When Duke has the ball:
The Devils will have plenty of fresh faces on this side of the ball. Leading the charge is sophomore QB Marcus Jones. His athletic ability and elusiveness will give the offense an added dimension that has not been present in years' past. He might have to use that elusiveness more often than he'd like, however, as the Duke offensive line is very green. The line has a grand total of 12 starts to its credit, and center Matt Rumsey has 11 of those.
The talent level of skill players is as high as its been in quite some time. The starting receivers, Jomar Wright and Eron Riley, have averaged almost 20 yards per catch between them over their careers. Duke will have a few young but talented options behind them in sophomores Rafael Chestnut and Jabari Marshall. Speed and ability is about in the backfield as well. Tailbacks Justin Boyle and Re'Quan Boyette offer and thunder and lightning pairing when carrying the ball. Boyle the bruiser scored 9 of Duke's 21 offensive touchdowns last season and is nearly impossible to bring down with the first hit. Boyette provides a big-play threat and a perimeter threat to compliment Boyle's inside strength. The wildcard of the Duke offense is deviback Ronnie Drummer. He will be used at tailback and out of the slot. His 10.1 yard-per-carry average last season shows that he is a dangerous player with the ball in his hands.
The Duke offense will need to execute well, because the strength of the Richmond team is the defense. Senior LB Adam Goloboski was first team All-Atlantic 10 in 2005 and led the team in tackles. Richmond's second leading tackler from a year ago, Lance Gray, joins Goloboski to give the Spider some playmakers at linebacker. A-10 rookie of the year DE Sherman Logan burst on the scene last year with 11 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. Joining Logan on the defensive line is senior team captain Johnny Campbell. Both players can get after the passer and will probably pose some challenges to the Duke Offensive Line. Returning starters Stephen Howell, Damien McCallum and Andrew Harris give the Spiders a veteran defensive backfield, thought they were prone to the big play a season ago. All in all, the Richmond defense should provide a good opening day test for Duke's inexperienced offense.
When Richmond has the ball:
Richmond has a big hole in the middle of its offense this fall, as they must replace dynamic QB Stacy Tutt. He was the Spiders' leading rusher as well as leading passer. Expect redshirt freshman Eric Ward to get the starting nod here. Like Duke, the biggest strength of the Richmond offense is at running back. Junior Tim Hightower and sophomore Josh Vaughn are both big strong backs that will share the rushing chores for the Spiders. Richmond also returns its top 3 receivers from the 2005 season. Arman Shields, Matt Hale and Danny Desriveaux combined for 128 receptions last year. Senior Judd Altman leads a rather large but not overly athletic offensive line. With a young QB at the helm, expect the Spiders to try and run the ball frequently.
The Duke defense looks to improve on its miserable 2005 season in which they allowed 37.1 points per game. There is much reason for optimism, though, as 7 starters and a host of very talented underclassmen return. After two seasons of struggling with injuries and lack of numbers, the Duke defensive line finally seems to have developed some quality depth. Seniors Eli Nichols and Casey Camero will join with Junior Pat Bailey to give the Devils an experienced core up front. The buzz surrounding the defense, however, is the younger defensive linemen, especially redshirt freshman DT Vince Oghobaase. Oghbaase, sophomore Cliff Respress, redshirt freshman Ryan Radloff and redshirt freshman Ayanga Okpokowuruk give Duke a very talented young group to mix in the with the veterans. Expect Richmond to have all kinds of trouble running the ball against this group. 2005 Freshman All-American Mike Tauiliili, along with Codey Lowe and Jeramy Edwards give Duke a solid starting trio of linebackers. Preseason All-American CB John Talley along with senior Deonto McCormick and Junior Chris Davis should provide Duke with better secondary play than it received a year ago.
Match-up to Watch:
Duke offensive line vs. Richmond defensive line.
Defensive line is the biggest area of strength for the Spiders. Conversely, offensive line is Duke's biggest area of concern. Sherman Logan and Johnny Campbell had 18 sacks between them and will probably give the Duke OL fits. Duke must be able to lock on to the smaller Richmond defensive linemen and use size to their advantage. If Duke is unable to slow these players down, Richmond will have a real chance of winning this game.
Three keys to a Duke victory:
Three and out: On one hand, Richmond will be breaking in a green QB. On the other hand, the Duke defense was very poor in 3rd down situations last season. Duke must get pressure on the QB in 3rd and long and force punts and/or turnovers. The quicker Duke can get off the field defensively, the more the offense has a chance to wear down the Richmond defense. Sure Richmond has some quality starts, but do not have anywhere close to the quality depth seen on a D-1 roster. If the defense cannot get off the field and allow Richmond to sustain drives, the more rest their defense gets.
Big Plays: It is readily apparent that the Duke offense will need a while to get in sync this season. Because of their inexperience, the Devils will probably not be able to put together 10-play clock-churning drives. Big-play scores from the likes of Ronnie Drummer, Eron Riley, and others will stretch the Richmond defense and give the offense more room to operate.
The kicking game: The Devils will hopefully be receiving a breakout season from their thunder-legged kicker Joe Surgan. He gives Duke a chance to score point anytime they get inside the opponent's 40. Punter Alex Feinberg will be have big shoes to fill, formerly worn by departed senior Chris Sprague. Richmond, however, has to fill both kicking positions. The fact that Duke is the only D-1 school on the schedule this year will probably give the game added importance to Richmond. Will the Richmond specialists be able to kick under pressure at the college level?
There is no doubt; Richmond will not be a 1-AA pushover like VMI was last season. The Spiders have a few players, especially in their defensive front seven that have a chance to play on Sundays in a few years. The pressure is clearly on Duke in this game. Losing this game would be catastrophic to the psyche of this young but talented team.
Despite the few quality players for the Spiders, Duke has a clear advantage in overall skill and talent. Duke should be able to control the game with their defense and the Richmond offense will struggle to find their consistency. Duke will also struggle with their offensive consistency, but will find a way score points via turnover and big play and will eventually wear the Spiders out. If Richmond had an experienced QB like last season, they would have a decent chance at the upset. Since they will be going with a redshirt freshman, however, they will not score enough points to win this game. Duke will match its win total from 2005 in the season-opener.
Duke - 23
Richmond - 6