Blue Devils Face Rice On Saturday

Coming off their first victory of the season, the Duke Blue Devils will be at home once again to take on the Rice Owls. Leading the Owls into Wallace Wade Stadium is former Clemson head Ken Hatfield. Rice is coming off a bye week after a horrendous opening loss against Houston. They are looking at this game as a must win, but the Devils will obviously have something to say about that. Lets take a look at the two teams.

When Duke has the ball:

After getting shut out in their first game, the Duke offense played much better a week ago, scoring 29 points against WCU. RB Chris Douglas is the ACC's leading rusher after two games. He seems to be fully healed from his injuries of 2002, and is running with quickness and surprising power. The QB situation is still up in the air. Junior Adam Smith opened the season as the starter. He was, however, completely ineffective against UVA, and was replaced by Mike Schneider. Schneider got the start against WCU, but suffered a concussion in the second quarter. Smith entered the game and played well again. With Schneider cleared to play this weekend, the coaches will have to decide who they want running the team. Whoever plays will be facing a Rice defense that gave up a whopping 48 points against Houston in their opener. The Owls allowed 194 yards rushing, which is not good news facing the prospect of Douglas and the mammoth Duke offensive line. The key will be if Duke can move the ball through the air. The Owls also gave up 246 yards through the air in their opener, so it appears their defense is vulnerable against the pass also. Duke hasn't scored 40+ points since the Navy game last year. Could this be the week that string is broken?

When Rice has the ball:

Rice runs a combination wishbone/flexbone offense. Sr. QB Kyle Herm is questionable for this game, so the Owls might have to go with backup Greg Henderson. Henderson scored both Rice touchdowns against Houston, so he is a capable runner. The Owls, however, are not much of a threat through the air. This seems to be a great match-up for Duke scheme-wise. After not playing well in the opener, Duke held WCU to a ridiculously low 4 yards rushing. It is unlikely that Duke will be able to do the same against Rice, however, the Owls might find it very difficult to sustain drives against a stingy Duke rush defense. This is probably not the defensive opponent that the Owls wanted to see, after struggling in their first game.

Keys to the game:

1. Defensive discipline – Defensing an option football team requires discipline. On each play, every individual defender has an assignment that he carries out. If he plays his assignment, the option will eventually sputter. The option also must be played inside-out. You have to take care of the dive back first, then the QB, and finally the pitchman. Secondary pursuit is also critical. The DL must be able to occupy the blockers so the LBs can run to the ball. Duke definitely has the pieces in place to stop the Rice attack cold. They just need to execute.

2. Score early – The option is a great offense to run if you are ahead, but not so good when playing from behind. It's a time consuming offense that moves the chains, but usually doesn't produce big plays. If Duke can get ahead early and force Rice to play from behind, they will be forced to do things on offense that they normally don't do. Rice only threw for 36 yards in their opener. Its no secret that they use the pass to keep defenses honest when playing the option. If they are forced to pass as a way of moving the ball, their goose is cooked.

3. Kick the ball – Duke's kicking game has been horrific this year. With Brent Garber questionable for this game, the kicking duties will likely fall to either walk-on Matt Brooks or true freshman Alex Feinberg. Whoever plays must make extra points and get decent depth on their kickoffs. Field position is key when playing an option team. The shorter the field they have to work with, the more points they will score. Duke must force them to drive 70-80 yards to the endzone rather than 50-60 yards.

Final Analysis:

This is another pivotal game for the 2003 Duke Blue Devils. Rice is not a very good football team. If Duke is really going to contend for a bowl berth, this is a game they should win convincingly. Duke was dominant at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball last week, but that was against a division 1-AA team. This week, the Devils will face a 1-A team. Rice will not be as easy to push around in the lines, however, their style of offense seems to play right into Duke's hands. Regardless of who lines up under center, the Devils must get their passing game going this week. Opposing defenses are able to put extra men in the box because of our inability (unwillingness?) to attack downfield through the air. Look for Chris Douglas to have a big day on the ground, and Khary Sharpe to do some real damage at wideout this week. Rice will be unable to consistently move the ball against the Duke defense. I think the Devils are due for a break out offensive performance.

Final Score: Duke - 34 Rice -10

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