A Good Start Is Critical For Duke

The Blue Devils will kick off the 2007 season on Saturday when the Connecticut Huskies come to town. Though head coach Ted Roof and his troops aren't saying it, the first game of the season may very well be a "must win situation."

Despite a winless campaign in 2006, Duke had several chances to right the ship and give the program a much needed shot in the arm. Unfortunately poor execution and all-around bad luck allowed opponents such as Wake Forest, Richmond, North Carolina, and even traditional conference power Miami to escape with victories. In short, Duke didn't know how to win and ended up finding ways to lose - something Roof hopes to avoid this season.

"The very first day we started off with two-minute offense and two-minute defense," said Roof of his team's inability to close games a year ago. "If you win close games, you'll have a good season and if you lose your close games, you'll have a disappointing season. In order to do that, you have to be able to function at the end of halves and at the end of games."

As with any winless season in BCS football there were several changes amongst the Duke coaching staff. Perhaps the biggest being the replacement of offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien with Notre Dame quarterback coach Peter Vaas. Vaas' approach to the game has noticeably different to the fiery O'Brien, who is now with the New England Patriots, and it's hoped that he'll be able to have the same kind of success with Duke's Thaddeus Lewis as he did with Brady Quinn. Throughout both Spring Practice and Preseason Camp this fall, the offensive unit has looked more crisp and precise under the leadership of the former QB coach - something that has built confidence among the unit - especially Lewis.

"I wanted the guy calling the plays to be able to sit down and look the quarterback in the eye," said Roof. "I think there is a lot of value in that and I think Peter [Vaas] has a good demeanor for our offensive football team. If you had a senior quarterback that had been starting for three years, it might be a little bit different. But with a new offense I want that connection with the quarterback."

Another advantage Vaas' offense has is experience. The Blue Devils return all 11 starters from a year ago in hopes of building upon several positive late season steps. All told, when Duke steps on the field Saturday it will be the most experienced offensive unit since Roof took over the program in the middle of 2003 and promptly beat Georgia Tech and North Carolina, while pushing Phillip Rivers and NC State to the wire.

"Offensively, I feel much different from last season because we're talking about returning 11 starters. Guys that are experienced are playing the game in a great league. Defensively, we have some guys in different roles; now they're going to be the ones carrying the load, whereas last year, they had back-up roles. I feel very different. As a coach, when you look at returning 11 starters on the offensive side of the ball, that's a great thing. There is no doubt that the offensive line has improved, but we have to protect the quarterback. We have to do a much better job of it than we did last year. It's easy for me to sit in here and say we're going to do these things, but we have to go do it."

Just like their victory over Georgia Tech that season, the Blue Devils will be looking to earn a springboard victory over Connecticut this Saturday. And Duke is also aware that a loss, like the one to Richmond in 2006, could make things extremely tough in 2007.

"When you have a team that hasn't won much, you're like a thirsty man walking through the desert. You're looking for a water. We're certainly looking for that, and the goal for our program is to win the next game. I don't want the outcome of Saturday to affect the outcome of next Saturday. But, at the same time, when you're looking to build confidence and you're looking to build a belief and a certain expectation level, rather than a hope, success is critical."

The Blue Devils and Huskies kick off at 2:00 PM Saturday in Wallace Wade

The Devils Den Top Stories