CFN: 2009 Duke Preview

With David Cutcliffe as the architect, Duke laid a foundation for the future in 2008. Now, it hopes to add a few more bricks on to that foundation.

Head coach: David Cutcliffe
2nd year: 4-8
9th year overall: 48-37
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 15, Def. 15, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 26
Ten Best Duke Players
1. DT Vince Oghobaase,Sr.
2. LB Vincent Rey, Sr.
3. QB Thaddeus Lewis, Sr.
4. LT Kyle Hill, Soph.
5. DE Wesley Oglesby, Jr.
6. S Catron Gainey, Sr.
7. RB Re'quan Boyette, Sr.
8. WR Johnny Williams, Soph.
9. TE Brett Huffman, Jr.
10. DE Ayanga Okpokowuruk, Sr.

2009 Schedule
CFN Prediction
2009 Record: 0-0

9/5 Richmond
9/12 at Army
9/19 at Kansas
9/26 NC Central
10/3 Virginia Tech
10/10 at NC State
10/24 Maryland
10/31 at Virginia
11/7 at North Carolina
11/14 Georgia Tech
11/21 at Miami
11/28 Wake Forest

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2008 Record: 4-8

8/30 James Madison W 31-7
9/6 Northwestern L 24-20
9/13 Navy W 41-31
9/27 Virginia W 31-3
10/4 at Georgia Tech L 27-0
10/11  OPEN DATE
10/18 Miami L 49-31
10/25 at Vanderbilt W 10-7
11/1 at W. Forest L 33-30 OT
11/8 NC State L 27-17
11/15 at Clemson L 31-7
11/22 at Virginia Tech L 14-3
11/29 North Carolina L 28-20

With David Cutcliffe as the architect, Duke laid a foundation for the future in 2008. Now, it hopes to add a few more bricks on to that foundation.

The Blue Devils were noticeably more competitive last fall, winning as many games as the previous four years combined. The offense was more productive, the defense stingier, and the team’s conditioning had never been better. Just don’t tell Cutcliffe. Neither he nor his staff is ready to pronounce that the mission has been accomplished.

Now that Duke football has its most momentum since the Steve Spurrier days two decades ago, the goal is to capitalize and keep moving forward. So far, so good. February’s recruiting class was outstanding by Blue Devil standards, and there’s even talk that the program’s 15-year bowl drought could come to an end. Maybe. The schedule is built for a fast start, and half of the six wins needed for bowl eligibility should be in the vault by Sept. 26.

Just how far has Duke come in a little over a year under Cutcliffe? October and November will provide lots of answers, with eight straight games against ACC opponents. If the Blue Devils can run the ball a little better and make a few more stops in pass defense, who knows? This basketball school just might be playing some meaningful football games in November for a change. 

What to watch for on offense: The new receivers. Eron Riley is gone, taking 144 catches and 22 touchdowns with him to the NFL. The star may be gone, but the cupboard won’t be bare for QB Thaddeus Lewis. Johnny Williams caught 30 passes as a true freshman. Austin Kelly is poised for a breakthrough season after two years as an understudy. And tight ends Brett Huffman and Brandon King form a dangerous one-two punch at the position. With Riley gone, there’ll be a lot less me and a lot more we in the passing game.  

What to watch for on defense: Can the ends generate more pressure from the edge? They’ll have to, or else a vulnerable defensive backfield is going to pay the price. Vince Oghobaase will get his usual push from the inside, but with top pass rusher Greg Akinbiyi graduating, it’s incumbent upon Wesley Oglesby, Ayanga Okpokowuruk, and Patrick Egboh to crank up the heat from the outside. Oglesby is one to watch. He was eyeing a big sophomore season before an injury ended those thoughts. He’s healthy again and looking to make up for lost time.

The team will be far better if… the offensive line grows up quickly. Last year’s top two blockers, tackles Cameron Goldberg and Fred Roland are gone, meaning new anchors are being sought. Kyle Hill is a nice place to start, but he’s only in his second season and making the shift from left guard to left tackle. No one else jumps out as an all-star-caliber player, which is a concern for the running game and QB Thaddeus Lewis.  

The Schedule: Duke, being Duke, needs as easy a non-conference schedule as possible, and while there's a trip to Kansas, facing Richmond, Army, and North Carolina Central will provide a decent base of wins. Facing Maryland, NC State, and Wake Forest from the Atlantic is a big break, but the road games in the Coastal are hardly a breeze going to North Carolina and Miami along with a date at Virginia. The key to getting to a bowl game will be being able to steal a home game or two against a favorite like Maryland, Georgia Tech or Wake Forest, because the second half of the season has a tough run of three road games in four weeks.

Best offensive player: Senior QB Thaddeus Lewis. As a fourth-year starter under center, Lewis brings a level of leadership and intelligence that’s invaluable to his impressionable teammates. Oh, he’s also a pretty good quarterback. An All-ACC Second Team selection a year ago, he’s gotten progressively better as a passer, while maintaining the quick feet and pocket presence to escape pressure when things get uncomfortable. Best of all, he doesn’t make many bad decisions, throwing just six picks in his last 14 games.    

Best defensive player:: Senior DT Vince Oghobaase. Oghobaase could be in the NFL right now, contemplating the terms of his first big contract. Instead, he’s back in Durham, where he’ll once again occupy multiple blockers and rip through opposing lines. At 6-6 and 300 pounds, he’s one of those unique interior linemen, who’s strong enough to fill the lanes in run defense and quick enough to get penetration on passing downs. Scouts like to call him a two-gap tackle, which is code for wealthy young man.

Key players to a successful season
: The defensive backfield. This is the one area of the team that’s had a habit of breaking down at the most inopportune time. Not only do the Blue Devils yield plenty of yards, but on third down and in the red zone, they become particularly philanthropic. Cutcliffe has filled up his secondary with good young athletes. Now it’s up to his staff, namely DB coach Derek Jones, to mold these kids into premier cover guys and playmakers.   

The season will be a success if ... the product improves in Cutcliffe’s second season on the job. Naturally, a bowl invitation would be like a Final Four appearance for the basketball team, but it’s not the only measure of success. Not this soon. If the Blue Devils are tackling, blocking, and executing better than a year ago, progress will be happening in Durham. Of course, with a schedule that includes Army and two lower-division schools in September, anything less than five wins might be seen by some as underachieving.

Key game: Oct. 3 vs. Virginia Tech. If the Blue Devils are going to win six games and achieve bowl eligibility, it’ll need to engineer an upset along the way. Beating the two-time defending ACC champs would sure qualify. Duke hung with Virginia Tech in Blacksburg a year ago before fading 14-3. A visit from the Hokies will pack the stands at Wallace Wade Stadium, and provide a good measuring stick for how far the home team has grown.

2008 Fun Stats:
- First quarter scoring: Opponents 78 - Duke 48
- Average rushing yards per game: Opponents 151.5 - Duke 106.2
-- Average yards per pass: Opponents 7.8 - Duke 5.8 Top Stories