When Duke Has the Ball:
With all of the talk about the Navy offense, one of the unheralded keys to their dominance over Duke has been the play of the defense. The good news is that the Navy defense is not nearly as stout as it has been in previous years. Last week in their loss to Ball State, the Middies gave up over 500 yards of offense. They are banged up with several upperclassman starters that will not play this weekend. It seems to be a prime opportunity for the Blue Devil offense to built on the great one half of football they have played this season (the first half of last week's game).
QB Thad Lewis finally played like many thought he was capable of last week. Now he must gain a measure of consistency and continue that stellar play he showed a week ago. The offensive line was finally able to protect Lewis and he responded with his best day as a collegian. Against Navy, the Devils should be able to provide the same level of protection they provided a week ago. The Navy offensive line plays hard, but is undersized and not terribly athletic. The key to running a smooth offense this week will be how the offense blocks when Navy brings the blitz. The Devils also will have a huge advantage with their wide receivers towering over the Navy defensive backs. Expect the Devils to try and isolate the receivers one on one against the smaller, slower defensive backs. Expect the midshipmen to take their changes with Duke in the passing game. They will most likely stack up against the run and force the Devils to become one-dimensional on offense. Still, if the Duke offense of the first half shows up in Annapolis this weekend, Duke should have no problems scoring points.
When Navy Has the Ball:
As previously mentioned, Duke must find a way to at least slow down the Navy option attack. The defensive line is key to this success. Tackles Ayanga Okpokoworuk and Vince Oghobaase will have to make quick decisions and react to the misdirection while fighting off cut-blocks on nearly every play. Reigning ACC linebacker of the week, sophomore Vince Rey, along with Mike Tauiliili and Marcus Jones will need to diagnose and pursue quickly. Duke will most likely frequently rotate fresh personnel in their front seven. With Navy attempting 50-60 rushes in a game, these players will need to be rested often. Run support from the secondary will be vital this week. Luckily for the Devils, the secondary has been good at coming up to help with the run so far this year. If they cheat up too much, however, the Middies are notorious for hitting long pass plays over the sucked-up defense.
The Midshipmen might have a change at quarterback. Starter Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada is nursing a pair of sprained ankles. If he is unable to go, backup Jarod Bryant is capable of running the offense effectively. There really is no primary ball-carrier to key on, but if the option is to be stopped, FB Adam Ballard needs to be accounted for on every play. He is a workhorse, as evidenced by his 27 carries in last year's matchup. While the Middies occasionally throw the ball to keep the defense honest, they will probably only attempt 4-8 passes a game unless absolutely necessary.
Key Matchup: Duke interior defense vs. Navy dive.
FB Adam Ballard is the key to the Middie option attack. He might only get 2-3 yards a carry, but every time he carries the ball, he makes the middle of the defense respect the middle run. This slows the inside-out pursuit down and makes the QB keeper and pitch phase of the game that much more effective. If Duke can bottle up Ballard and force Navy into 3rd and long situations which forces them to do things on offense they might not normally do, namely pass the ball.
Three Keys to a Duke victory:
1. Over The Top - With all the attention focused on stopping the Navy running game, they are deadly in play-action passing. The Duke corners must be able to read their keys properly and not guess run versus pass. When the cornerback guesses, that is usually when they get beat for a long TD pass right over their heads.
2. Match Intensity and Discipline – The players at the Naval Academy are training to be sailors in the Armed Forces. They are some of the toughest people in the country. Needless to say, they play with an intensity level, passion, and discipline most opponents cannot match. The downside, however, is that the do not have the personnel to out-talent anyone. If Duke plays with intensity and executes their schemes well on both sides of the ball, Navy will be hard-pressed to keep up.
3. Field Position – With any ground based offense, field position makes scoring much easier. Sure Navy can drive the field, but big plays are harder to come by on the ground. If Duke can make Navy drive the field on every possession, it will be much more difficult for the Middies to score, and will probably limit the amount of points they can put on the board.
What a difference a week makes. At this time last week, most Duke faithful were resigned to the fact that their Devils could go winless for yet another season. Now that the Devils have tasted victory, people are starting to believe that more wins are possible. This Navy squad is not nearly as good as last year's version. Their offense looks as good as always, but on the defensive side of the ball they are struggling mightily.
Duke has a chance to win two in a row for the first time in quite awhile. There is no reason that the Duke offense cannot move the ball on the depleted Navy defense. Expect Thad Lewis to have his second superlative game in a row. He will have a field day against the Navy secondary. The Duke running game will finally get untracked and have a solid, if not spectacular day. The problem, however, is Duke will not have any answers for stopping Navy's running game. This will be a back and forth contest with both teams gashing the opposing defense. In the end, Navy will execute just a shade better than the Devils and Duke will make one mistake that will cost them the game.
Navy - 31
Duke - 27