Duke will enter the game against the Citadel looking for the first win of the season. The game couldn't come at a more crucial point as Ted Roof's troops seem to be lacking confidence after four straight losses to open the 2004 campaign. The Bulldogs enter the game coming off two straight losses of their own. After losing to Appalachin State to open the season, they were hammered by Auburn 33-3 last weekend. Again things look promising for the Devils on paper, but as we've learned this season anything can happen between the lines.
When Duke has the ball:
After showing improvement in the first few weeks, the Duke offense has hit some rough patches against Virginia Tech and Maryland. And while it's true that the quality of opponents improved, the Blue Devils haven't helped themselves with key lapses at crucial times.
While the quarterbacking situation has been addressed, the offense needs to establish a running game this week. The key will be if Cedric Dargan is ready to play. If he is, the job of the offense staying on the field becomes much easier. However, even if the junior back isn't ready, the Devils stand a good shot at running on a Bulldog defense that has surrendered 900 yards of total offense in two weeks.
The word out of the Yoh Center this week was one of a single quarterback for most of the game. Most believe it'll be either Mike Schneider or Curt Dukes on Saturday, and both should be able to have some success as long as the Duke offensive line holds up against an undersized Bulldog defensive front. Also the quarterbacks must be willing to throw the ball down field as the Bulldog secondary is vulnerable to the long ball. Ben Patrick is a prime candidate to have a big afternoon. He's bigger than most of Citadel's linebackers and quick enough to make things happen in a big way. Hopefully this will be the weekend the Devils go to him.
When Citadel has the ball:
The Blue Devil defense should get an idea of what the first four opponents have gone up against this weekend. The Bulldog offense has been woeful in the first two games, averaging just 153 yards per contest. Like Duke, the Citadel offense is contengent on establishing a running game and then letting their quarterback try and add what he can.
The ground attack starts with 6-foot-3, 240lbs fullback Nehemiah Broughton who makes his living between the tackles, busting through for anywhere between three and five yards per carry. Already decimated by injury, the Duke defensive front will once again see at least 20 attempts by a powerful back. However, stopping Broughton on first and second down will force the Bulldogs out of their comfort zone and into a passing game where red shirt senior Justin Hardin has completed just 9-of-22 passes on the year for 48 yards. Once again the ball hawking ability of the Blue Devil secondary should be able to yield some turnovers if the Bulldogs are forced to an aerial attack.
Duke Keys to the Game:
Hold the ball -- Against Maryland the Duke offense was on the field for just 18 of the 60 minutes of game time, allowing the defense to be worn down to the tune of nearly 700 yards of total offense. Against the Citadel the Duke offense needs to get some big plays early to establish a tone that not only controls the ball, but also the clock. Simply put, the defense has no depth and long stretches on the field could ultimately spell trouble.
Win the battle of the trenches -- The Blue Devils saw the game against Maryland slip away because they were blown off the line on both sides of the ball. Defensively it meant exposing the linebackers and secondary to either stopping a back from eating up a chunk of yardage, or allowing the opposing quarterbacks time to survey the field and make throws. Offensively it meant Duke's running backs were running into walls of defensive players and the quarterbacks didn't have enough time to take a four step drop, much less survery the field. The big guys have to do more this week.
Capitalize -- It's clear that the offense is going to have trouble putting points on the board this year, and the defense can't always be relied on for stops late in the game. So, in order to off set this, Duke has to score when given the chance. That means the kicking game needs to be solid, and the performance in the red-zone needs to improve as well. Nothing demoralizes a team more than a good drive that comes away with nothing to show for it.
Quite simply, this is a game the Blue Devils must have heading into a bye week. To lose five straight to start the season, including a loss to a I-AA program would be disasterous for a team that had such high hopes entering the season. For three weeks the Devils showed us signs of improvement before getting demoralized in the second half against Maryland. A win this weekend will get things back on the right track.
Against the Citadel, Duke should have the opportunity to score some points and gain some positive yards on the offensive side of the ball. That has to happen as the offensive unit has been anemic to put it nicely. The team must execute this week on both sides of the ball to break into the win coloumn.
The bottom line is that there is really no excuse for this group to even entertain thoughts of an unsuccessful showing on Saturday. The Citadel is no push over, but they are the weakest opponent on the schedule this year, and it's not even close. Duke will come out fired up and ready to perform, as Coach Roof won't allow a team with an 0-4 record to overlook anyone.