HEAD TO HEAD: NAVY VS. DUKE

Navy visits Duke on Saturday. GoMids.com's Jim Lawler compares the two teams in several critical areas. We also make a prediction on the game's final score.

Navy Midshipmen travels down to Durham, North Carolina to play the Duke Blue Devils this Saturday . Last week the Mids beat rival Air Force to secure the first leg of the coveted Commander-In-Chief's Trophy. Duke had a bye week after defeating Troy 38-31 the previous week at home. Duke quarterback Brandon Connette threw three touchdowns passes and ran for two more scores for the Blue Devils in the victory. Duke has won the last two meetings against Navy.

NAVY PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
DUKE PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: NAVY
REMARKS: Keenan Reynolds completed 6 of 10 passes for 54 passing yards last week against Air Force. Navy is now 9-3 in games Reynolds has started in his career. Wide receiver Casey Bolena leads the Mids with six receptions for 81 yards. Reynolds has spread the ball around with five receivers having three or more receptions. Navy's offensive line, which loss two starters- Graham Vickers to a career ending concussion and Thomas Stone to a knee injury against WKU- struggled in pass protection against Air Force and yielded two sacks.

Duke's pass defense starts up front with redshirt senior defensive end DE Kenny Anunike. He has led Duke in sacks the last two seasons. Anunike has 11.0 sacks during his career along with 19.0 tackles for loss, 102 tackles, six QB hurries and three forced fumbles. Senior Ross Cockrell is among the top cornerbacks in the nation. The Nagurski Trophy, and Lott IMPACT Trophy candidate is tied for sixth at Duke with 10 career interceptions. Crockrell intercepted a pass against Georgia Tech and has seven passes defensed. Cockrell had five interceptions and 17 passes defended in 2012, tying for the ACC lead in interceptions. Sophomore safety Dwayne Norman (60 tackles in 2012) was among the top freshman safeties in the ACC last season. In Duke's first four games at the bandit safety position he's posted 27 tackles. Norman missed last week's game against Troy due to a hamstring injury. He's listed as starter on the Duke depth chart this week.

NAVY RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
DUKE RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: NAVY
REMARKS: Navy option offense was back on track last week after struggling against Western Kentucky. Navy ran for 273 rushing yards, a 5.4 average and scored four rushing touchdowns against Air Force. Keenan Reynolds carried the ball 28 times for 126 yards and three touchdowns last week. Fullback Chris Swain (110 yards, 3.0 avg., 2 TDs) hasn't found much running room inside so far this year. Starting slot back Geoffrey Whiteside (127 yrds, 2 tds) is expected to return after missing the last two games with a sore ankle. Darius Staten leads the slotbacks in rushing. He's rushed 11 times for 130 rushing yards, an 11.8 average and a touchdown. Longtime kick returner Marcus Thomas (6 att., 64 yards) has seen more action from scrimmage at slotback the last few weeks.

Duke's 4-2-5 defense is ranked 76th in the nation. They are allowing over 167 rushing yards a game. The Blue Devil defense is led by their active linebackers. Box safety Jeremy Cash (51 tackles, 5 TFL) leads the entire ACC in tackles. Duke has nice size and athleticism at linebacker with redshirt junior Kelby Brown (37 tackles, 2 TFL) and junior David Helton (44 tackles, 1.5 TFL). The Blue Devils have an experienced defensive line featuring three seniors. In their last meeting in 2010 Duke defensive coordinator Jim Knowles did a terrific job defending the option and the Blue Devils held Navy to just 148 rushing yards and four yards a carry. Duke dominated the Mids in the first half and raced to a 24-0 lead. They held off a furious comeback to secure a 34-31 road victory in Annapolis.

DUKE PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
NAVY PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: DUKE
REMARKS: Quarterback Brandon Connette has completed 75 of his 117 pass attempts (64.1%) for 1,022 yards with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions since replacing the injured Anthony Boone. The Duke offense is averaging 36.0 points per game. His top wide receiver is junior Jamison Crowder with 37 receptions for 530 yards, a 14.3 average and two touchdowns this year. In 2012 Crowder made 76 receptions for 1,074 yards and had 6 touchdowns. Brandon Connette has posted 19 offensive plays of 20 plus yards this season and Crowder has the second most with nine. All eight of Crowder's 20 plus yard receptions have come from Connette. Wide receivers Brandon Braxton has 14 catches for 165 yards, an 11.8 average and 2 touchdowns. Sophomore receiver Max McCaffrey has made 11 receptions for 124 yards, a 11.3 average with two scores. Duke has the most experienced offensive line in the ACC. Through five games Duke has allowed just six sacks for an average of 27.0 pass attempts between sacks and 1.50 sacks allowed per game.

Navy is ranked 31st in the nation in pass defense. Striker linebacker Chris Johnson (26 tackles, 1 TFL, 3 INTs., 1 PD) continues to impress with his athleticism and play making ability at linebacker. Johnson made two interceptions to end two consecutive fourth quarter drives which secured the win over Air Force. Cornerback Kwazel Bertrand was back in the starting lineup after returning from an injury and made a huge tackle stopping AF fullback Broam Hart on fourth-and- two for no gain early in the third quarter. Starting rover Wave Ryder (11 tackles) is listed as probable after leaving the Air Force game. The Mids have posted just three sacks this year but have generated ten quarterback hurries. Dave Cutcliffe's passing offense has given the Mids fits. Against Duke's Sean Renfree in 2010 he completed 28 of 30 passes for 314 yards and one touchdown pass. He tied a school record by completing his first 16 passes.

DUKE RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
NAVY RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: DUKE
REMARKS: The Blue Devils changed their offensive style this season moving from the pass first system led by Sean Renfree to a zone-read offense. Duke opened the season with Anthony Boone at quarterback. He broke his collarbone against Memphis. Junior quarterback Brandon Connette has replaced him. Connette probably isn't as talented an athlete as Boone but he's mobile and has rushed for 224 yards and six touchdowns this fall. Duke is averaging 193 rushing yards per game and 4.8 yards per rush in 2013. They rotate their running backs in their single back set. Senior Juwan Thompson starts and has rushed for 120 rushing yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Jela Duncan (247 yards, 5.3 avg., 2 TDs) leads the Blue Devils in rushing. Junior Josh Snead is a small scatback who's run for 245 yards and averages 6.3 yards a carry. Navy enters the game ranks 84th in the nation in run defense, allowing 181 rushing yards a game. The Mids allowed 231 rushing yards, 4.1 yards a carry and just one rushing touchdown to the Falcons last week. Navy senior inside linebackers Cody Peterson and DJ Sargenti have played well all season. Cody Peterson made 10 tackles against Air Force. DJ Sargenti (33 tackles., 1.5 TFL, 1 INT.) is currently ranked fifth in the nation in solo tackles per game. Safety Chris Ferguson led the Mids with 11 tackles against Air Force which was easily his best played game of the year. Ferguson made a nice tackle on AF's Garrett Brown to help force a field goal on AF's opening drive. In the second quarter he dropped running back Jon Lee for a five yard loss on third down. That play saved three points as the ensuing Falcons 50-yard field goal attempt by Will Conant fell just short.

SPECIAL TEAMS
EDGE: EVEN
REMARKS: Kicker Ross Martin has a good leg but has hit only 2-of-4 field goals. Punter Will Monday ranks 15th in the country in punting, averaging 44.9 yards per punt. Duke has a dangerous punt returner in Jamison Crowder who is averaging 19.3 yards per punt return with two punt return touchdowns. He has an 82-yard and 76-yard punt return this year. Johnell Barnes is averaging 20.4 yards on kickoff returns. The Blue Devils do an excellent job in covering kicks and punts. Their special teams have blocked two field goals this season. The Blue Devils have blocked 10 kicks, including four blocked punts, three field goal blocks and two blocked PATs, under head coach David Cutcliffe

Navy kicker Nick Sloan has hit three of four field goals. Punter Pablo Beltran is averaging 45.8 yards per punt on his 12 punts with six owned inside the twenty yard line. Marcus Thomas is averaging 20.8 yards per kickoff return. Punt returner Shawn Lynch is averaging 7.5 per punt return. The coverage teams have been outstanding this year.

INTANGIBLES
EDGE: DUKE
REMARKS: This is the 40th meeting between the two schools. Navy leads the all-time series, 20-14-5 but Duke has won the last two meetings. The Blue Devils offense is averaging 39.2 points over the last two seasons at Wallace Wade Stadium. This is a very good offensive team who plays well at home. Georgia Tech's triple option offense ran for 344 rushing yards against Duke earlier this year. The Blue Devils were Navy has won just two of their last five away from Annapolis. There may be a letdown for the Mids going on the road after a huge rivalry win.

COACHING
EDGE:EVEN
REMARKS: David Cutcliffe is best known for being coaching mentor to both Manning brothers. He was Peyton's offensive coordinator at Tennessee and Eli head coach at Mississippi. His career mark, which includes parts of seven seasons at Ole Miss, is 65-67. It was surprising to see him change his passing attack but it has worked well and really improved the Blue Devil running game. Cutcliffe is 2-0 at Duke versus Navy and Ken Niumatalolo. While they struggled down the stretch in 2012, Cutcliff led the Blue Devils to their first bowl appearance since 1995. Duke defensive coordinator Jim Knowles had an extra week to prepare his unit for the option.

Ken Niumatalolo and his staff's halftime adjustments against Air Force worked. It was an excellent rebound performance off the Western Kentucky loss. Last week was Navy's largest margin of victory over Air Force since 1978. Buddy Green's bend-but-don't-break defensive scheme has struggled trying to defend Duke since Cutcliffe was named head coach in 2008.

PREDICTION: Duke, 38-31. I wouldn't be surprised if Navy won but the Duke offense is prolific at home. They have experienced excellent success against the Mids passing the ball. I think this road game following a rivalry win is a tough spot for the Mids.

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