Previewing Duke vs. NC State

Last time the Duke football program dismissed a coach midseason, the Blue Devils went out in the next game and beat North Carolina State. Newly appointed interim head coach Ted Roof is hoping for hisotry to repeat itself as he takes the reigns from the departed Carl Franks. TDD runs down the big matchup from Saturday.


The Duke Blue Devils look to break their 30 game ACC-losing streak this weekend, as they take on the North Carolina State Wolfpack. State has had a disappointing season to date, their faint preseason national title hopes dashes by 3 losses in their first 6 games. With 2 losses in conference, they are looking to ensure themselves a good bowl this postseason, and can ill afford a slip-up against the Devils. Lets see how the teams match up.

When Duke has the ball:

Quite frankly, I don't know what to expect here. With this past week's dismissal of head coach Carl Franks, Duke might be in for an offensive overhaul this week. Most of the season, the Devils have been running a 4-wide shotgun as their base formation. With Franks out of the picture, will we see a return to a more traditional, under-center type of offense? The Devils do have the horses to expose the State defensive front. With an average OL weight of 315 lbs per man, Duke can overpower the State defensive line. The State defense is very young up front, and is vulnerable to power rushing attacks. RB Alex Wade could be the key here. His 255-pound rock-solid frame will be a difficult challenge for the State defenders. While the State defense is shaky up front, the back 7 are very fast and talented. It will be tough for Duke to run a spread offense against the speedy Pack.

When State has the ball:

The key to all State's fortunes lies in the ACC's all-time leading passer Philip Rivers. He has an ugly throwing motion, but he gets the ball where it needs to be and gets it there on time. His accuracy gives the State receivers the opportunity to run after the catch. With their athletes at WR, State is a threat to score every time the ball goes in the air. The Duke pass defense must keep the State receivers in front of them, and make the tackles quickly after the ball is caught. The Duke defense will catch a break this week, as sensational State RB T.A. McClendon will not play. When he is in the game, State is really tough to slow down on offense. Just like the defense, however, the weakness in the State offense is on the line. The Wolfpack offensive line has played most of the season without their top guy, LT Chris Colmer. They have also suffered other injuries along the front that has limited the unit's effectiveness. This is a statement game for the Duke defense. They were absolutely embarrassed by Wake Forest, and now face an explosive State offense that can score points in bunches. They must maintain a high level of intensity and discipline to slow down the State offense.

Duke keys to the game:

1. Tackling – NC State probably has the second-best set of skill players in the conference (behind FSU), especially at WR. Guys like Jerrico Cotchery and Tramain Hall can turn a 5-yard pass into a 50-yard gain. Duke absolutely must tackle well, especially in the secondary. State is a big play offense, and are vulnerable if the big plays aren't happening. The easiest way to get a big play is to break a tackle, so Duke must not miss. Otherwise, the points could come quickly for State

2. Complete passes – The NC State defensive backs are good athletes that can cover. Despite this athleticism, they have struggled in pass coverage, mostly because of the defensive front and their inability to generate a pass rush. Duke will have receivers open. QB Mike Schneider is a game-time decision with a shoulder injury. Whoever is taking snaps under center must find the open receiver. State will blitz a lot, especially against Duke since the Devil QBs have not been finding their "hot" receivers very often when the blitz comes. If the right decisions are made quickly, however, the State defense will be exposed for the big play.

3. Play to your strengths – Duke has spent the year trying to fit a round peg in a square hole on offense. The massive Duke offensive line has been trying to pass protect in the shotgun formation. This nullifies their greatest advantage, size. Duke should stop trying to be cute with the shotgun and start playing some power football. Get the QB under center and start using your 3 ACC-quality tight ends more. Let the offensive line fire out and get their big bodies on people, rather than catch-blocking people on their heels out of the shotgun. With Carl Franks and his "fun ‘n gun" style offensive philosophy out of the picture, will there be more power football out of the Blue Devils? I think so.

Final Analysis:

The NC State coaching staff is caught in somewhat of a pickle leading up to this game. With the Franks departure, the helpfulness of the offensive (pun intended) game film from the Blue Devils comes into serious question. Surely, they will use most of the same offense that they have been using for most of the season, right? This scribe does not think so. The Duke defense shouldn't change much personnel or scheme-wise. The difference will be in the intensity. Interim head coach Ted Roof is a fiery, emotional coach who should bring a lot more enthusiasm and energy to the sidelines than his predecessor. Many times this year, Duke has run out of the tunnel uninspired, and it has shown itself on the field. I do not think that will be the case this week. Based on feedback from fans this week, I also think there might be a bit more blue in the stands than people think. The fan base seems to be somewhat re-invigorated by the mid-season change.

As for the game, the biggest challenge I see on the Duke side is scoring enough points to keep up with State. No matter how well Duke plays on defense, State will score. The key is, whether or not the Duke offense can wake up out of its year-long coma and put it in the endzone more than once per game. This is the game to do it. Despite playing a great game against Clemson, the State defense is vulnerable and can be scored upon in bunches. I think Duke will have one best offensive games of the season. They will control the line of scrimmage with the offensive line and successfully run the ball. The players really like coach Roof, and I think they will feed off of his energy and give State a good fight. Unfortunately, I don't think it will not be enough. State will just score too many points for Duke. The Ted Roof era will get off to a losing start, albeit an exiting one.

Final Score:

State - 38 Duke – 27

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