. The Spiders have beaten the Blue Devils in Durham twice in recent years, and Duke cannot afford another loss to a FCS opponent to open the 2011 campaign. Renfree and the Duke offense will need to come out sharp under the lights on September 3 in Wallace Wade Stadium.

Looking at the remaining games on the schedule, Duke has two crucial conference matchups. In week 3, Duke will travel to Boston College for their ACC opener, and that should be a good September litmus test for the young Blue Devils. The Eagles’ pulled out a narrow victory in Durham a year ago, and if Head Coach David Cutcliffe hopes to go bowling, he will need to find a way to pull out a win in Chestnut Hill.  Wake Forest has had the Blue Devils’ number in recent years, and the week 8 match-up in Durham will be another crucial conference game for the program to build momentum into November.

 

What is the biggest reason to be optimistic about Duke football in the future?

Patience is a difficult thing to ask of sports fans today, and the Blue Devils hit a road bump in their rebuilding process with a 3-win season a year ago. Still, Duke has won more games under Coach Cutcliffe than they did in the previous decade combined, and the university has made a significant investment in the football program. With the addition of a new indoor practice field this fall, Duke’s football facilities will be on par with just about any other ACC school. The coaching staff is gradually recruiting better athletes to Durham, and the culture around the program has changed. In summary, a solid foundation has been laid, but to take the next step forward, the team needs to go out and win ball games.

 

What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2011 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?

Obviously, the goal is to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 1994, but that may be asking a lot of this young team. With so many questions on defense, it’s hard to find 6 wins on Duke’s 2011 schedule. The margin of error is small, but the Blue Devils should be capable of competing with Richmond, Boston College, Tulane, Florida International, Wake Forest, and Virginia. If Duke can pull off a signature win against a favored opponent, it would help to renew the excitement in the stands and the locker room as the program continues to rebuild. Our expectation is that Duke will fall a game short of bowl eligibility this fall, finishing with 5 wins and setting themselves up for a bowl run in 2012.

 

Coming In August: ACC Preview

Next Preview: Arizona

 

2011 Team Previews

ACC- Boston College, Clemson, Miami, NC State, Wake Forest

Big 12- Baylor , Texas Tech

Big East- Louisville

Big Ten- Minnesota , Northwestern, Penn St

C-USA- East Carolina, Houston , Marshall, SMU, Southern Mississippi, UAB, UCF

Independent- Army

MAC- Ball St, Bowling Green, Buffalo , Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Temple, Toledo

MWC- New Mexico, UNLV, Wyoming

Sun Belt- FAU, FIU, Louisiana, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Troy , ULM, Western Kentucky

WAC- Fresno St, Idaho, San Jose St

Kevin Causey

About Kevin Causey

dry humorist, beer snob, occasionally unbiased SEC fan, UGA alumni, writer for Crystal Ball Run and founder of College Football Zealots

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