Breaking Down the Opponent: Duke

Maryland, the ACC's top-ranked red zone defense, will face Dukes ACC best red zone offense.

Whether it’s destiny or not, the Terps’ conference-best red zone defense will challenge Duke’s perfect red zone offense. The Blue Devils have scored on 13 of 13 attempts within their opponents’ 20-yard line, one of only 10 teams in the country to accomplish that feat.

Nonetheless, that is only one of the more intriguing matchups between Maryland and Duke this weekend. For a rivalry based more often than not on the hardwood, it makes for quite the gridiron battle.

At signal caller, Sean Renfree, the redshirt sophomore from Scottsdale, Ariz., makes his presence known. For one, he’s a towering presence at 6-5, 220 pounds. Secondly, he leads the Atlantic Coast Conference with almost 280 yards through the air per game, a 62 percent completion percentage and nine touchdowns – equivalent to the combined total of Terps’ quarterbacks.

“He’s got three very good receivers to throw to. He does a very good job of getting the ball out; he doesn’t hold onto the ball and he spreads it around,” Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen said. “Right now, he’s on way to being one of the best quarterbacks in the country.”

And a great quarterback can’t be without an arsenal of weapons. Renfree’s top two partners in crime are wide receivers Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner, teammates from the same high in Miami, Fla. The tandem ranks first and fourth in the ACC in terms of yardage with 449 and 258, respectively.

“They got a lot of playmakers. They got some of wide receivers who are making plays and a quarterback who likes the throw the ball,” linebacker Alex Wujciak said, emphasizing there’s a need to keep his team’s own offense on the field longer.

In the backfield, the Blue Devils line up Desmond Scott and Josh Snead at running back. Scott has totaled over 275 yards on the ground this season, averaging 6.5 yards per rush. The freshman Snead is averaging just over five yards per carry.

“[Scott and Snead are] running the ball a lot better. [The rushing game] and their passing game makes them a very prolific offense.” Friedgen said. Add that to the Duke’s big, mobile collection of veteran offensive line, he admitted, “We have our hands full offensively.”

To combat Duke’s prolific offensive attack, the Terps aim to improve their tackling and increase the pressure on Renfree. Already, defensive coordinator Don Brown has his defenders performing more “chase the mouse” drills in an effort to work on leverage tackling.

Nose tackle A.J. Francis suggested that pressure would be the key to disrupting Renfree’s astounding completion percentage

“We got to get to the quarterback. They only gave up four sacks all year, and that’s surprising considering they played [National champion] Alabama,” Francis said. “When it comes down to it, we got to make the quarterback have to move his feet, and if he does get the completion, we have to run to the ball and make plays.”

The Terps have a sharp focus on becoming more efficient stopping their opponents on third down. While they are conference elite when it comes to allowing fourth-down conversions, they realize this is a problem that needs fixing.

“We just got to learn from our mistakes every week so we can get better,” Wujciak said. “We have to get off the field on third down and tackle better.”

In many ways, the Duke defense draws comparisons to that of Maryland’s. For Friedgen, it’s their youth and inexperience on that side of the ball that fuels their susceptibility, like that of the 2009 Terps.

“Their defense is in some areas even more inexperienced and younger than ours – pretty much like we were last year,” Friedgen said. “They’re playing a lot of people and they’re playing hard.”

Like the Terps, they’ve also faced a multitude of offenses in the past month. Facing the likes of Army, Wake Forest, Alabama and Elon, they’ve prepared for everything far and between the spread-option to the wishbone set, which is why wide receiver Torrey Smith doesn’t believe what he hears.

“They’re a solid defense. There’s been plays made against them, but they’ve been in great position. A lot of times numbers will lie to you,” Smith said.

Offensive guard Andrew Gonnella thinks that Duke’s 4-3 front also reminds him of the defense he faced every day in practice, which makes it easier for the offensive line to handle on Saturday. His counterpart, left tackle J.R. Dill, thinks the game will be an excellent opportunity to establish a consistent running game.

“We still got to work on the running game,” Dill said. “We’re not running the ball consistently right now. Big runs are great; I’m all about breaking a big run, but we got to be able to get ourselves a five-yard run on first down and put ourselves in manageable distance on third downs.”

Smith said that it’s the offense’s first and foremost goal to establish the run in every contest, and running back Davin Meggett was quick to agree, explain: “It’s always important to establish the run game. That’s the first thing you always want to do. It’s simple – pound-the-rock, play ball.”

In terms of passing, it is unknown who will get the start for the Terps. Like always, the decision will be made towards the end of the week. But whoever is at the helm, they should have an opportunity to exploit.

“They like to blitz, they like to put pressure on you – that’s who they are this year; that’s their M.O. We got to be able to pick that up; and that being said, if you pick it up you can gash them,” Dill said.

Last week’s starter, Danny O’Brien, is preparing for Duke as if he were the starter. After watching film since Sunday, he can understand where his left tackle is coming from.

“Like FIU, they send a lot of different pressures that we got to be ready for again. They play a lot of man-to-man, more so than I think I expected,” O’Brien said, adding that he needs to be ready to get rid of the ball quickly.

Saturday’s 6 p.m. kickoff versus Duke will always be a chance for vengeance for Maryland. After falling to the Blue Devils by three points in 2009, the team hopes they can head into their bye week at 4-1.

“We played a really solid football game against them a year ago, just came up three points short,” Brown said, referring to the final, 17-14. “I feel like we got a good plan; put it into work today, made some adjustments. Hopefully it translates over to the game.”

News and Notes:

- QB Jamarr Robisnon returned to practice after sitting during last week’s game against FIU with a sore shoulder. “[Jamarr’s limited [in practice], but much further ahead than he was last week. We expect him to be further along this week and have a chance to play. We’d like to have the ability to play both guys.” – James Franklin

- Offensive guard Andrew Gonnella, who suffered a high left ankle sprain against FIU Saturday, expects to play. “I’m definitely playing Saturday; it’s just a matter of getting it ready.” – Andrew Gonnella

- Out for Duke: QB C.J. Brown; LT Justin Gilbert; LB Ben Pooler; TE Lansford Watson; DL Marcus Whitfield

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