Previewing Duke vs. #18 Tennessee

The Blue Devils will go into battle against the Tennessee Saturday in Knoxville. There Duke will not only have to contend with the nationally ranked Volunteers, but also the nearly 100,000 fans that will pack themselves into Neyland Stadium. <i>TheDevilsDen.com</i> takes a look at what has to happen for Duke to compete.

Overview:

Duke steps out of conference this week and travels to Knoxville to take on the Tennessee Volunteers. Tennessee is currently in 2nd place in the SEC East, with a 5-2 overall record. Their last contest, a thrilling 5-OT victory over Alabama, broke a 2-game losing skid. With Miami looming next Saturday, the Vols can ill afford a slip-up against the underdog Blue Devils. Lets see how the teams match up.

When Duke has the ball:

After only one week of the Ted Roof era at Duke, the Devils have a completely new identity on offense. Former headman Carl Franks preferred a 4-wide, shotgun passing offense. With Roof at the helm, the Devils showed a multitude of formations and emphasized the run. RB Chris Douglas will be looking for a second straight 100-yard game. With Alex Wade recovering from injury, Douglas will most likely receive the bulk of the Blue Devil carries. Starting QB Mike Schneider sat out last week's game against NC State with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, but will most likely play this week. If for some reason he cannot go, backups Adam Smith and Chris Dapolito will be called on to lead the offense. Wide receivers Khary Sharpe and Reggie Love must become bigger factors in the offense if the Blue Devils hope to stay with the Vols. Tennesse is giving up an average of 24. 6 points per game, which indicates they can be scored upon. The Vols are currently rated 55th in the nation in total defense, and 67th against the run. This seems to bode well for new-look Devil offense. Don't underestimate the athletes that the Vols have. Their overall team speed is superior to the Devils. The one saving grace is Duke has already played a few teams (FSU, NC State) with comparable or superior speed to Tennessee. They should be somewhat adjusted.

When Tennessee has the ball:

The Tennessee offense is multi-faceted, led by QB Casey Clausen. He can be very effective at times, but has struggled with consistency in his career. The Vols are struggling with injuries especially at running back. Starter Cedric Houston will not play this weekend. That means the running chores will fall to backups Jabari Davis, Corey Larkins, and true freshman Gerald Riggs, Jr., son of longtime Atlanta Falcon Gerald Riggs. All of the backups have enough skill to cause problems for the Duke defense. The front 7 for the Devils showed marked improvement against NC State, holding them to 56 yards rushing. As effective as Duke was stopping State on the ground, they were equally ineffective against the pass, giving up 369 yards through the air. Tennessee has the same type of quality athletes on the perimeter, so the Devils must find a way to slow the Volunteer passing attack. Otherwise, there will be points a plenty for the men in orange.

Duke keys to the game:

1. Pressure on Clausen – Duke was ineffective at generating QB pressure this past weekend. They must do a better job, otherwise Casey Clausen will get comfortable in the pocket, and pick the Blue Devil secondary apart. If the rush can get in his face and force hurried decisions, Clausen will make mistakes.

2. Handle the Crowd – The only place in the ACC that is remotely close to Neyland Stadium in size is Death Valley in Clemson. All of those screaming Tennessee fans can unnerve even the coolest customers. Duke must find a way to not let the crowd bother their offensive execution. As a visiting opponent, the best way to quiet a crowd is to run the ball effectively. With Chris Douglas, Alex Wade, and a big offensive line, Duke might be able to do just that.

3. Take advantage – Duke had its chances to win this past week, but made some silly mistakes in key situations that kept points off the board. Things like fumbling the QB snap can really demoralize a team quickly. Duke cannot afford to make these mistakes. Duke must also take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself. Scoring touchdowns is a must to win this game. Tennessee will score points, and Duke must keep pace to stay close.

Final Analysis:

This matchup is definitely a tall order for the new-look Blue Devils. Head coach Ted Roof must show the same innovation and creativity with the game plan as he showed against NC State for Duke to have a chance. The difference this week must be the execution. A few big plays will be needed for Duke to have a chance. In the end, the coaches can draw up and design all the plays they want, but the players make the plays. One or two 50+ yard scores would really help the Duke cause. The speed is there, the plays just needs to happen now. Someone has to step up and break loose for Duke to shock the world. Tennessee is not nearly as good as they were even 2 years ago. They are, however, battle tested against tough SEC competition. They have an edge and swagger in their play that Duke doesn't see from anyone on their schedule outside of Florida State. If Duke is to compete this week, they must execute the game play flawlessly and score some easy points.

Duke will run the ball somewhat effectively against the Tennessee defense, but will struggle throwing the ball. Special teams coverage will give Tennessee long fields to work with, and they will struggle to score early. The Vols, however, will eventually get a big play that will open the floodgates for a few quick scores. Duke will give Tennessee fans a much tougher homecoming game than they want, but the Vols talent and depth will eventually win out over the gutty Blue Devil squad.

Final Score:

Tennessee - 41
Duke - 21

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