Duke has a gigantic question mark under center for this week. Starting QB Mike Schneider was pulled early from last week's loss after struggling early, and did not return. True Freshman Zack Asack took the majority of the remaining snaps. While he did throw a few interceptions, he has been responsible for all of Duke's throwing scores this season, and was easily the most effective of the QBs in moving the offense against the Cavaliers. Ted Roof has shown loyalty to his elder statesmen the last few weeks, but with the offense struggling so much and Asack promising performance, it seems likely that the freshman will get the nod this week.
Whoever is throwing the ball will need a solid performance out of the wide receivers. The unit as a whole struggled last week, especially in getting off jams at the line of scrimmage by the defensive backs. The most electric player on the outside, Marcus Jones, did not record a catch against UVA. The Navy corners are tough and disciplined, but do not have the top-flight athleticism to be able to cover the bigger Duke receivers such as Jones and Jomar Wright. Expect the Middies to play lots of zone, especially on passing downs. If Duke is serious about moving the ball, they will also make a concerted effort to look for the tight end. Both Andy Roland and Ben Patrick will be big mismatches for the Navy linebackers and safeties. Despite the matchup advantages for the Devils, the unsettled QB situation has prevented the passing game from enjoying even modest success so far in 2005.
The running backs should find some holes this week. Navy's 3-4 defensive front is undersized, and the Duke offensive line should be able to open some holes. Justin Boyle, Cedric Dargan and Ronnie Drummer will most likely split the carries. One player to watch out for is true freshman Re'Quan Boyette. In limited action, he has shown to be a very capable back, with the strength to break tackles and the speed to run by defenders. Expect Navy to crowd the line of scrimmage with eight and sometimes even nine defenders and dare the Devils to beat them with the pass. Still, the middies have allowed an average of 32 points per game in their first two contests. Duke should be able to score some points.
When Navy has the ball:
When Navy comes to town, you know what their offense is doing: Option, option, and option. The Middies are one of the nations' best team running this offense. After two contests, they are averaging over 400 yards per game of offense. The driver of this well-oiled machine is quarterback Lamar Owens. He has accounted for over half of Navy's offense this season, rushing for over 100 yards in the season opener, and passing for almost 200 yards in their second contest. The key to stopping the Navy attack is to stop Owens, which is much easier said than done.
Of course, the Middies can move the ball through the air, as evidenced by their 172.5 yard-per-game average through the air. Still, if they are forced to pass the ball, the advantage tilts in Duke's favor. Their offense is designed to control the ball with the run, and keep the defense honest with the pass. When the Middies are put into predictable passing situations, they are not difficult to defend. Despite giving up 30 points per game, the Duke run-defense has been solid so far this year. They are only allowing 3.1 yards per rush, and 117 yards per game on the ground.
Since slowing down the option is top priority this week, the Duke defensive line will need to play a stellar game. Running the option becomes very difficult if the defensive linemen can get off their blocks quickly. While the Duke defense isn't very bulky, they are athletic and out-size the Navy offensive line. They have to be conscious of cut-blocks and use their hands to ward off the linemen around their knees. At the second level, the linebackers must stick to their assignments. The option's success is predicated on the defense not executing their assignments properly.
Coming into the season, the special teams appeared to be a strength of the Blue Devil team. It has, however, turned into a comedy of error. The coaching staff must find a way to get these units to play better. In every contest, special teams mistakes have led directly to opponent's scores. That is unacceptable in one game, let alone four. Whether its poor kick coverage, fumbled punt returns, or bad kickoff return decisions, Duke has stumbled badly in this phase of the game. The kickers, who were considered question marks at the beginning of the year, have been the most consistent part of the special teams.
Duke Keys to the Game (Movie Titles):
"Over The Top" – Duke has played the run fairly successfully this season, but has been burned badly by the deep pass. Navy is adept at sucking you up with the run and then throwing over the top with a deep ball. Duke must not allow Navy to get easy points with a long pass.
"Eyes Wide Shut" – To say the Blue Devil passing attack is anemic would be a gross understatement. The difficulties mainly lie at the feet of the quarterbacks; they have done a very poor job of seeing the field and making the proper reads. Duke will need to score points this weekend, and to do so, the Duke QB must open their eyes and find open receivers.
"Confidence" – Duke needs to play like they expect to win. Indecision and doubt have caused Duke to make mental mistakes. Just go out and play hard and the results will take care of themselves.
There is no question that Navy will move the ball and score points. Can Duke match Navy's offensive output? Right now, that is in serious doubt. The Middies play hard, but they are not a good defensive team. They are giving up more than 30 points per game this season and can be scored upon. Duke will try and run the ball (again), and Navy will stack the line to force the Devils to beat them passing. It will be up to the Duke QB (whoever that is) to get the ball in the hands of the right receiver at the right time. Duke has the talent to win this game, but don't seem to know how to get it done these days.
The Blue Devil defense will prove to be a tougher opponent than most think. Navy still will run the ball and get their 200+ yards on the ground. Unfortunately, Duke will give Navy an easy touchdown through the air, and Navy will score a few TDs on a short field caused by either the offense or special teams. It will be a close contest, but Navy will make two or three more plays than Duke, and that will be the difference.
Navy – 31
Duke – 17