The second game of the year matches the Army Black Knights (Sagarin 120, 1-0) and the ACC Coastal Duke Blue Devils (Sagarin 103, 0-1) This has been a terrific rivalry over the years and the Blue Devils lead the all time series 9-10-1, with the last victory coming in 1997, at Durham, 20-17. However the record is significantly skewed in recent years as Duke has won 6 of 7 games since 1989. This is a big game for both programs as Army can shake the bonds of a decade of futility with a 2-0 start and Duke must rebound from a tough loss to a very good FCS (D-IAA) Richmond Spiders.
Army won! Army traveled to Eastern Michigan and beat the Eagles 27-14, in front of crowd of 14,499. Army got out to 13-0 lead, thanks to a turn over deep in Eagle territory and was able to maintain a couple of long drives in the fourth quarter to preserve the victory. The Black Knights rushed for 300 yards. Freshman Trent Steelman was only 2-5 for 8 yards passing, but he did direct the offense fairly well given the situation. Most of the yards came on sweeps around the side for the exception of the third scoring drive (in the fourth quarter) when the Eagles defense decided to play their linebackers wide and the Army fullbacks exploited the middle. Army's "double-eagle flex" defense was dominant, piling up six sacks and three turnovers, and it appeared as though the staff felt they could win with an extremely limited playbook. The offense looked very similar to last year, but Steelman seems to be able to get the ball to the tailback more frequently than Carson Williams or Chip Bowden. We did not see 30 or more fullback dives into the line, as we did in nearly every game last year. Army missed two extra points and averaged 41.1 yards in seven punts. Army for the first time in 12 years has a winning record!!!!!!!
In Durham, the Spiders, reigning champions of the Football Championship Subdivision, defeated the Blue Devils in a season opener for the second time in four years, 24-16. The Blue Devils had a punt blocked for a touch down and missed two field goals that could have made the difference between a win and a loss. Thaddeus Lewis was 34 of 55 for 350 yards and two touchdowns. Duke, however, only had 19 yards on the ground. The Duke defense only gave up 282 yards to Richmond.
What we Learned
We learned that Army is an improved team. However, I am not sure that a Sutton, Berry, Ross or Brock team could not have won this game. Without a doubt, though, the Berry and Brock teams would have had 4 turn-overs and the game would have been much closer. The Army defense looked stellar. The double-eagle flex defense put pressure on the Eagles QB for the entire game. I expected much more from the Eagles offense, but we just don't know if the performance can be solely attributed to Army's new scheme. Army's offense looked very sluggish and they committed penalties that thwarted a few drives. Army had 11 penalties for 82 yards – that is a lot for any team, much less Army.
In Durham, we learned that Duke has a pretty good passing game. However, if there were a betting line on this game, Richmond probably would have been favored. If you think that Duke is a walk over – that is simply not the case. We do know that Duke is beatable and that Army should be able to move the ball on them.
Who is favored?
Army is favored by 2.5 points.
What to look for?
Look for Army to run and Duke to throw the ball. This game will mostly determined by scheme and preparation. Will Army be able to run the ball on a bigger and faster Duke team? Will the double-eagle flex defense be able to generate enough of a pass rush to stop the Blue Devil air attack? Can Duke limit their turn-overs? Can Army kick a field goal?
What Army now has is a little confidence, what Duke has is a little trepidation.
I would expect to see Army unfold a few more plays if the vanilla option does not work. I expect Army to be a little more comfortable running the offense and this should result in far fewer penalties. I am very much looking forward to seeing how Payam Sadat's coordinators prepare for Duke. I expect Army to limit Duke's offense to 21 points.
Final Score – Army 24 – Duke 21 (predictions this year 1-0)
Game will be televised on CBS College Sports Television @ 12:00 PM EST.