Previewing Duke vs. Western Carolina

After last Saturday's debacle, the Duke Blue Devils will try and crack the win column for the first time of the 2003 against the Western Carolina Catamounts. The Cats were soundly defeated in the opener, a 59-20 loss to #14 NC State. Despite the large margin of victory, the Cats were able to show enough ability in the contest to give the Devils a few causes for concern. Lets take a look at how the teams stack up.

When Duke has the ball:

Duke had an awful time passing the ball against Virginia last Saturday, only gaining 120 yards through the air. Look for the Devils to make a change at QB for this coming week. Redshirt freshman Mike Schneider will most likely get the call, given his solid performance in relief last week. Schneider will face a Catamount defense that allowed 34-39 passing for 403 yards last week. The Cats normally employ a loose-zone coverage, which limits big plays but opens them up for short passes. The Duke skill people should have no problems getting open against this sort of defense. The Cat front 7 will be at a disadvantage when facing the Duke offensive line. Based on last week's performance on offense, don't be surprised to see WCU try to stack the line and force the Devils to beat them downfield a few times.

When WCU has the ball:

The Catamounts like to spread the defense out and throw the ball. QB Brian Gaither was 20-37 for 173 yards and a TD against a very good NC State secondary. The WCU offensive line did a great job in pass protection as well, not allowing any sacks. Duke must be able to get some pressure on Gaither and force him to rush his throws. WR Michael Reeder caught a team-high 9 receptions for 132 yards and a TD. Duke will need to tackle much better than they did Saturday night, or this type of offense could cause some real damage. WCU does not pose much of a threat on the ground, but considering they were trailing most of last Saturday's game, they might have some wrinkles that have not been exposed.

Keys to the game:

1. QB pressure – Duke was only able to register 1 sack versus UVA while the Catamount offensive line was able to hold the NC State defense sack-less. The Devils must find a way to get into the backfield and disrupt the timing of the WCU passing game.

2. Pass the ball – Duke can run the ball, even against really good teams who stack the line, like UVA. The Devils cannot, however, afford another passing performance like they had on Saturday. With Mike Schneider under center, the Devils will have more of a vertical attack. Against WCU though, Schneider will need to be selective about the long ball. Their defense is designed to take away the big play. If Schneider makes the proper reads and takes what the defense gives him, he should be just fine. If WCU patterns their defense after what UVA did to the Devils and stacks the line, Schneider will have to hit the downfield receivers.

Final Analysis:

Western Carolina will not roll over and play dead for Duke. They see this as a chance to knock of an ACC team (albeit a bad one recently), and make a name for itself on the 1-AA level. The Catamounts did not play scared against a very good NC State team and they will probably smell blood in the water after watching the tapes of an inept Duke performance this past Saturday.

With only one game in the books, there is already a sense of urgency surrounding the Duke football program. Most (myself included) were expecting much more out of this team against Virginia. The Cavaliers showed the Duke fans that the Devils couldn't just show up and expect to compete. I think a different team will take the field this coming weekend. The Duke seniors will not let this team suffer the same fate as the ones they have seen these past 3 years. Duke will come out fired up and ready to play. They will also welcome back WR Khary Sharpe and DB Temo George after a one game suspension, and Alex Wade from injury. The Devil defense will limit the WCU passing attack and they will tackle better. The offense will run the ball and force the Catamounts to bring extra men in the box. That will open up the passing lanes for Schneider, who will take advantage.

Final Score: Duke - 38 WCU– 17

Blue Devil Digest Top Stories