About six weeks following the conclusion of an especially disappointing 0-12 season, the Blue Devil football family staged a “summit” on campus designed to engender support for the floundering program, and to come up with some fresh thinking to find some way to make the football program relevant again, or at least capable of winning two or three games a year. More than 200 former players attended, including All-Americans, all-conference performers and the rank-and-file. Discussions were held on a variety of topics, and afterward, all of the main participants praised the event.
And went on hoping to find a way out of the abyss.
Head coach: Ted Roof
4th year: 5-34
Off. 22, Def. 20, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 16
Best Duke Players
1. DT Vince Oghobaase, Soph.
2. DE Patrick Bailey, Sr.
3. LB Michael Tauiliili, Jr.
4. QB Thaddeus Lewis, Soph.
5. WR Eron Riley, Jr.
6. WR Jomar Wright, Sr.
7. DE Ayanga Okpokowuruk, Soph.
8. RB Re'quan Boyette, Jr.
9. OT Fred Roland, Jr.
10. SS Adrian Aye-Darko, Jr.
Perhaps the summit will yield some real results. Duke may increase its fund-raising. Coach Ted Roof might find a way to keep his job safe for a couple more seasons, despite the Blue Devils’ consistent basement position during his tenure. Or, Duke may cave under the pressure of an ’07 schedule that includes eight consecutive games against 2006 bowl participants.
Perhaps the perfect metaphor for last season was Duke’s 45-44
season-ending loss to North Carolina. The Blue Devils scored a touchdown
with less than three minutes remaining to draw within one point, but had
the extra point blocked and blew its opportunity to gain a win.
This year doesn’t offer too much hope for tremendous progress. While the Devils lost to I-AA Richmond at the outset of last season, having a lower-division team on the schedule was a good idea. There’s no such opportunity available this year. Richmond is replaced by Connecticut, and while Alabama is gone, Notre Dame comes aboard.
Helping to turn things around is an offensive two-deep which returns every performer from last year, including promising quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, who threw for 285 yards and four touchdowns in the season finale against the Tar Heels.
The Devils were a true I-A rarity: not one player on its final depth chart was a senior. There will be something of a shake-up on defense, as co-coordinator Jerry Azzinaro is out and five starters are gone, but defense has been the strength of recent recruiting classes.
The Blue Devils should win a game or two, but it’s going to take several
more high-level conferences, more brainpower from some very smart
people, and some serious infusions of talent, to climb the conference
What to look for on offense: There will be improvement, if only because Lewis should make better decisions to cut down on his interceptions (16). He has a few solid targets in Eron Riley, Jomar Wright and Raphael Chestnut, so the passing game should be better. The ground attack depends on the continued development of an offensive line that started three sophomores last year. Basically, the season will be in the hands, and legs, of Lewis.
What to look for on defense: There could be trouble here early, and that’s not good news, since the Blue Devils ranked 105th in total defense and 114th in scoring defense last season. Sophomore middle linebacker Michael Tauiliili is a stalwart, and senior end Patrick Bailey led the team with 3.5 sacks last year, but both starting corners, including all-star John Talley, are gone, and the front line must get better at pressuring the passer after posting just 14 sacks a year ago.
This team will be much better if … it can run the football. Duke was 102nd last year on the ground, managing just 98.2 yards per game and 2.9 yards per carry. If teams can sit back and wait for Lewis to throw, he’ll have a hard time maturing into a valuable passing weapon. No ground attack will mean more time on the field for the Blue Devil defense.
The Schedule: It's Duke, so just getting a win would be nice. With an early four-game road stretch early on, it's going to be rough. Not only do the Blue Devils have to deal with the nasty start, they have to come home to face Wake Forest followed by Virginia Tech followed by a trip to Florida State. If that wasn't enough, they have to play Clemson and Georgia Tech before going to Notre Dame. Forget about a winning record with this slate.
Best Offensive Player: Sophomore QB Thaddeus Lewis. For a change, there’s hope
for a Blue Devil offense that returns every player from last year’s
two-deep. The shifty Lewis leads the way after making considerable
strides as a true freshman starter, closing the year with six touchdown
passes and 522 yards passing in his last two starts.
Best Defensive Player: Sophomore NG Vince Oghobaase. End Patrick Bailey will be the team's most productive defender, and linebacker Michael Tauiliili will lead the way in tackles, but Oghobaase is the best talent. In his first season of action, one of the most heralded recruits in Duke football history lived up to his advanced billing ably filling the middle of the Blue Devil line while only scratching the surface of his vast upside. At 6-6 and 310 pounds, Oghobaase gives Duke a rare presence on the defensive side of the ball, yet displays the quickness and footwork of some defensive ends.
Key player to a successful season: Sophomore DT Vince Oghobaase. The star recruit of a few years ago has to become the rock the rest of the defense revolves around. At 6-6 and 310 pounds, he has size along with tremendous quickness, and now he has to use it to start collapsing the pocket and getting into the backfield. Being the anchor against the run would be a big plus.
The season will be a success if ... the Blue Devils win three games. While that might not seem a lofty goal, consider that the program has won more than three games only once since 1998. They’ll likely be underdogs in every game, but with the potential improvement on offense, and the experience on defense, they should catch someone napping in a big upset and could battle teams like Connecticut, Navy, Northwestern, and North Carolina into the fourth quarter.
Key game: Sept. 1 vs. Connecticut. The Huskies will be better than they were last season, but the Blue Devils have to demonstrate, from game one, that things have changed, especially at home. With a four-game road stretch to follow, and with a nightmare of a stretch to follow, this might be their best chance at a win.2006 Fun Stats:
- First quarter scoring: Opponents 120; Duke 19
- Field goals: Opponents 10 of 15; Duke 4 of 11
- Red zone scoring: Opponents 38 of 48 (79%); Duke 19 of 39 (49%)
- Sacks: Opponents 43 for 354 yards; Duke 14 for 99 yards