After a disappointing loss to start the season, Duke travels to New England this week to take on the Connecticut Huskies. The Huskies won their opening contest in a 52-14 rout over division 1-AA Murray State. The Huskies will show Duke a much more pass-oriented offense, in stark contrast to Navy's option attack. Head Coach Randy Edsall has done wonders at Connecticut in a few short seasons, and the Huskies could be a dark-horse contender for the Big East Conference title. Despite their first game success, Connecticut is a beatable opponent. Lets see how the teams match-up, and what Duke must do to win Saturday.
When Duke has the ball:
Duke will try to carry over the positives from last week, the biggest being the contributions of the running game. Starting tailback Ced Dargan recorded his first career 100-yard effort despite being limited by injuries. He should be ready to go this week, however, and backup Justin Boyle showed he is a capable backup in his first career action.
Ground game notwithstanding, for Duke to be effective on offense, they must throw the ball to win. The Devils will need to score more than 12 points this week, and QB Mike Schneider, the offensive line, and the receivers will need to find a way to make it happen. Senior Chris Dapolito will probably also see some time under center, but if this offense is going to move the ball effectively through the air, Schneider will have to have to carry the load.
Defensively, Connecticut played a solid game in the opener, giving up only 14 points and 161 yards of total offense. It is tough to judge their overall effectiveness, given the caliber of competition they were facing. Still the Huskies stonewalled an opponent they should have. Duke must execute better on offense this week or Connecticut will shut them down.
When Connecticut has the ball:
All eyes will be on senior Dan Orlovsky, who could be the best quarterback the Devils face all year. In his first game, Orlovsky was 19 of 28 for 380 yards and threw for 6 touchdowns. The Duke secondary will surely be challenged, especially with senior CB Kenny Stanford questionable this week after injuring his shoulder in the Navy game. Orlovsky can also scramble a little, but Duke should be most scared of his arm and field vision in the pocket. Wide receiver Jason Williams and tight end Dan Murray are solid pass catchers that Duke will need to keep track of.
The Huskies ran the ball for 142 yards in their opener, however, averaged less than four yards per carry. Sophomore Matt Lawrence had 76 yards on 18 carries in the opener, to go along with four receptions. Keeping him in check will probably be the number two priority for Duke.
Duke keys to the game:
Pass Rush: Orlovsky is a very good quarterback who will pick the Duke defense apart when he is given time. Defensive ends Phillip Alexander and Eli Nichols have the skills to get to the QB. The Duke defensive tackles, Orrin Thompson, Casey Camero, Brian Sallee, and Demetrius Warrick, need to support the ends with inside pressure. Don't be surprised to also see some linebacker and safety blitzes as well. If Duke can force Orlovsky to get rid of the ball before he's ready, Duke might be able for force some mistakes.
Get in the end zone: Duke was able to move the ball in the opener, but was unable to turn that success into points. The Devils will probably need to score 30 points or more this week to come out with a win. The coaching staff must find innovative ways to use the available personnel to put up touchdowns. Tight end Ben Patrick and fullback Andy Roland should be primary targets this week, as they are tough matchups for the Connecticut defense.
Fundamentals: One of the glaring problems for the Devils last week was the breakdown of fundamentals in key spots. Most important of those was tackling. There were several occasions where the defense needed big stops, but did not come through because of missed tackles. If the Devils do not tackle well this week, the defense will be hard-pressed to stop the Huskies' offense.
This will definitely be a different sort of game for the Duke defense. Last week, they had to contend with the option-based ground attack. This week, Connecticut will be throwing the ball all over the field with their star quarterback. Of the two styles, the personnel on the Duke defense matches up better with an aerial attack. The linebackers and defensive linemen are quicker than last year and better in coverage, but not as stout against the run. The strength of this Blue Devil team is their back seven on defense and it will show this week. The Blue Devils will generate a consistent pass rush with multiple blitz packages and pressure by the defensive linemen, and limit Orlovsky's effectiveness.
Despite what the defense will do, Duke will not win this game unless the offense plays significantly better than a week ago. When Duke gets the ball in scoring position, they must score touchdowns. Duke will run the ball effectively this week and move it between the 20s. Until they can get the passing game going, however, it will be a struggle to score points. And that is a recipe for disaster this coming Saturday. Duke will hang with Connecticut for most of the game, but unfortunately will not score enough points to win.
Connecticut - 28