The Army Black Knights (3-1) have had a week off to heal up, and lick their wounds, after the disappointing loss at Buffalo. The Black Knights now get to take on an ACC opponent as the team travels to Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, North Carolina, to face the Duke Blue Devils (2-3). While Duke is obviously a basketball power, the football team has been bowling for four straight years under head coach David Cutcliffe. Here is a look at how Duke stacks up.
Season so far
Duke and Cutcillfe have had a great four-year run, but coming into this season the head coach knew that he had a lot of pieces to replace from that squad. Things started out well enough with a convincing 49-6 victory over North Carolina Central of the FCS, but since then the wheels have kind of come off for Duke.
In weeks 2 and 3 the Blue Devils scored a combined 27 points against Wake Forest and Northwestern. Wake (a future Army opponent) started the season a surprising 4-0, but it was smoke and mirrors with a couple of close wins (7-3 over Tulane?!) before being found out by NC State last weekend. Northwestern beat Duke a week after losing 9-7 to an FCS school in Illinois State. Basically, these are not the likes of Alabama or Clemson beating the Blue Devils.
A shocking 38-35 win over Notre Dame (another future Army foe) saw the Irish fire their defensive coordinator before Duke was beaten at home on Saturday by a 1-3 Virginia team that had lost to Richmond of the FCS and UConn already this season. Take the Notre Dame upset away and this has been an awful start to the season.
Injuries and Suspensions
Two big season-ending injuries dominate the injury report for Duke. The first was to starting quarterback Thomas Sirk who simply cannot keep his Achilles healthy. Sirk initially tore his tendon in February but was expected to be able to rehab and play eventually this fall. Instead, his rehab was stopped abruptly when he again tore the Achilles in late August. Sirk would have been entering the season on the back of a co-MVP award in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl victory over Indiana at the back end of 2015.
The other huge injury is too defensive back and special teams standout, DeVon Edwards. Edwards left leg went underneath him in the middle of a kickoff return against Notre Dame and scans ruled him out for the season with a torn ACL and MCL, ending his Duke career. Edwards is so good as a kick returner that he had received a number of All-ACC and All-America mentions and he has six career kickoff return touchdowns (one shy of an ACC record) in an era where returns are harder than ever.
Getting back to what worked over the first three games of the season will be the biggest challenge for Army against Duke. This is a Power Five opponent, but it is one that Army can beat if the offense is fundamentally sound and the defense continues to make plays. If Army gets another 10-0 lead, as it did against Buffalo, it will be important to keep the pressure on Duke while still sticking to the system and the game plan. Allowing Buffalo to score two touchdowns in the final nine minutes was something we would expect from the team last season, but the 2016 group has proven to be a tougher, and better, team. If Army can find that form again quickly (and not be rusty after a week off) then a win is possible.