It’s the annual Bull City Classic game between Duke and North Carolina Central with the Blue Devils looking to take care of business and open the season 1-0. The Eagles enter the game after posting an 8-3 overall record in 2015 - the most wins as a NCAA Division I-FCS program.
Here are five players who may ask big questions of the Duke offensive and defense at various times throughout the game.
1. QB Malcolm Bell (6-1, 190, R-Sr.): Bell struggled last season against the Duke defense which was able to apply early pressure and jam his receivers at the line and cover them down field. Following that first game, however, Bell had quite a season. In 11 starts he posted nearly 1,600 yards passing and another 509 yards on the ground. Bell ended up accounting for 13 total touchdowns as a junior. Now, in his senior season, he’s moving up the Eagles’ all-time lists. He ranks eighth all-time in program history in passing yards and sixth in total yards. He needs 91 passing yards to become the seventh Eagle quarterback with 4,000 passing yards and 162 yards of total offense to become the sixth NCCU student-athlete with 5,000 yards of total offense.
2015 vs. Duke: 12-of-24 for 127 yards; 8 rushes for 19 yards.
2. LB Reggie Hunter (6-0, 225, R-Jr.): Hunter is one of the top returning tackler for the Eagle defense with 48 tackles including 6.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in 2015. Hunter started twice a season ago and has moved into the full time gig at middle linebacker now. Perhaps his best game in 2015 came against Duke when he recorded 8 stops in the loss.
2015 vs. Duke: Eight tackles
3. DT Darius Spruill (6-3, 280, R-Sr.): The top returning interior defensive lineman for the Eagles, Spruill was second on the team with 5.0 sacks a season ago. Overall he recorded 27 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss and forced two fumbles. Duke did a very good job against Spruill (and the entire Eagle defensive front) in 2015, holding him to four stops and nothing in the backfield. In fact, as a whole, Duke surrendered just four stops behind the line, and none for more than two yards. There are some depth questions for the Blue Devils on both lines, and Spruill and line-mate Antonio Brown (DE) may ask some questions, but are unlikely to cause Duke QB Daniel Jones extended periods of distress.
2015 v. Duke: Four tackles.
4. RB Dorrel McClain (5-10, 190, R-So.): The team’s top returning running back, McClain rushed for a team-best 958 yards (5.6 avg.) and 8 TDs a season ago. He also factors into the passing game, hauling in 13 receptions for 171 yards and 1 TD as a redshirt freshman. Most of that production, however, was done in the last 10 games of the season in which McClain averaged over 91 yards per game on the ground. Against Duke, however, McClain was routinely run down before breaking into space for big gains.
2015 v. Duke: Nine carries for 37 yards with a long of 10 yards.
5. WR LaVontis Smith (5-10, 170, Sr.): Smith was the favorite target of QB Malcolm Bell a season ago and recorded a team high 34 receptions for 372 yards and one touchdown. He’s also the team’s top big play threat at special teams, averaging just under 18 yards per punt return and taking two back for touchdowns. As with most of the Eagle offense, Smith struggled mightily against Duke catching only two passes for 22 yards. Smith will also handle the kick off return duties for Central.
2015 v. Duke: Two receptions for 22 yards.