8/30: James Madison
10/4: @Georgia Tech
11/1: @Wake Forest
11/8: North Carolina State
11/22: @Virginia Tech
11/29: North Carolina
Skip: Maryland, Boston College, Florida State
QB: Thaddeus Lewis (Jr.)
RB: Re’Quan Boyette (Sr.)
FB: Clifford Harris (Sr.)
WR: Eron Riley (Sr.)
WR: Sheldon Bell (rSo.)
TE: Tielor Robinson (6Sr.)
LT: Cameron Goldberg (5Sr.)
LG: Jarrod Holt (Jr.)
C: Bryan Morgan (So.)
RG: Rob Schirmann (5Sr.)
RT: Fred Roland (5Sr.)
DE: Ayanga Okpokoworuk (rJr.)
DT: Vince Oghobaase (rJr.)
NG: Clifford Respress (Sr.)
DE: Wesley Oglesby (rSo.)
WLB: Vincent Rey (Jr.)
MLB: Michael Tauliili (Sr.)
SLB: Marcus Jones (Sr.)
CB: Leon Wright (Jr.)
SS: Adrian Aye-Darko (5Sr.)
FS: Catron Gainey (Jr.)
CB: Jabari Marshall (5Sr.)
P: Kevin Jones (So.)
Coach: David Cutcliffe (1st season)
(Italics indicate new starter.)
Media prediction: 6th, Coastal Division
2007 1st team: Uh. It’s Duke. So, zero.
2007 2nd team: WR Eron Riley
2007 HM: None
2008 preseason: Still Duke, man.
The Ted Roof era was an unmitigated disaster, even by just-you-wait-til-basketball-season Duke standards. Not that the Carl Franks era was remarkably better – Franks did manage to win one extra game – but the Roof era was awful. Bad enough that an actual sitting judge with law schoolin’ and everything bought the “Duke Sucks” argument and allowed the school to get out of a contract with Louisville on the argument that “team of similar stature” includes everyone, including presumably various I-AA teams, and nunneries. Roof’s firing surprised nobody; his replacement, David Cutcliffe, turned some heads, because David Cutcliffe is a real coach with actual coaching credentials and wins and stuff. Cutcliffe’s only previous head coaching gig was at Ole Miss, where he was pretty successful until the Ole Miss brass stupidly fired him. As Ed Orgeron proved, winning at Ole Miss is not exactly the easy button; Cutcliffe is legit.
Any time there’s a new coach trying to fit a slightly strange new scheme into the old personnel, there will be some depth chart weirdness, and you can double that when the personnel really aren’t that good and are getting shuffled in and out. Start at quarterback, where Thaddeus Lewis is more or less the man, but the coaches want to find a role for Zack Asack, who lost his job two years ago when he was suspended by the school for plagiarism. Asack appeared in six games last year and could do so again. Lewis, however, will be hard to unseat, sporting a very respectable 21/10 TD/INT ratio last year.
Cutcliffe also employs a “B-back”, a sort of hybrid fullback-tight end, and the above-mentioned Tielor Robinson should see time pulling this duty along with TE Brandon King. For now the results will likely be mixed, until Cutcliffe can recruit guys with the necessary talent set instead of having to pick guys who are as close a match as he can find.
There is a bright spot at wide receiver, where Eron Riley returns as a senior. Riley is as dangerous a deep threat as any in the ACC; despite being tied for 22nd in the conference in receptions in 2007, he was 5th in yardage, leading to a conference-best 20.8 yards per reception. He was also good for 9 receiving touchdowns, second in the ACC. On his other side, Sheldon Bell and Austin Kelly are neck-and-neck for the other starting spot; Bell may have had a slightly better spring but Kelly was the more productive player last year.
The running game is the real area of concern. Duke’s passing offense was middle-of-the-road in the conference last year, but the running game was pathetic, producing just 64 yards per game in ’07. Re’Quan Boyette and his backfield-mate Justin Boyle admittedly did not get many carries; when you’re consistently down by double digits at halftime, typically the running game loses emphasis, rapidly. Boyette actually had a decent 4.2 yards per carry in ’07. Not spectacular, but not so bad that we should lose all hope for the Blue Devils’ running game. The offensive line is bookended by 5th year seniors and is experienced overall. Unfortunately they’ve also given Thad Lewis a lot of experience at picking himself up off the grass – nearly 4 sacks allowed per game last year.
Poor Marcus Jones. With a defense full of way cool names like Oghobaase, Tauliili, and Aye-Darko, it’s hard to stand out. At least he’s one of the few who’ll always have his name pronounced correctly by TV announcers, if they ever subject viewers to Duke football.
Duke returns a lot of their starters. The standard joke is whether that’s a good thing on a team that gave up 33 points a game and 40+ in half their games. (Actually, “Duke football” is the standard joke, but whatever.) The Blue Devils’ defense is led by linebackers Michael Tauliili and Vincent Rey, who return as starters from last season and bring their 100+ tackles with them. Vince Oghobaase can be a disruptive force in the middle of the defensive line, leading the team in sacks and TFL in ’07. Oghobaase was the star recruit of the ’05 class and picked Duke over Oklahoma, Miami, and Texas A&M.
Glenn Williams is a name to watch for in the defensive backfield; though he’s not projected as a starter at any position, he plays them all. He started 10 games at corner last year and picked off three passes, tied for the team lead with Tauliili. The coaching staff wants to use him all over the field, so he will see time at corner, safety, and nickel back.
So really, the pieces are there (if a bit scattered around the field) for Duke to be much improved on defense. Experience, of course, helps tremendously, and Duke is not short on that. Cutcliffe’s expertise is on the offensive side of the ball, not the defense, so he will have to lean on DC Mike MacIntyre; unfortunately for Duke, MacIntyre has never been a DC at any level higher than I-AA. (And still hasn’t! Haw!) It will take a very renewed effort on defense for the Blue Devils to compete. Expect the defense to be the focal point of Cutcliffe’s revival efforts at Duke.
Short and sweet –they stink. CB Jabari Marshall averaged a middling 24.6 yards per kick return in ’07; CB Leon Wright averaged a measly 5.7 yards on punt returns. Sophomore punter Kevin Jones gained copious experience in his freshman year, as is typical of bad football teams, but couldn’t reach 40 yards a kick and put only one of every five inside the 20.
But the real horrorshow was the kicking game. K Joe Surgan missed three field goals in the Virginia game, including a 26-yarder in the 2nd quarter. Make them, and Duke leads 19-17 going into the 4th. Surgan missed another against Navy and was promptly yanked from field goal duties. Duke did not attempt another field goal for four games, at which point Nick Maggio took over the kicking duties and finished 2-for-5 – though he made all 13 of his extra points. Surgan missed two. Maggio and Surgan will battle with incoming freshman Paul Asack for kicking duties this fall. Regardless of the outcome, Duke fans will be covering their eyes whenever the kicker trots onto the field.
Duke cannot possibly be as bad as they were the last three seasons – period. Win two games, and they’ll match the win total over that time frame. They could very well start the season right off with those two wins – perhaps even three, as they fought Navy close last year, and Navy is probably trending downwards this season. Even better for Dookies, all three games are at home. Potentially riding a three-game winning streak and a wave of newfound confidence could make them quite a dangerous opponent by the time the ‘Hoos roll into Durham for both teams’ first ACC clash. Duke has been an automatic ACC win these three years; their last conference win was against Clemson in November 2004. Nobody will mistake Duke for a bowl team this year, but that winless streak in the conference should end this year; most likely against either UVA, UNC, or NC State.