Notebook: Duke v. Florida International

Duke opens the 2012 season on Saturday evening against the FIU Panthers at 7:00 PM. The Blue Devils will be looking to start the season on a high note as they look to snap a streak of seasons without a post-season appearance.

Game 1 v. Florida International University
Where: Durham, NC - Wallace Wade Stadium
When: Sept. 1, 2012 7:00 PM EST

Head coach David Cutcliffe has said at least nine true freshmen will see action on the field Saturday evening.

"We're going to have Ross Martin start as our place kicker, and then on defense we're going to have guys playing in various roles either on defense or special teams. Dwayne Norman, Corbin McCarthey, Carlos Wray, and Dieon Williams will all play this weekend. On offense, we're going to have Erich Schneider, Max McCaffrey, Jela Duncan, and Shaquille Powell in there."

The inclusion of Powell and Duncan may, perhaps, explain the move of senior Desmond Scott to wide recover. What wasn't unexpected was the placement of Martin who has been called one of the steadiest players Cutcliffe has every coached on special teams.

"He's been significant in his approach. He's been really good. Our squad has to realize that he's still a freshman. I told our guys they have to support him. He's playing a position where it's impossible to be perfect. That being said, I have never had any who have that have been better in their ability to be focused in their practice. There's a purpose in everything they do. My team and myself will live with ever the results will be there, but with Ross there's going to be a lot more good than bad."

For years the Duke offense has been thought of as a pass first, second, and third operation. This year, with an experienced offensive line and a number of talented backs, Cutcliffe says his team is ready to run as well as pass.

Duke adds Powell and Duncan to the depth chart and both backs are expected to play after being two of the four highest rated commits from the class of 2012.

"It's the best stable of backs since I've been here. I'm anxious to see how they do."

That stable begins with Juwan Thompson.The 5-11, 225-pound native of Fairburn, Ga., has rushed 135 times in his career for 544 yards, good for a 4.03 yards per rush. Thompson led Duke with seven rushing touchdowns in 2011 and scored multiple times in three games. He was Duke's most heavily used back as a sopho- more, rushing a team-high 110 times for 457 yards.

Thompson will team with Josh Snead, who returns after missing all of 2011 with a leg injury. Snead averaged 4.91 yards per rush as a freshman, running for 221 yards and one touchdown on 45 carries.

The Blue Devils return four of five starters from 2011, with the fifth starter, Takoby Cofield, having played extensively in his three year stint in Durham. In 2011 the offensive line allowed just one sack for every 27 pass attempts. The Blue Devils were third best in the ACC in sack to pass ratios, and excluding two games against Stanford and Florida State, Duke gave up an average of 0.80 sacks per game or 8 sacks on 411 pass attempts.

Head coach Mario Cristobal says his FIU squad is ready to face the explosive Blue Devil offense, but he's cautious as well…

"We didn't have too much success against them last year," said Cristobal. "We have put some wrinkles into our offense. But I'm sure they've done the same thing."

Additionally Cristobal has cautioned his team to not be too over-anxious when taking the field against Duke.

"If you're too excited, you may jump early. You may overrun a play," he added. "But us having a good chunk of seniors who have played a lot of football should help."

The Duke defensive line took a hit when Jamal Bruce was lost for a while with a foot injury. The Blue Devils moved Jamal Wallace from defensive end to the inside to fill the gap as the defense looks to continue their improvement of the 2011 season. Last year, nder the new 4-2-5 defensive scheme, Duke improved its run defense by 27.5 yards per game - giving up 180.7 yards on the ground.

Duke will also be without starting linebacker Kelby Brown following offseason knee surgery. Brown led the NCAA with 0.44 fumble recoveries per game as a true freshmanin 2010. He picked up four fumbles that season in just nine games.

Cornerback Jared Boyd will also be out as will linebacker Britton Grier. Projected starting safety Jordon Byas will also miss the opener with a leg injury. Byas was charted as a starter before suffering his injury in training camp. In 35 career games, Byas has 88 career tackles. He had a career-high 40 as a junior in 2011.

Despite the injuries on defense, the Blue Devils do have a number of experienced players highlighting the depth chart. Up front Duke will rely on fourth year junior Sydney Sarmiento and his team-high 23 starts for a defensive lineman. Sarmiento has started every game of his career except for the 2010 season opener as a freshman.

Sarmiento, redshirt senior Kenny Anunike and red- shirt junior Justin Foxx are the veterans of a maturing offensive line that has five redshirt sophomores, two redshirt juniors and one redshirt senior in the rotation. Sarmiento, Anunike and Foxx have combined to play 2,294 snaps and 74 games.

Anunuke, who led the ACC in sacks athrough the first four weeks of the 2011 season before suffering a season-ending knee injury, is back on Duke's defensive front. Anuunike spoke with TDD about his journey back to the starting lineup last week.

This will be Duke's 100th season of football. The program began in the fall of 1888 and the Blue Devils hold an all-time record of 459-483-31 in 99 seasons. In those 99 years, Duke has won 56 times on opening day, including a 2-2 record under head coach David Cutcliffe.

This season begins with 13 scholarship seniors on the roster - the 13th lowest total in the country. One of those seniors, Conner Vernon, is just two receptions away from being the seventh player in ACC history to reach 200 catches.

A season ago played six one-possession games (contests decided by 8 points or less) in 2011 with an average margin of difference of 3.17 points. The six games tied for the sixth most in the nation. The Blue Devils had one-possession wins over Boston College (20-19) and FIU (31-27) and losses to Richmond (23-21), Wake Forest (24-23), Virginia Tech (14-10) and Georgia Tech (38-31).

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