The Army Black Knights return to Michie Stadium to take on the Duke Blue Devils on Saturday. Last week the Black Knights lost to Penn State as their comeback fell short 20-14 loss at not so Happy Valley. Army's four losses have been by a combined 16 points. The Blue Devils enter the game 4-1 overall and 2-0 in ACC play after a 9-7 home win over Boston College. Duke has won 12 of its last 13 regular season games against non-conference opponents. The Blue Devils have won four straight and 10 of their last 11 road games dating back to the start of the 2013 season.
ARMY'S PASSING OFFENSE VS. DUKE'S PASS DEFENSE
Quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw was taking snaps at practice early this week but is still being held out of contact drills. Jeff Monken will make the decision if he will start later this week. Bradshaw has completed 11-of-22 passes (50%) for 194 passing yards with three touchdowns and an interception this season. If Bradshaw can't play the Black Knights will again turn to senior A.J. Schurr. Schurr has completed 6-of-13 passes (46.2%) for 180 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Schurr started at quarterback in the place of the injured Bradshaw against Penn State. Schurr completed his only pass attempt when he hit Edgar Poe for 32-yards down to the 12-yard line to set up Army's first touchdown. Schurr was sacked three times by the Penn State talented defensive line. Wide receiver Edgar Poe has only three receptions for 69 yards this year but has scored twice.
Duke's secondary is led by safeties Jeremy Cash and DeVon Edwards (35 tackles, Int.). They are one of the best secondaries in the ACC. Jeremy Cash (42 tackles, 7 PD) earned National Defensive Player of the Week honors from the Walter Camp Foundation after Duke’s win over Georgia Tech's spread option. Cash recorded 12 tackles, 3.0 TFL, a sack, two forced fumbles & four QB pressures against the Yellow Jackets. Army will need to block him. Deondre Singleton (29 tackles) is Duke's third safety who loves to hit everything that moves. Opposing quarterbacks have completed just 43.8 percent of passes this year against the Blue Devils. That is the lowest mark in the country. Duke has yielded only three passing scores this season.
ARMY'S RUSHING OFFENSE VS. DUKE'S RUSHING DEFENSE
The Black Knights ran for 261 rushing yards, averaged 4.7 yards per carry and had two rushing touchdowns against Penn State. Army's offensive line did a great job in their run blocking against one of the best defensive lines in football. Army was missing three starters and played two freshmen but opened holes much of the game. Ahmad Bradshaw is the team's leading rusher with 341 yards, 5.0 average and four scores despite playing only three plus games. B-backs Aaron Kemper (241 yards , 6.5 avg., TD) and Matt Giachinta (197 yards, 5.6 avg., TD) have played much better the last two games. Quarterback A.J. Schurr struggled handling the wet ball last week. Schurr fumbled four times and lost two. Schurr ran 24 times for 74 yards and scored both of Army's touchdowns. His 56-yard run was perfectly blocked and he broke two tackles to score.
Duke's 4-2-5 defense has surrendered only 53 points through the first five games of the season. It’s the fewest points Duke has allowed since 24 points in 1971. Senior linebacker Dwayne Norman has played well the last three games. Norman is second on the team with 40 tackles. The Blue Devils are averaging 6.60 three-and-out defensive series per game. That ranks fourth nationally. Duke defensive coordinator Jim Knowles understands how to defend the option and has beat both the spread option attacks of Georgia Tech and Navy over the last few years. Duke has intercepted four passes, posted nine quarterback sacks and registered 35 tackles for loss this year. Duke is a very good defensive team that is allowing just 10.6 points per game.
DUKE'S PASSING OFFENSE VS. ARMY'S PASSING DEFENSE
The Duke offense is averaging 29 points per game. Quarterback Thomas Sirk has completed 101- of- 161 passes (62.3%) for 1,063 passing yards with six touchdowns against three interceptions. Freshman wide receiver T.J. Rahming is the leading receiver with 19 receptions for 242 yards and a score. Senior wide receiver Max McCaffrey is a reliable target with 17 catches for 229 receiving yards and a touchdown. Junior wide out Johnell Barnes has caught 18 balls for 208 yards, a 11.6 average and a touchdown. Duke likes to move the ball with its short passing game that uses multiple receivers, bubble screens and quick throws. Sophomore running back Shaun Wilson is a threat out of the backfield. Wilson leads Duke with two touchdowns and has 167 receiving yards on 13 catches. It’s hard to focus on one receiver since the Blue Devils move the ball around and spread the field. Duke has five players with at least 13 catches. They average 230 passing yards per game. The offensive line, helped by Sirk's mobility, has allowed only four sacks this season while averaging 34 passes a game.
Army's passing defense is ranked 59th in the country so far this season allowing 220 passing yards per game. Last week they had their best performance of the season at Penn State. They held Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg to just 10-of-19 passes for 156 yards and a score. Army was very aggressive in bringing pass rush pressure and sacked him three times. Freshman cornerback Brandon Jackson (27 tackles, 2 INT, sack) continues to impress. He made a nice blitz from the slot to record his first career sack. Safety Xavier Moss (27 tackles, INT. 2 PD) was a lot more sound in coverage last week as he broke up a pass. Safety Rhyan England (32 tackles, PD, FR) was forced to leave the game twice last week. He is questionable for this game. If he can't play junior nickel back Tevin Long (8 tackles, PD) will start in his place. Mike linebacker Andrew King (38 tackles, 10 TFL, 4 sacks) added another sack on a blitz last week. Junior Eddy Ruzga who hasn't played much since USMAPS had a tackle for a loss and his first career sack last week.
DUKE'S RUSHING OFFENSE VS. ARMY'S RUSHING DEFENSE
Quarterback Thomas Sirk and running back Shaquille Powell share the Duke team rushing lead with 272 yards on the ground. Sirk has scored twice while Powell has a team leading three touchdowns. The Blue Devils are averaging 174 yards rushing each game. A few years ago they changed their offensive style moving from the pass first system to a zone-read offense. Sirk’s mobility can give a team like Army, which lack speed in the front seven, fits with his ability to keep plays alive. The Blue Devils have three returning starting linemen on a very experienced offensive line.
The Black Knights run defense allowed a season low 108 yards on the ground against Penn State. The Black Knights are ranked 49th in the nation allowing over 154 yards per game. Inside linebacker Jeremy Timpf (39 tackles, 1/2 sack, INT, FR) led the Black Knights with eight tackles last week. Defensive end John Voit (16 tackles, Sack) had a huge tackle in chasing down Nick Scott from behind to force Penn State's final punt to give Army a chance on its last drive. Duke will use formations to spread the field to create running lanes against the Black Knights.
Kicker Ross Martin provided Duke’s only points in a 9-7 victory against Boston College by converting field goals of 36, 38 and 53 yards. Martin was rewarded with ACC Specialist of the Week and Lou Groza Star of the Week honors. He has a good leg and has hit all nine field goal attempts this year. Punter Will Monday is one of the best in the nation averaging 46.3 yards per punt. Duke has a dangerous kick returner in DeVon Edwards. He ran a kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter against Georgia Tech.. The touchdown run back was his second of the year and fifth of his career. This season Edwards is averaging an amazing 39.71 yards per kick return. Ryan Smith is averaging 9.7 yards per punt return. The Blue Devils have allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown. The Blue Devils have specialized in blocking kicks under head coach David Cutcliffe
Senior Daniel Grochowski has hit 1-of-2 field goal attempts his year. He has hit the ball well on kickoffs with 12 of his 24 kickoffs going for touchbacks. Punter Alex Tardieu is averaging 41.3 per punt with seven fair catches and five placed inside the twenty yard line. Marcus Hyatt is averaging 18.5 yards per kickoff return. Hyatt returned his first kickoff against Penn State 30 yards which was his career long. Edgar Poe has a 2.3 yard punt return average on ten returns. Poe’s third-quarter 14-yard punt return last week was a career long. He was lucky to recover a muffed punt last week. Army kick and punt coverage team have been above average but last week Justin Fahn had to make a touchdown saving tackle on Penn State's DeAndre Thompkins 25-yard punt return.
David Cutcliffe used to be best known for being coaching mentor to both Manning brothers. He was Peyton's offensive coordinator at Tennessee and Eli head coach at Mississippi. Cutcliffe has an overall head coaching record of 88-78 while directing two schools. Dating back to the 2013 season, the Blue Devils are 21-4 in their last 25 regular season games .The only schools with more wins during that stretch are Florida State (25), Ohio State (24), Baylor (23), Michigan State (23) & Alabama (22) which is pretty impressive company. Duke defensive coordinator Jim Knowles does a very good job in defending the option. Duke is 3-0 against Navy's spread option since Cutcliffe arrived and has beat Georgia Tech's spread option the last two seasons.
Jeff Monken and his staff mentally prepared Army for the challenge to take on Penn State last week. Offensive coordinator Brent Davis deserved better. He had a terrific game plan but the inability of the team to hold the football hurt the chance of an upset. The offensive line played well with two freshmen starting. Penn State, despite their talent, was lost at the mesh at times and Army could have capitalized if not for the fumbles. Defensive Coordinator Jay Bateman's defensive game plan was focused on attacking Penn State's two weaknesses; its offensive line and the lack of mobility of Christian Hackenberg. Army's defense had three sacks and six total tackles for losses. The defense made one last stand to give Army a shot to win on the final drive.
The Blue Devils own an 11-10-1 advantage in the all-time series which started in 1944. The Black Knights won the last meeting, 35-21 in 2010. The teams have met 10 times in West Point with Duke posting a 6-3-1 record. Duke won their last visit to West Point 35-19 2009. The Blue Devils have won 12 of its last 13 regular season games against non-conference opponents. Army enters the game feeling good after battling Penn State until the end. The Black Knights play much better at home. The sold out crowd should bring energy and life into Michie Stadium.
PREDICTION: Duke, 31-13. Duke has limited its opponent to 25 or fewer points in 20 of its last 23 regular season games. Some fans still don't realize this is one of the best programs in the ACC. The Blue Devils crushed Keenan Reynolds and Navy's spread option attack 35-7 two years ago. Duke is probably the best team on Army's schedule.