When Duke has the ball:
The offense had been Duke's biggest problem so far in 2005. They have moved the ball well against non-conference opponents, but have only scored 7 points against two tougher league foes in Virginia Tech and Virginia. Miami is definitely in the same category as those two, if not tougher. The Blue Devil offense will have its work cut out for it. Still, there are signs that Duke might be able to make some noise this weekend against the vaunted Hurricane defense. Freshman QB Zack Asack seems to have grabbed hold of the starting job under center. While not possessing the strongest arm on the team, he does a good job reading what the defense is giving him and delivering the ball to the correct receivers. His biggest asset is the ability to make plays with his feet. With Asack in the game, Duke has another running option to add to the offense. He will need some help from his supporting cast, however, and some of those players will be nicked up heading into Saturday. Starting running back Justin Boyle is nursing a hip injury and big-play wide receiver Marcus Jones played sparingly against Navy. Both players are questionable for this weekend. Running backs Cedric Dargan and Re'Quan Boyette will also most likely not play. Duke will also be without their top deep-threat wideout, Jomar Wright, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in Saturday's game. Duke will have to put some fresh faces in the spotlight, such as tailback Ronnie Drummer and wide receiver Eron Riley. Both guys have seen limited action to date, but both have tons of play-making ability.
Whatever Duke's offensive situation will be, they will be facing yet another outstanding ACC defense. Miami has NFL-caliber players throughout the three levels of defense. Up front, Oren Harris and Baraka Atkins are solid against the run, and generate great backfield pressure on passing downs. Roger (Rocky) McIntosh and Jon Beason are the two leading tacklers among the linebackers. The most talented player on the Miami roster is probably the 3rd linebacker, Willie Williams. In the defensive backfield, Brandon Meriweather is making an early push for all-ACC honors with his 34 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and two interceptions. The coverage ability of this unit is outstanding as they lead the conference in pass efficiency defense. Overall, Miami is giving up a paltry 12.5 points per game, and Duke will most assuredly find yards and points difficult to come by.
When Miami has the ball:
The Hurricane offense has actually struggled somewhat this season. The Canes are a middling offense in the ACC so far, averaging only 23.2 points per game. Leading the offense is quarterback Kyle Wright. In his first full season as a starter, Wright is only completing 55% of his passes and has a mere three passing scores. Still, the Hurricanes are dangerous through the air, especially against a team like Duke that doesn't have big speed players on the outside. The starting WR tandem of Kyle Moore and Sinorice Moss are as good as any in the conference. To compliment them, preseason all-ACC TE Greg Olsen is a nightmare matchup for opposing linebackers. The primary rushing option is the multi-talented Tyrone Moss, who averages over 90 yards per game on the ground. Look for Miami to get the ball into others hands on reverses and end-around plays. All-American return man Devin Hester has been known to show up on offense from time to time, and must be accounted for when he is in the game.
The Duke defense has given up a bunch of points this season, but overall has not played poorly most of the season. They have been handicapped by disadvantageous field position and often times have to defend a short field. The Duke defensive line, while not having as much top-end talent as Miami, will probably give the Canes some problems. DE Eli Nichols is having a fine season to date, ranking in the ACC's top-10 in sacks and tackles for loss. DTs Brian Sallee and Casey Camero are good athletes that should be able to wreak havoc on Miami's interior line. The big key will be the tackling of the back-7. The Duke linebackers played very poorly last week against Navy, and this week will surely test their skills. Starting MLB Codey Lowe has not played in 3 weeks because of a high ankle sprain, but will probably return this weekend. His tackling abilities will surely give the Duke run defense a boost. The Duke defensive backs will need to be at the top of their games as well. CB John Talley leads the ACC in interceptions, but the Miami receivers will provide him with a stern test. The rest of the defensive backfield will need to raise their level of play, if Duke is to slow down the skilled Hurricane receivers.
The Duke special teams have been a mixed-bag in 2005. The punt and punt return teams have been solid since their week one debacle against ECU. The kickoff and kickoff return teams, however, have been absolutely dreadful. Duke is at the bottom of the conference in kick coverage and near the bottom in kick returns. Miami on the other hand, has Devin Hester, one of the nations' best return men. Duke will need to keep the ball out of his hands at all costs. On the coverage side of things, Miami's kick coverage has been outstanding, while the punt team nets a pedestrian 33 yards per attempt.
Duke Keys to the Game (Game Show version):
Press Your Luck:
Duke will be hard pressed to avoid a blowout in this game. The only chance they have to score enough points this game is to throw caution to the wind and take some chances on offense. Duke has been predictable and easy to defend so far in 2005. This week, they need to try some trick plays, reverses, screens, halfback passes, whatever it takes to mix it up. Why not press your luck and see what happens when you open up the offense. The same applies for the defense. Take some chances. Run unusual packages. Just do something to keep the Hurricanes off-balance.
Win, Lose or Draw:
When Duke is forced to pass, the Miami pass rushers are going to pin their ears back and come after the quarterback. The best way to slow down a rush (besides blocking it) is to run draws and screens. If you have any measure of success running these plays, the defensive line must respect them and that will prevent them from coming after the QB full-throttle.
Duke has absolutely no shot in this game if Devin Hester scores. If he scores, it will be a big play either on defense or a special teams return. If the Canes are going to beat Duke, make them do it by executing the offense, and not by allowing easy scores. Do not let a joker in the deck run wild on Saturday.
Matchup to Watch: Miami Wide Receivers vs. Duke Secondary
Miami has some of the best athletes in the country at wideout. Duke has some good players in the secondary, especially John Talley. Still The Hurricanes have a decided advantage in athletic ability here. The Blue Devils must play disciplined football and not get sucked up in play-action. If they do, the Canes will go right over the top for easy scores. If Duke is able to keep the receivers in front of them, they must tackle well and not let the Canes get big yards after the catch.
I would be lying to you if I said that Duke has much of a chance in this contest. The Devils theoretically can win the game, but it would take a monumental effort out of every last player in their team, combined with a lackluster effort from the Hurricanes. Forget the Miami offense, the question is can Duke score enough points against the Miami defense to compete? There have been no signs so far this season to suggest that Duke can find the end-zone enough to have a chance. The best that Duke can hope for is a replay of last year's game against Florida State. The Devils entered the 4th quarter down only 8 points and had the ball first and goal on the 3. Of course they proceeded to throw a drive-killing interception, but the fact that they were going toe-to-toe with FSU on their own turf indicates that Duke has the ability to make things interesting. Unfortunately, Miami will make the big plays when it counts, and Duke will have to wait for another day for the first ACC victory of the season.
Miami – 41
Duke – 10