First Look: Duke v. Army

Previewing the Blue Devils and Black Knights who will kick off on Saturday. Duke will be looking to bounce back from a loss at Alabama and duplicate last year's 35-19 victory over Army.

The first three games on the Blue Devils' schedule were easily identifiable. Those came with the opener against nearby Elon, the ACC opener against Wake Forest and the much-anticipated meeting with No. 1 Alabama.

Now it's time for Duke to make something of the season, and it starts with Army. And refocusing will be the priority.

"It's always hard after a loss, especially one that's pretty devastating," coach David Cutcliffe said, referring to the 62-13 beating administered by Alabama. "It's almost like each game is its own season with us. We better put it behind us quickly, whatever we do."

Cutcliffe said he knew by midway through the second quarter that making sure the fallout of the Alabama game doesn't deter the Blue Devils from their plans would be of utmost importance. Duke came out of the Alabama game without major physical ailments, but the mental and emotional toll will be worth watching.

If Duke can respond and defeat Army and Maryland, then the opening stretch will be worthwhile. Otherwise, it will come off looking like it was too damaging.

The atmosphere for the home game against Army is bound to be subdued compared to the energy for the Alabama game even though the Crimson Tide's fans created an overwhelming presence in Duke's stadium. So the Blue Devils will be forced to cultivate their own energy and make sure the disappointment of the performance against Alabama doesn't carry into the next games.

NOTES, QUOTES
--Duke coach David Cutcliffe's first victory of the season against Football Bowl Subdivision competition in each of his first two seasons came against a military academy with wins against Navy in 2008 and Army in 2009. This week, he tries to make that three years in a row when the Blue Devils take on Army.

--WR Austin Kelly has caught two touchdown passes this season to share the team lead in touchdowns. Both receptions came in the final minute of the first half in games against Wake Forest and Alabama.

SERIES HISTORY:
Duke leads Army 11-9-1 (last meeting, 2009, Duke 35-19).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE:
The Blue Devils experienced some rare blunders on this unit and part of it came from some uneven moments from QB Sean Renfree, who might have unnecessarily rushed some things. Look for Duke to put its quarterback back in situations where he can re-establish confidence early in the game against Army. The running game seems to be gaining traction, and that's become an area that should help create a more balanced offense.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE:
The Blue Devils will have a different type of assignment against Army, which shouldn't be so prone to producing big plays as happened during the Alabama game. The secondary remains the biggest concern for the Blue Devils, but that group shouldn't get beat as often as other games this season. Duke's defense needs to put up some negative-yardage plays to make Army predictable.

QUOTE TO NOTE:
"We've got a laundry list of things we'll start addressing. When you go through a little pain and suffering and agony, it gives you a chance to grow." - Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who had never endured a setback as large as the 49-point margin against Alabama, and it came against his alma mater. In six years as Mississippi's coach, Alabama administered the two most-lopsided losses on Cutcliffe's team.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
Army at Duke, Sept. 25 -- This is a rematch of last year's game, which Duke won 35-19 at West Point, N.Y. The Blue Devils need to win this game in order to post multiple victories in September for the third year in a row.

KEYS TO THE GAME:
Duke will want to slow down its offense and avoid rushing so much that it doesn't take full advantage of its talent. WR Conner Vernon needs to become a primary weapon in the offense. Expect the Blue Devils to find ways to use him after his two-catch, 10-yard performance against Alabama. Army will be one of several teams expected to use a triple-option offense against the Blue Devils, with Navy and Georgia Tech fitting that description as well. After giving up more than 50 points in each of its last two games, the Blue Devils need something positive on that side of the ball to restore confidence. Duke needs to hold an upper hand in time of possession, something that could be a challenge with its pass-oriented offense.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:
WR Donovan Varner -- The 2009 All-ACC selection was slow to the start the season, but the Blue Devils have made efforts to put the ball in his hands. He's coming off a game against Alabama where he made a game-high seven receptions and he also had two carries -- they went for minus-5 yards, but making sure he was involved might have been part of the mission.

CB Ross Cockrell -- He has been picked on at times in the Blue Devils secondary, but he also receives some good marks for being in the right position at times. If he becomes more assertive in situations, he could become an impact player that the Blue Devils need on defense.

LG Brandon Harper -- He's a senior along the offensive front and protecting the quarterback is one of the priorities. Harper will have to recover from the punishment administered by Alabama.

ROSTER REPORT:
--WR Conner Vernon is coming off the least-productive game of his 14-game college career with two catches totaling 10 yards. The number of catches matches his lowest total from 2009, when he made two receptions against Army, which is Duke's next opponent.

--CB Johnny Williams suffered no more than a mild concussion against Alabama, with next-day evaluations proving encouraging. He'll be limited early in game week prior to Army, but there are indications that he might be available by the weekend.

--K Will Snyderwine has been solid through three games, making 6 of 7 field-goal attempts and all 12 of his extra-point kicks. This is relevant because going into the final days before the opener he was considered in a competitive situation for the starting role with K Nick Maggio.


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