Army Opponent Preview: Duke

The sixth game of the Black Knights 2015 season sees the team hosting the Duke Blue Devils in West Point. For the last couple of years the Blue Devils have been as good as at any point in their history, but with an all-time senior class leaving it will be interesting to see if the Blue Devils are able to maintain that level of performance.

2014 Record: 9-4 (5-3 in the ACC – Second in the ACC Coastal Division). Lost to Arizona State 36-31 in the Sun Bowl.

Series Record: Duke leads 11-10-1 in a series which dates back to a first meeting in 1944 which Army won 27-7. The Black Knights controlled the series in its early years, winning all six meetings which took place from 1944 to 1959.

Last Meeting: The last meeting between Army and Duke was a 35-21 Black Knights victory in 2010. Army dominated the contest and was leading 35-7 entering the fourth quarter before a couple of late Blue Devil touchdowns made the game look closer than it actually was.

Head Coach: David Cutcliffe is entering his eighth season as the Blue Devils head coach with a 40-48 (.455) win/loss record. Cutcliffe had previously coached at Mississippi and was fired after his only losing season at the SEC school because he refused to fire some of his assistant coaches as the athletic director ordered.

Spring News: Spring practice for Duke this year may as well have been called winter practice as the “spring game” was actually held on February 28. With Wallace Wade Stadium under construction, the game became a situational scrimmage as Duke looked to build on the success of 2014. One thing that was very clear from the spring work was that the Blue Devils defense is ahead of the offense entering fall camp.

Projected Strengths: The biggest strength on the Blue Devils team entering 2015 is the secondary. Duke returns all five starters it runs in a hybrid 4-2-5 defense and the five make for an impressive unit. The Blue Devils allowed just four touchdowns on plays of over 20-yards last season, which made them the third best in the country in this category. Play making safeties Jeremy Cash and Devon Edwards are All-ACC caliber players.

The Duke running game should be a strength, especially if the offensive line is as stout as Cutcliffe believes given the overall improvement of the program. Duke lost four-year starter at right guard Laken Tomlinson to the NFL, but the pieces are there to make up for this loss. The backs themselves have a mix of power and speed, with Jela Duncan, Shaun Wilson and Shaq Powell all having the game to play at this level.

Projected Weaknesses: The biggest issue for Duke is the lack of playmakers on offense. Jamison Crowder took his 85 catches and 1,044 to the NFL, also robbing Duke of his return skills which were some of the best in the country. In addition Isaac Blakeney must be replaced after leading the team with seven touchdowns. There are plenty of nice players for Cutcliffe to turn to, but it will take a committee approach to fill the production void left by Crowder unless someone unexpectedly steps up.

The front seven defensively lost a lot to graduation, which is not good when the rush defense was as ineffective as it was last year anyway. The Blue Devils finished second to last in the ACC in rush defense giving up 193 yards per game on the ground. The hope is that medical redshirt Kelby Brown can stand up and lead this team in tackles, and that some quarterback pressure is found as the team returns just 2.5 sacks on the defensive line.

Prediction: Cutcliffe has put together a model on how you build a program from nothing at Duke. This is now a team which is used to winning and that mentality spreads and grows no matter how many players you lose to graduation. Army’s advantage here is that Duke rarely sees option teams and also that their schedule is so light that there is the potential for a letdown game or two. Duke should win this, but if Army can come out of the gate hot and get ahead it will be interesting to see if the Blue Devils are able to run the Black Knights down.

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