REPLACING THE FALLEN
Jela Duncan. Kelby Brown. Braxton Deaver. Brandon Connette. Four of the top players on the 2013 ACC Coastal Division Championship team. One academic casualty, one transfer, and two season ending knee injuries. Certainly turnover happens on a year to year basis, but these were four starters who should have been suiting up against Elon, meaning we got an early look at the depth that’s been recruited and developed over the last few classes.
After sixty minutes of football, it appears as though the depth is there and ready to fill in, and in some cases, exceed last year’s production.
In the offensive backfield Duke relied heavily on third year back Shaquille Powell and senior Josh Snead as the top 1-2 punch. But it was true freshman Shaun Wilson who provided a jolt of electricity, running for 71 yards on just six attempts. Were Duncan in camp, it’s likely Wilson would be redshirting this year. Instead, he looks like the second best back on the team - albeit against one of the weakest opponents the Blue Devils will see.
Under center the starting job is in no danger absent another injury. Anthony Boone isn’t looking over his shoulder, but the two quarterback system could be even more dangerous this season with Thomas Sirk stepping in for the departed Connette. Sirk, who was actually second on the depth chart a season ago before a knee injury, stepped right into game action and impressed. He ran eight times for 55 yards, completed five of seven passes for 40 yards, and scored a pair of touchdowns. It seems as though he has a bit more of the playbook available when it comes to rushing versus passing in the role vacated by Connette.
With the quarterback in capable and steady hands, the loss of Deaver seems to be lessened with the sheer number of options Boone is utilizing. True freshman David Koppenhaver caught a pass in relief of David Reeves’ three receptions. Duke also seemed content to utilize Issac Blakeney as a big, athletic target (much like Deaver) with regularity.
On defense, the loss of Brown seemed to factor in a bit more. His replacement, David Helton, is a multiple time all-conference performer and played well, finishing with five tackles while felling linebackers Deion Williams, and Chris Holmes combined for another eight stops. Duke did give up a lot of yards, but when they needed stops they got them. They stopped Elon cold on nine of the 12 third down conversion chances.
WHOSE SHIRT GOT BURNED
Wilson looks like he could be a major factor as the season progresses with his explosive running style and big play ability. Meanwhile, Saxton was tied for the team lead in tackles from the cornerback position with Muniz just one stop behind.
Carmichael recorded a pair of tackles, while Koppenhaver logged his catch.
NEW BLOOD IN THE BOOTH
Duke’s extremely successful offensive coordinator, Kurt Roper, left the program for Florida after last year. His replacement is Scottie Montgomery who took over play calling duties and acquitted himself well in his first game.
Duke’s offense was balanced (42 passes versus 44 rushing attempts) as was the production (292 yards passing against 275 yards on the ground). A total of 576 yards on offense at a clip of 6.6 yards per play against an opponent who had no answers. A spot of concern, however, could be the third down conversion percentage where Duke earned a new set of downs just three times in 12 attempts. A 25 percent third down percentage will have to improve.
Duke also targeted a number of different players in the passing game as well. 11 players caught 28 passes including all four running backs (one each) and both tight ends (four catches).
- Duke didn’t commit any turnovers, but didn’t force any either
- The Blue Devils forced two sacks and four quarterback hurries against a clearly overmatched opponent. Going forward Duke will need more of a disruptive presence
- Junior punter Will Monday is averaging 51.5 yards per punt after game one.
- Were it not for two later fourth quarter whistles, Duke would have played the season opener without a penalty.
- Five dropped passes on the night.
- The coverage on special teams defense was a sore spot for Coach Cutcliffe as he offered his post game thoughts.