Head-to-head: Army vs. Duke

The Black Knights travel to North Carolina to face the Duke Blue Devils. Army enters the game coming off its most resounding win of the Rich Ellerson era, a 24-0 white washing of North Texas. Duke was blasted by Alabama, the top ranked team in the nation, 62-13, in the worst loss of David Cutcliffe's coaching career.

ARMY
EDGE
AREA
Duke
EDGE
COMMENTS
 
Army rushing offense
vs.
Duke rushing defense
 
Army ran for 292, three touchdowns and averaged 5.1 yards per carry against North Texas. For the year Army is seventh in nation in rushing averaging over 283 yards a game. The biggest concern for the Black Knights is the toll the first three games have taken on the skill positions. Army is not the deepest of teams and in the last two weeks Steelman, Mealy, Maples and Hassin missed time with injuries. Quarterback Trent Steelman had a terrific day directing the offense as he ran for 68 yards. He made a nice cutback on his 20 yard touchdown run to score. Hopefully Jared Hassin who was limited by soreness that caused him to miss practice time last week will be able to play at his usual high level. Jacob Bohn did a solid job running for 39 yards and had a 19-yard run but he's no Hassin running the ball. The first and second string A backs, Patrick Mealy and Raymond Maples, are both battling leg injuries and it's uncertain if either will be able to go. If Mealy can't play his perimeter blocking will be missed. Army might have to play the speedy C backs Malcolm Brown and Brian Cobbs together. Both have been impressive especially on new fly sweep. Third string plebe slotback Jon Crucitti blocked well and ran hard filling in for Mealy but didn't impress with his run skills in his first game action. Duke gave up 315 yards rushing and four touchdowns against Alabama last Saturday. Obviously Army's not the Crimson Tide but Duke's line and linebackers have struggled tackling all year. The Blue Devils are 111th in nation against the run. They give up 223 rushing yards a game and over 47 points per game. Duke plays a 3-4 defense but lost their top five players from last years' team that defeated Army at Michie. Duke's defensive front has had a hard time getting off their blocks. The Blue Devils scheme doesn't suit their personnel as they are undersized to be playing two gap. The Blue Devils aren't as nearly athletic or talented as they were last year. It's always a bad sign when your leading tackler is a safety. Matt Daniels is a good tackler and a very good player. Duke has played Navy, Army and Georgia Tech and has experience in defending the option although they do have a new defensive coordinator in Marion Hobby.  
EVEN  
Army passing offense
vs.
Duke passing defense
EVEN  
Not surprisingly, Army ranks dead last in passing offense but Army has been fairly proficient at times in passing game. Against North Texas, Steelman completed all three passes on a touchdown drive early in third quarter that made it clear this was an Army day. His 12 yard pass completion to Austin Barr (2 catches for 18 yards) on third and 11 was key play of that touchdown drive. The offensive line's pass blocking has been solid. Steelman hasn't been accurate throwing deep. Army should be able to generate at least one big play opportunity in the passing game per game. Duke's pass defense has struggled this year as they rank 108th in the nation. The Blue Devils defense has struggled in all facets. Safety Matt Daniels in the best player in defensive backfield. Daniels leads the team with 21 tackles and an interception. Duke generates virtually no pressure on passer so this unit has been picked apart. Converted cornerback Lee Butler, who intercepted a pass against Alabama, plays the other safety spot.  
 
Duke rushing offense
vs.
Army rushing defense
 
This is the area of Duke's team that has shown vast improvement from last year averaging 156 yards a game. Sophomore Desmond Scott has been impressive and is a running back with explosive breakaway speed which he showed against Wake Forest with a 63-yard touchdown run. Scott has averaged 6.8 yards per carry. Freshman Josh Snead plays behind Scott but also has impressed when he has the ball. Snead is fast and can make people miss. Snead rushed for 83 yards against Alabama and has averaged 4.8 yards per carry for the season.. The Blue Devils have a young and talented offensive line. Center Bryan Morgan and left tackle Kyle Hill are the best players on a good offensive line. Brandon Connette plays quarterback when Duke uses its "Wildcat" package. Connette is very fast and has rushed for 92 yards and a touchdown on thirteen carries. Unlike the first three games of the season Army will face a classic drop back passer in Sean Renfree who isn't very mobile. Army's rush defense did a terrific job limiting North Texas's talented running back Lance Dunbar to just 46 yards on 12 carries and the Mean Green overall to 95 net rushing yards. It was a performance that reminded fans of how the Army double eagle flex defense played last year. This will be a much bigger test playing the ACC Blue Devils with their experienced offensive line. Mike Gann dominated North Texas' injury plagued offensive line and recorded four tackles. His match up with Bryan Morgan will be one to watch. Stephen Anderson had eight tackles last week and needs to limit the Duke running game  
 
Duke passing offense
vs.
Army passing defense
 
Duke has one of the better passing offenses in the nation averaging 288 yards per game. The Blue Devils rank 19th in the country in passing offense. Sophomore quarterback Sean Renfree has been impressive this year completing 63.3% of his passes for 852 yards and seven touchdown. Last year Army chased star quarterback Thaddeus Lewis to the bench only to see Renfree direct a second half comeback and beat the Black Knights. Renfree has a terrific arm, a quick release and is very accurate. Duke's three wide receivers are reminiscent of the Hawaii receivers that gave the Black Knights fits. Donovan Varner, who led the ACC in receiving last year, hasn't skipped a beat as he already has twenty catches and a touchdown. Conner Vernon already has twenty catches, averaging 16 yards a reception and has scored two touchdowns. Austin Kelly is more of a possession receiver and he's recorded 17 catches and scored twice. The real match up of the game is the irresistible force against the immovable object. Don't let the score from last Saturday fool you. Duke's offensive line played well. On the year they've allowed only three sacks for a negative 17 yards. If the Blue Devils can protect Renfree from Josh McNary and the swarm it will be a rough day for the Army secondary. For the third week in a row Army will once again use mostly its nickel and dime defensive packages against another high powered passing attack. Antuan Aaron had five tackles, a pass defensed and played his best game since returning from his hamstring problem. Jordan Trimble replaced Donovan Travis at safety and had a terrific game. Trimble recorded nine tackles and an interception and showed terrific recognition and speed on his first interception preventing a sure touchdown. Army held North Texas to 106 passing yards and just a 48.3% completion percentage. Josh McNary has been unblockable the past few weeks. McNary already has five sacks for the season despite the fact that Eastern Michigan rarely threw the ball in the opener. If the flex can't create pressure and disrupt Renfree's passing rhythm, which they failed to do last year, they will have a difficult time getting Duke's offense off the field. While Duke rarely fumbles, Renfree has thrown four interceptions. Army's flex defense needs to create some negative plays.  
EVEN
Special Teams
EVEN  
Army place kicker Alex Carlton hit one of two attempts against North Texas. His long 50-yard field goal attempt before end of half was way off the mark. Punter Jonathan Bulls averaged 41.5 yards on his six punts. He placed two inside the twenty and blasted a 63-yard punt that just missed the coffin corner. Matt Campbell's short kickoffs are a source of concern against Duke. The Blue Devils have terrific speed in Scott, Snead and Juwan Thompson returning kick offs. Lee Butler is a dangerous punt returner who's averaging 15.2 per return. Duke's Snyderwine is having a very good year and has hit 6 of 7 attempts. Snyderwine was second team All-ACC last year. Alex King averages 43.8 per punt. Duke's coverage teams are not much better than the defense in tackling. They've already allowed a kickoff return touchdown and are giving up 13.7 yards a punt return.  
EVEN  
Coaching
EVEN  
Rich Ellerson and the staff had the Black Knights prepared after a difficult loss. Defensive coordinators Payam Saadat and Chris Smeland did a great job of retooling the secondary on the fly. Offensive coordinator Ian Shields had a great call on Pat Mealy's touchdown on counter, misdirection play on first touchdown drive. David Cutcliffe is best known for being coaching mentor to both Manning brothers. He's brought his explosive passing game to Duke. Duke's defensive coordinators Marion Hobby and Jim Knowles defense has struggled.  
 
Intangibles
 
This is a September game played in the Carolina heat, advantage Duke. The visitor locker rooms are a long way from stadium. After being whipped by Alabama Duke is primed for some payback.  

PREDICTION: Duke, 38-31. I expect this to be a wide open seesaw battle much in the same way Navy and Duke has been the last few years. Duke's offensive line should limit the ability of the Army front and McNary to provide consistent pressure. Duke's run defense is putrid but Army's best A and B backs are banged up right now. Duke is vulnerable and I'd like to be wrong on this but I see Duke prevailing in a shootout at home.

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