Preview: Duke (0-2) vs. VMI (1-1)

After a humiliating 45-0 loss to Virginia Tech last weekend, the Duke Blue Devils play their second straight home game against the Keydets from Virginia Military Institute. VMI suffered a 41-7 blowout loss at the hands of William and Mary last weekend. For a Duke team in search of answers to their subpar play so far this season, this game could not have come at a better time. Let us take a look at how the teams match up.

When Duke has the ball:

Duke will find the path to the endzone a bit less obstructed this weekend. VMI did record a shutout in their opener against Davidson, but gave up 41 the next week. Both opponents on the season were Division 1-AA teams, so the Keydets will be taking a step up in class for this contest. Duke will try to establish the run this weekend, against a defense which gave up over 200 yards on the ground last Saturday. Tailbacks Justin Boyle, Cedric Dargan, and Ronnie Drummer will all see plenty of carries. The Duke passing game has not clicked yet under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien. They have looked lost and out of sync trying to execute the new system. QB Mike Schneider will try to find a rhythm behind a suspect offensive line, and, develop a rapport with his receivers. The VMI defense will be at a big disadvantage in size and speed. The one thing they will do is play tough. Duke needs to match their intensity level; otherwise, scoring points might be more difficult than expected.

Advantage: Duke

When VMI has the ball:

The Keydets are led by QB Jonathan Wilson. He has played reasonably well in the first two contests, completing and impressive 71% of his passes with a couple touchdowns. VMI also has a very tough running back in Sean Mizzer. He is averaging almost 100 yards per game and has scored once on the ground. The offensive line, however, will have all kinds of problems blocking the Duke front 4. Defensive tackles Casey Camero and Brian Sallee have played reasonably well this season against much stiffer competition. Wilson can run a bit if Duke is able to flush him out of the pocket, but his 3 interceptions suggest he is prone to mistakes. The Duke secondary has been disappointing so far in 2005. This is a game to erase the past and make some big plays.

Advantage: Duke

Special teams:

Duke punter Chris Sprague is having a good season so far, averaging better than 40 yards a kick. Unfortunately, the Devils are not covering pints well, dragging the net punting average way down. VMI on the other had, is averaging less than 30 yards net per punt. Duke has a speed and talent advantage overall, but have not been executing on special teams so far. The Devils, however, boast two of the more dangerous return men around in Ronnie Drummer and Chris Davis.

Advantage: Duke

Duke Keys to the Game:

Remember the Playmakers:

To say Duke has played the cards close to the vest this season is an understatement. Duke has spent much of their offensive effort trying to establish a power running game. This week (and every subsequent week), the offense needs to get the ball in the hands of the playmakers and let them make plays. Guys like Ronnie Drummer, Marcus Jones, and Ronnie Elliot have the speed to make people miss tackles in the open field, and score long touchdowns. Duke must get these players the ball out on the perimeter where they are one-on-one with defenders and let them work.

Score Early, Score Often:

Duke would be well-served to not let VMI hang around in this game. The longer they are close on the scoreboard, the more confidence they will have. The Devils should come out and put the pedal to the metal right off the bat. Get three or four scores early and don't let VMI gain any momentum.

No Big Plays:

The Duke defense has played fairly well in stretches this season, especially against the run. Still, however, they have given up way too many big plays through the air. Duke must play solid defense for 3 downs and force VMI to punt. This is a two step operation. First, the defensive line must generate a consistent pass rush. When Duke blitzes, they mist get to the QB quickly. Second, the defensive backs must not allow receivers to get behind them. If both units execute their assignments successfully, VMI will have a long day offensively.

Matchup to Watch: Duke QB vs. VMI defense

Mike Schneider has not played well so far this season. He just has not found a rhythm in the new offense. This week should give him his best opportunity to do so. VMI will not be nearly as big and fast as Virginia Tech or even ECU. If Schneider is allowed to relax and given time to get through his reads, he should have plenty of success this weekend.

Final Analysis:

It is very difficult to assign "Waterloo" status to the third game of the season, but it most certainly applies to Duke this weekend. The Devils have to win this weekend, and win convincingly. VMI is by far the least talented opponent on the Duke schedule. The Devils have the advantage in every phase of the game. They must play with confidence and impose their will on the Keydets. It is difficult to have confidence after a 45-0 loss, but Duke should be able to take their early season frustrations out this week. Expect Duke to move the ball with relative ease. Schneider will throw for over 200 yards, and the backs will run for 200 more. VMI will find Duke's defense to be much tougher than anything they will face this season and will struggle to score.

Final Score:

Duke – 38
VMI - 7

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