Previewing Duke v. Navy

The Blue Devils kick off against the Midshipmen on Saturday afternoon looking for their second victory of the season.

There is a misconception about Duke's offense. Just because the Blue Devils like to throw the ball in large doses doesn't mean they're a free-wheeling unit.

Sometimes, that's a reminder coach David Cutcliffe must give his team.

While much of the precision that was evident in the passing attack during the first couple of games has subsided, the Blue Devils must be careful not to stray from their plans. That has been a problem, resulting in turnovers that have turned directly into points for their opponents.

Quarterback Sean Renfree has completed 30 of his last 70 passes, with six interceptions and no touchdowns in that two-game span.

"When you let go of the ball, you sign it," Cutcliffe said of the responsibility placed on the quarterback. "He's not a gunslinger, and he started to play a little more like a gunslinger. He's well aware that he let it get the best of him."

The gunslinger mentality doesn't fit Renfree's makeup because he's described as a player who carefully studies his tendencies. But the Blue Devils can't afford to stray from their pass-oriented offense because they need success in that area so that Renfree and his teammates on the offense can regain some of the confidence that has been lost.

--This week's game at Navy marks the fourth of five road games for Duke this year. This is the second time the Blue Devils will visit the state of Maryland.

--Duke scored a season-high 48 points in a 54-48 loss Sept. 11 at Wake Forest in its first ACC game this year. In three conference games since then, the Blue Devils have compiled a total of 36 points.

--The Blue Devils haven't gone to a quarterback rotation or a platoon situation, but it appears QB Brandon Connette, who has basically been a designated running option in the offense, could receive more playing time. Coach David Cutcliffe said Connette and QB Sean Renfree both will continue to receive playing time. "I think you're going to see some form of that," Cutcliffe said.

SERIES HISTORY: Navy leads Duke 20-13-5 (last meeting, 2008, 41-31 Duke).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Blue Devils haven't accomplished much with the ball during the past couple of games, and it has come with problems on the ground and in the air. In their most recent game, they managed 92 rushing yards and 116 passing yards in a loss at Virginia Tech. The completion percentage for two quarterbacks was at 33.3 percent (12-for-36). The Blue Devils intend to stick with QB Sean Renfree as the primary quarterback, and they're searching for ways to get him untracked again.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Blue Devils haven't had a lot of production from linemen, and that's a concern when going up against Navy's triple-option offense. It remains to be seen whether the Blue Devils can be physical enough to make a difference. But there's little evidence that there's enough strength along the front to sustain a defensive effort against a team that might pound away at them.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "One or two plays go against you early seems to be our season." -- Coach David Cutcliffe, whose team has been outscored by a cumulative score of 66-44 in the first quarter of games this year and by 96-50 in the second quarter of games.


THIS WEEK'S GAME: Duke at Navy, Oct. 30 -- Despite results from the past few weeks, this could be a relatively even game in some respects if the Blue Devils can snap out of their offensive doldrums. Both teams played earlier this season at Wake Forest, with Duke suffering a narrow loss and Navy pulling out a victory with the go-ahead points in the final minute, so given that comparison, there's reason for hope for Duke. The Blue Devils will have to contend with Navy's triple-option offense, but that could be good preparation for a trip to Georgia Tech a couple of weeks later.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Duke's offense will need to be more efficient, particularly if Navy's run-based offense is effective because it could reduce the normal number of possessions that the Blue Devils have during the game. Duke seemed overmatched in some areas a few weeks ago against Army, so without some improvements, the Blue Devils could fall victim to another disciplined team.

LB Abraham Kromah -- He has double-figure totals for tackles in four consecutive games, reaching that mark in the first half against Virginia Tech. In the game, he also recorded the Blue Devils' only sack during a four-game stretch.

DT Sydney Sarmiento -- He has been more active as he gains experience, and against Virginia Tech he forced a fumble. The Blue Devils will need to have resistance in the middle of the line against Navy's rushing attack.

RB Juwan Thompson -- He's receiving some time in the backfield depending on situations, but his immediate value could come as a kick returner. The Blue Devils like his potential for making key plays on special teams.

--TE Brett Huffman, in his first game back on the field, re-injured the knee that forced him to miss four games earlier this season. That has put his status back in question heading toward the game against Navy.

--RB Josh Snead is dealing with a shoulder injury that he sustained against Virginia Tech. He's playing as a true freshman, so keeping him available to play is crucial to his development.

--WR Austin Kelly was held without a catch against Virginia Tech, ending a stretch of 18 consecutive games in which he had at least two receptions for the Blue Devils.

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