The Duke Blue Devils open the 2004 home slate with a game this Saturday against conference foe Maryland. After opening the season with wins over Northern Illinois and Temple, the 23rd ranked Terrapins suffered a heartbreaking 19-16 loss to West Virginia in which they missed a field goal near the end of regulation to take the lead. Still, the Terps are a formidable opponent for Duke, and will provide all kinds of challenges the Devils will need to overcome to record their first victory of the season. Lets see how the teams match up.
When Duke has the ball:
Duke has had an awful time sustaining drives this season. They will once again be challenged, as the Maryland defense is not chopped liver. In their overtime lost last week, the Terps gave up only 19 points (6 in the extra frame) to the top-10 Mountaineers. MLB D'Qwell Jackson is the 3rd leading tackler in the ACC, and, cornerback Dominique Foxworth is an excellent cover man that will make life difficult for the Devils through the air.
Despite their two outstanding players, however, Maryland is not invincible on defense. They are giving up 345 yards and 20.3 points per game through three contests. The run defense has been their weak spot, giving up 165 yards per game on the ground. The key for the Devils, of course, is throwing the ball effectively enough so that Maryland does not walk eight and nine men in to the box to stop the run. The good news is the offense will not be nearly as short-handed as last week. Starting running back Cedric Dargan and starting wide receivers Senterrio Landrum and Deonto McCormick as well as quarterback Mike Schneider should all be ready to play this weekend. This will give the Devils many more options than last week when all of these players sat out with injuries. The return of these players should buoy the offense to a better showing this week
When Maryland has the ball:
Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen has lit up Duke since taking over the program. The Devils have allowed an average of over 45 points per game in the three contests against the Friedgen-led Terps. The strength of the team is the offensive line, led by all-American candidate guard C.J. Brooks.
Quarterback Joel Statham is progressing during his initial season as the Maryland signal-caller. He has big-play receiver and punt returner extraordinaire Steve Suter, as well as Derek Fenner and Jo-Jo Walker at his disposal. Statham has shown his inexperience, however, by throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. He has plenty of help in the backfield though, as Maryland has two running backs capable of carrying the load in Josh Allen and Sammy Maldonado. Both are in the ACC's top 10 in rushing.
The Duke defense will need to force Maryland to win the game through the air. Duke will also get 3-year starting cornerback Kenny Stanford back for this weekend. He, along with CB John Talley and safeties Brian Greene and Alex Green should be able to give the Maryland receivers a run for their money.
Duke keys to the game:
Contain "Thunder" and "Lightning": Maryland running backs Sammy Maldonado and Josh Allen have contrasting running styles. Allen is a darter with breakaway speed and shifty moves. Maldonado is a bullish figure that can use his 230-plus pounds to create holes where they are none. Either player can carry the rushing load for the Terps. Duke must hold Maryland to under their 196 yard-per-game average to have a chance in this one.
Touchdown, touchdown, touchdown! To say the Duke offense has struggled this season would be an understatement. The Devils are last or next to last in nearly every ACC offensive category. The rushing game is only producing 2.9 yards per carry, and the 6 consecutive 3-and-outs they produced in the Virginia Tech game is downright embarrassing.
This week, Blue Devil QB Curt Dukes will probably see his most extensive action yet under center. He can put lots of pressure on a defense with his rushing ability. He showed and erratic arm in limited action last Saturday, but made things happen by throwing the ball down the field. The Devils must find a way to score a minimum of 3 offensive touchdowns. If this happens, and the defense or special teams can produce a score, Duke will be in position to pull the upset.
Time of Possession: The Duke defense does not have impressive statistics to date. Watching them on film, however, shows a team that is somewhat better than the numbers suggest. For the most part, the Devils have done a good job limiting big plays, and have created a few of their own. Depth, however, is minimal and they can get worn down over the course of a game.
On the other hand, the Duke offense has done a horrific job of sustaining drives and keeping the defense off the field. Needless to say, the combination of a defense with little depth and an offense that can't control the clock is disastrous. Even if they don't score, the offense must sustain drives for 7-8 plays at a time, rather than going 3-and-out. Keeping the defense rested is the key to stopping Maryland's offense for 60 minutes.
This game boils down to one conclusion. If Duke's offense performs like it did a week ago, Maryland will win easily. That might be a lot of pressure to place on the hands of one unit, but the lack of execution on offense is the biggest reason why Duke is 0-3. To avoid a fourth straight loss, the offense has to control the clock, and with the defense, win the time of possession battle. Duke will get a lift from the six players returning from injury this week. Cedric Dargan should be a big part of the Devils' offensive plan and will probably receive 20-plus carries. Of course, he will not find much success unless Duke can pass the ball. Otherwise, Maryland will put more defenders in the box that Duke has blockers. With that defensive alignment, running the ball becomes very difficult.
On defense, Duke must help the offense all it can by creating some turnovers and forcing some 3-and-outs of their own. Unfortunately for Duke, Maryland has a knack for sustaining drives on offense, even when they struggle to score points. Expect Steve Suter to play a big role in the game, scoring on a long TD pass or a punt return. Duke will probably give up about 400 yards of offense to the Terps, which will be slightly too much for the offense to make up. Curt Dukes will make a big difference in the tempo and productivity of the offense, but in the end, Maryland will have just a bit too much. The Devils will have to wait for another week to taste victory.
Maryland – 27
Duke – 17