Previewing Duke

In this 11 part series I will break down and predict each Clemson football game for the 2004 season. Of course, much can and will change as fall practice commences and the season progresses.

So by no means do I envision a scenario where I am perfect, but the hope is to give a realistic view of where Clemson, and the rest of the ACC, will fall in the upcoming season.

Week #1: Previewing Wake Forest
Week #2: Previewing Georgia Tech
Week #3: Previewing Texas A&M
Week #4: Previewing Florida State
Week #5: Previewing Virginia
Week #6: Previewing Utah State
Week #7: Previewing Maryland
Week #8: Previewing N.C. State
Week #9: Previewing Miami

November 13th
Clemson at Duke

After the exhilarating upset win over the Miami Hurricans, Clemson will make the unenviable trip to the vast emptiness of Duke's Wallace-Wade Stadium in mid-November. The Tigers will be fighting hard to avoid a let down, which no easy task considering the opponent and the lack of "game day atmosphere" that one encounters in Durham.

This will be the 10th game of the year for the Tigers who are off to a 7-2 start on the 2004 season. As I predicted in the previous articles in this series, Clemson will enter the game 5-2 in the ACC race. I predict that Duke will enter the game 2-8 (0-6 in the ACC) with wins over Navy and The Citadel and losses to Connecticut, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Wake Forest, and Florida State.

Ted Roof is in his first full year at Duke after taking over midway through the season in 2003. The Blue Devils are coming off a 4-8 year in 2003 with wins over Western Carolina, Rice, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina. The Blue Devils also had decent showings in losing efforts at Tennessee (23-6), versus N.C. State (28-21) and at Maryland (33-20).

On offense, Duke returns 5 players from last year's team that averaged 343 yards a game (8th in the ACC and 85th in the nation). Mike Schneider is a typically steady Duke quarterback that continues to improve as he gains more experience. Schneider stands in at 6-3, giving him a nice view of the field in the passing game. Possibly stunting Schneider's progress is the fact that he has a new offensive coordinator along with the fact Schneider missed the spring with a broken thumb. By the time the Clemson game rolls around, however, Schneider would have plenty of time to improve and develop under his new coaching staff. While Schneider would not challenge for a two-deep spot at Clemson, Florida State, Miami, or Georgia Tech…he would challenge at most of the other ACC schools.

Duke's talented running back Chris Douglas is gone, and the void is a big one for the Blue Devils entering the 2004 season. Waiting in the wings this year is Cedric Dargan, who rushed for 264 yards on 69 carries last season. Dargan has decent size (6-1, 200) but lacks breakaway true speed.

Like Douglas, the Blue Devil coaching staff will more than likely keep Dargan between the tackles with a north/south style of running. Assuming Dargan stays healthy (there is little depth behind him), Duke's running game could be average at best. A banged up Dargan would be a disaster.

Duke also lost its best wide receiver when Reggie Love graduated last season, but a couple of seniors return for the Blue Devils at wide out. Lance Johnson caught 23 balls last year and will surely be the focus for the Blue Devils in 2004. But keep an eye on Senterrio Landrum to make an impact for the Devils this year. Landrum plays baseball for Duke and Roof has said that he is the best athlete currently in the Duke program.

As usual, Duke has plenty of talent at tight end with Andy Roland and Calen Powell giving the Devils an experienced duo. And don't forget about Ben Patrick who earned freshman honors from several publications around the country. If games were won with tight end quality depth, Duke would be the preseason favorite to win the ACC. In all seriousness, expect plenty of two tight end sets in running situations and a tons of balls thrown to the tight ends as the season progresses.

Duke tight end Andy Roland (89) tries to haul in a pass as Virignia's Almondo Curry (22) breaks up the play last season.
With only one returning starter on the offensive line (tackle Christian Mitchell), there are major concerns up front for the Blue Devils. Jim Moravchik got some snaps last year at tackle, but the rest of the Duke line will be getting their first significant snaps when the season begins. The Blue Devils do have an exciting young player on the line in center Tyler Krieg who stands in at 6-5 and a little over 300 pounds. Roof was so concerned with this unit in the spring that he moved several players from the defensive line to the offensive line and Roof has hinted more moves could take place before the season starts.

On defense, Duke returns 8 players from a defense that gave up only 374 yards a game last year (5th in the ACC, 57th in the nation). On the defensive line, Duke does have some experience to build upon if several players return healthy from injuries. Micah Harris is solid at one end assuming he returns healthy from the leg injury he received last year. Senior tackle Orrin Thompson, sophomore Ben Benion, and Casey Camero are also back. But the gem on the defensive line is Phillip Alexander. Alexander ranked 3rd in the ACC last year in the tackles for a loss category in addition to racking up 6 sacks.

Brendan Dewan is the leader of the linebacker corps after making 91 tackles last year in addition to 2 ½ tackles for a loss. Giuseppe Aguanno moves outside as he tries to replace Duke's best linebacker from last year (Ryan Fowler). Malcum Ruff will man the other spot, but this unit as a whole is a big step behind even the middle tier ACC teams.

The bright spot on the defensive side of the ball is the secondary, which returns three starters from a unit that was 4th in the ACC in pass defense in 2003. Safeties Alex Green and Brian Green give Duke good play up the middle in the secondary. Speedy cornerback Kenneth Stanford will man one corner spot, while Duke will have to break in John Talley at the other spot. This secondary, if healthy, would rank in the middle of the road in the ACC and will most certainly be the strength of the defense.

On special teams, Duke will continue the tradition of fielding some of the best in the conference at their respective positions. Matt Brooks will handle the placekicking duties after making 6-9 kicks last year with a long of 44. Punter Trey McDonald averaged 40.7 yards per punt while downing 15 punts inside the opponents 20 yard line.

Summary And Prediction
Duke is still Duke and 2004 will not be an exception to that rule. Ted Roof is a good coach that (with a little luck) could get the Blue Devils to the point where they can win 3 ACC games yearly and every now and then sneak into a lower tier bowl. And the players seemed to respond well to Roof during the end of the season in 2003. How much of that will carry over remains to be seen, but chances are Duke will once again play hard for their coach.

Playing in Wallace-Wade Stadium is never an easy task for any team, and Clemson seems to play worse there than most. The Tiger's last trip there was scary enough that it took a 4th down pass to Airese Currie and an Aaron Hunt last second field goal to pull out a Clemson victory.

It won't be quite that scary this year, although I would not expect a blow out in this situation.

sOffensively, Clemson should be able to do as they please assuming mental mistakes and turnover don't rule the day. While Duke's secondary is one of its strengths, the front seven are not good enough to create enough havoc to wreck the Clemson passing game. When Clemson can throw the ball, the Tigers are consequently able to run the ball because the defenses spend the afternoon backpedaling. The running game should chug out yardage as the game goes on making the Tiger attack two dimensional.

Defensively the Tigers will focus first on stopping the running game. That will more than likely be accomplished, allowing Clemson to pin their ears back on Schneider.

While the hangover of the Miami win and the terrible atmosphere of Wallace-Wade will keep this game from getting ugly, Clemson will get an easy win to finish out the ACC campaign at 6-2.

The Tigers will now turn their focus to their archrival, the South Carolina Gamecocks who will be playing for a bowl bid.

Rhymer's Prediction
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