For Alabama, its offense and defense, improving is almost as important as winning the game. Ole Miss looms the following week in an important divisional game and then Tennessee, which will be Alabama's third attempt to win a conference game on the road against a good team.
"Close isn't going to get it," Alabama center Antoine Caldwell said. "Close is going to get you beat by 13-14 points."
Caldwell called Duke's defense awkward, and an unconventional style similar to what Hawaii played against the Crimson Tide in the season opener with multiple fronts and blitzes coming from any position on the field, and senior fullback Tim Castille provided a serious note of caution, lest any of his teammates think Alabama need not worry about the confusing Duke schemes.
"They do a lot of stuff as far as blitz wise," Castille said. "It's a big day for us on offense. If we do our job we will put points up, but if we don't, they can embarrass you."
"It's weird because from y'all's standpoint, it's their 0-4, they're not really that good. But I'm telling you, if we don't come play – I think the defense is going to be alright - but if we don't come to play on offense they are going to embarrass us," he said. "I think when we got here today, we thought it was going to be alright, but we started watching the tape and the coaches started throwing the stuff on the board, this is what they do, so you go, ‘You've got to lock in'. If we don't know our stuff, if we're still daydreaming, it's not going to be pretty."
Castille voiced his frustration at not being able to score touchdowns after the Tide's 28-13 loss to Florida.
"I was not happy. I'm still not happy about it," he said.
Castille said the offense didn't mess up as much during Tuesday's practice, and did better than he thought they might after seeing all the different defensive looks the scout team presented. Castille said, "As far as the coaches, it's different. It's a little more urgent."
The Duke game was added after the athletics directors voted to go to a 12-game regular season schedule. Alabama will play a return game against Duke, but not next year. The return game will be on September 18, 2010, at a site to be determined. Alabama is scheduled to play Florida State in Jacksonville next season. On another scheduling note, this was the year Alabama was supposed to play at Notre Dame, but a revamping of the Southeastern Conference schedule threw things off and the contract was never signed.
Saturday's game is being televised live on pay-per-view as well as on a tape delay basis. Alabama and North Carolina residents can order the game through their local cable outlets, on DirecTV channel 797 or on DISH Network channel 454. Viewers outside the state of Alabama and North Carolina can watch the game on ESPN GamePlan. The game is also available nationally on Sirius satellite radio channel 153.
Comcast Sports Southeast carries the tape-delay broadcast on Sunday at 4 p.m.