From 1930 until 1963, Duke had just two losing seasons. The Blue Devils went to the Rose Bowl twice 1939 and 1942), the Orange Bowl twice (1955 and 1958), the Sugar Bowl (1945), and the Cotton Bowl (1961).
Duke's players might be more primed for this game than they would be for all others except North Carolina. The Blue Devils know that with Navy, Boston College, and Georgia Tech coming up on the schedule, this is the only winnable game prior to the finale against the Tar Heels. Teams usually get up for the winnable game, so expect Duke to show Vandy its A-game.
This Duke offense reminds me a lot of the offenses of Watson Brown at Vanderbilt. The strategy changes from week to week, as Coach Ted Roof looks for something that works. The Devils began the year running and passing the ball an equal amount of times per game. In the opening two games, they scored no points (lost 13-0) and picked up just 210 yard against Richmond and scored 13 points at Wake Forest in a one-point loss. The next three weeks, Duke morphed into a run at all costs team. They promptly lost 36-0 to Virginia Tech, 37-0 to Virginia, and 30-14 to Alabama. Their last two games, they switched to a pass at all costs team, and they began to show signs of a pulse on the attack side. They still lost to Florida State 51-24 and Miami 20-15, but they came within one play of winning last week against the Hurricanes. If Duke were a winless race horse, their past performances would indicate they were ready to break their maiden.
Let's take a look at some of their statistics; remember, these means have the widest standard deviations of any team Vandy will play this year.
Scoring: 9.4 points per game ranks 12th in the ACC and 118th of 119 in Division I-A
Rushing Average: 71.3 yards per game (1.9 avg) ranks 12th in the ACC, 117th in Division I-A
Passing Average: 182.7 yards per game ranks 6th in the ACC, 79th in Division I-A. The Blue Devils are completing 51.5% of their passes and averaging 6.3 yards per pass attempt.
Passing Efficiency: 102.30 ranks 11th in the ACC and 105th in Division I-A
Total Yardage: 254.0 yards per game ranks 12th in the ACC and 113th in Division I-A
QB Sacks allowed: 28 sacks in 7 games ranks 12th in the ACC and 116th in Division I-A
Turnover Margin: -9 in 7 games ranks 10th in the ACC and 114th in Division I-A
Breakdown by Position
The Blue Devils have a fine trio of receivers, each with a unique skill that the others don't possess.
Jomar Wright (6-1, 200 Jr.) is the team's lead receiver. He's coming off his best game of the season; against Miami last week, Wright caught 10 passes for 176 yards. He's the go to guy on third down and more than seven yards to go. Against the Hurricanes, eight of his receptions converted third downs into first downs. When the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, he had eight receptions for 110 yards.
Eron Riley (6-3, 200 So.) has 20 receptions, and he leads the Devils with 16.6 yards per catch. Against Florida State, he caught six passes for 110 yards and a touchdown (which came from a 41-yard lob). He will go deep frequently, which will open the shorter lanes for his two teammates.
Raphael Chestnut (6-2, 190 So.) is the short yardage pass receiving specialist. He holds on to the ball when he takes a hard hit. He has hauled in 22 passes for 213 yards and a score.
Nick Stefanow (6-4, 235 Jr.) suffered a leg injury against Florida State and missed the Miami game last week, but he is expected to return this week. He has seven receptions for 73 yards in the six games he has played.
In Stefanow's absence, backup defensive tackle Norman Gee (6-5, 255 Fr.) played both ways last week. He did not catch a pass, but he did a fine job blocking.
This was the least experienced offensive line in the nation at the beginning of the season, and they played down to their billing. Not only is it one lacking a lot of playing time, it is one of the smallest in Division I-A.
Left tackle Cameron Goldberg (6-6, 280 So.) was just 250 pounds last year, so he at least resembles an ACC lineman.
Left guard Zach Maurides (6-4, 285 Jr.) is in his first year as a starter.
Center Matt Rumsey (6-4, 285 Jr.) is the lone experienced starter. He's also the highest rated lineman of this group.
Right guard Rob Schirmann (6-5, 285 So.) is another first-year starter.
Only Right Tackle Fred Roland (6-8, 310 So.) looks like an ACC lineman. He is yet another first-year starter.
2005 starter Zack Asack is suspended for the 2006 season. Duke has relied on a true freshman to pilot its offense. Thaddeus Lewis (6-2, 190 True Fr.) has performed an admirable job considering he has to run for his life more than the average passer. He may have begun to mature on the job last week in the Miami game. In the final quarter, he completed 14 of 22 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown to bring Duke back from a 20-2 deficit to 20-15. Then, with time running out and no timeouts left, he drove the team from his 11 yard line down to the Miami six before throwing an interception in the end zone on the final play of the game. In the last two games, Lewis has led Duke to 531 passing yards (against Florida State and Miami).
Backup Marcus Jones (6-3, 210 So.) has appeared briefly in six games throwing 14 passes and completing eight for 82 yards. He's versatile enough to fill in as a backup wide receiver and actually started one game there earlier this year.
Number two tailback Clifford Harris (5-10, 220 So.) has taken some snaps at quarterback the last three weeks. He has strictly been a runner in these situations, never attempting a pass. Vanderbilt still must prepare for all possibilities, as you know Duke must have a pass play for him to surprise everybody.
Tielor Robinson (5-11, 245 Jr.) is a transfer from Army. At Army, he was once selected as the C-USA Player of the Week. He is not your typical third guard back; Robinson can tote the pig. He's averaging 4.1 yards per carry this year.
Duke substitutes frequently at this position and has more experience here than anywhere else. Justin Boyle (6-1, 225 Jr.) sees the most playing time of the group. He has rushed for 163 yards but at only a 2.7 yard per carry clip.
Re'Quan Boyete (5-10, 215 So.) leads Duke with 191 yards rushing and a 4.5 yard average. He can get an extra yard when the hole doesn't develop.
When he's not playing quarterback, Harris averages the same 2.7 yards per carry as Boyle.
What is a devil back? Ronnie Drummer (5-9, 185 Jr.) is the one and only devil back. Coach Roof created this position to take advantage of the most athletic skill player on the team. Drummer is basically the equivalent of an offensive rover. He may line up at tailback, fullback, wingback, slot back, and H-Back. So far this season, Drummer has yet to burn an opponent with his blazing speed. Last year, against Miami, he took a 3rd and 11 draw play 81 yards for a touchdown. He has eight receptions this season (he's missed two games two injury), and he has 79 receiving yards with a long of 25. As a runner, he has that all-too-familiar 2.7 average.
Duke has much improved numbers on this side of the ball this season. They have become more of a gambling defense trying to create pressure in the offensive backfield. The Blue Devils are tough to run against. It's the pass they have problems defending. When a team gambles a lot, it leaves them vulnerable to the big play.
Here is a look at Duke's defensive statistics for the season:
Scoring Defense: 28.7 points per game allowed ranks 11th in the ACC and 92nd in Division I-A
Vs. The Run: 98.7 yards allowed per game (3.2 avg) ranks 6th in the ACC and 23rd in Division I-A
Vs. The Pass: 236.9 yards allowed per game ranks 11th in the ACC and 101st in Division I-A. The Blue Devils allow 61.0% of enemy passes to be completed and allow 7.8 yards per pass attempt. They have intercepted 4.6% of enemy passes.
Quarterback Sacks: Duke has recorded 11 sacks in 7 games which ranks 12th in the ACC and 84th overall.
Opp. Passing Efficiency: 144.02 ranks 12th in the ACC and 99th in Division I-A
Opp. Total Offense: 335.6 yards ranks 9th in the ACC and 62nd in Division I-A
Tackles For Loss: Duke has recorded 47 TFLs this season which ranks 5th in the ACC and 25th in Division I-A
Turnover Margin: -1.29 per game ranks 10th in the ACC and 114th in Division I-A
Rush end Patrick Bailey (6-4, 230 Jr.) has been a consistent player this year after suffering through an injury-plagued 2005 season. He has 42 tackles on the year with 6.5 going for losses and two sacks. He's also added three QB hurries.
Backup rush end Greg Akinbiyi (6-2, 250 So.) has seen action in all seven games registering 16 tackles.
Tackle Casey Camero (6-5, 280 Sr.) is the most experience defensive lineman. He has recorded 16 tackles, 2.5 for losses with a sack. Camero specializes in blocking kicks, where he has pulled off the feat twice this season. That gives him five for his career.
Nose Guard Ayanga Okpokowuruk (6-4, 255 RS Fr.) took over this position when regular Eli Nichols injured his knee against Alabama. Okpokowuruk is the weakest link on the line, but he is no pushover. Still, this is where Vanderbilt will try to exploit.
Tackle Vince Oghobaase (6-6, 310 RS Fr.) is one of the reasons Duke's defense has improved so much this year. He has started every game after missing all of last season with a knee injury. Aside from his 19 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and one sack, he stopped Florida State tailback Lorenzo Booker in the Seminole end zone for a safety.
Like most 40 defenses, the linebackers make most of the tackles. Whether or not a particular defense is good or not depends on where those tackles transpire. This season, more of those tackles have been made near the line of scrimmage, hence Duke has held opponents under 100 yards rushing per game with limited quarterback sacks to skew the statistic.
Middle linebacker Michael Tauliili (5-11, 235 So.) may be a bit undersized at his position, but it hasn't prevented the team's tackles leader from doing his job with an A grade. He has 52 tackles in seven games, which is almost on the same pace as last year when he led Duke with 92 tackles. This season, he has seven TFL's (ahead of the pace of last year's nine), half a sack, and three QB hurries. Against both Virginia Tech and Richmond, he made 11 stops.
Weak side linebacker Jeramy Edwards (6-0, 220 Sr.) is right behind Tauliili with 44 tackles, five tackles for loss, one sack, and three QB hurries. Against both Alabama and Miami, Edwards recorded 10 tackles.
Strong side linebacker Codey Lowe (6-2, 235 Sr.) has 35 tackles to date. However, more than one quarter of those tackles have been on the offensive side of the line of scrimmage. Among his nine TFL's, he has a team-high three sacks. Additionally, Lowe has three QB hurries, one broken up pass, and two fumble recoveries. What's more, in the last three games, he has seven tackles for loss! That was against Alabama, Florida State, and Miami.
Duke is thin at this position, so if Vanderbilt can succeed with any form of controlled passing game, this trio could show signs of fatigue in the latter stages after having to patrol the underneath zones all day.
Even though the Blue Devils are porous against the pass, the best player on the team patrols the secondary from his cornerback spot. John Talley (5-11, 180 Sr.) is just as good as Michigan's Leon Hall. The Thorpe Award nominee owns five of his team's six interceptions this year, ranking first in the ACC and sixth nationally. Talley has made 30 tackles, most of which have come after opponents have completed passes to other zones, but he also has 3.5 TFLs. In addition to his five picks, he has broken up four other passes (giving him a league-leading nine passes defended) and forced a pair of fumbles. He's done all this even though most teams have tried to throw away from him.
Cornerback Deonto McCormick (5-10, 185 Sr.) has broken up seven passes so far, but he's seen more passes thrown to his side. He had his best game of the year last week, when he made three tackles and broke up three passes.
Strong safety Adrian Aye-Darko (6-2, 205 So.) is fairly strong as a run-stopper. Against the pass, he doesn't prevent the completion often, but he rarely allows many yards after the catch before he's there to tackle. As a blitzer, he's recorded 1.5 sacks and a QB hurry.
Free safety Chris Davis (6-0, 205 Jr.) is tied for second on the team with 44 tackles. When free safeties have a high amount of tackles, it usually means the pass defense has some holes. Davis has come on the blitz several times this season, but he's only made the TFL one time.
Usually when a team doesn't have a bevy of top talent, their special teams are rather weak. Duke has some good players on special teams because many of their regulars play on these units.
As previously mentioned, Casey Camero must be stopped when Duke is defending their opponents' kicks. One blocked field goal attempt that is then returned for a touchdown could be the difference between winning and losing.
Jabari Marshall is an above average kick returner. He's currently averaging 25.7 yards per return with a long of 67 yards. Leon Wright is the primary punt returner; he only averages 5.5 yards per return and has a long of 22 yards.
Duke is vulnerable when they punt. Opponents have averaged 11.3 yards per return with one going the distance. The Blue Devils are much better covering kickoffs, but they have only had to defend nine times this year. Three of the 18 kickoffs have gone out of bounds; five were touchbacks; and one more was an onside attempt. The nine opponent returns have averaged 17.7 yards with a long of 25.
Kicker Joe Surgan has missed two of the seven extra points he has attempted and has converted on just three of eight field goal attempts. Two of the five missed kicks were blocked.
Punter Alex Feinberg averages 37.3 yards per punt. He's had one of his 37 punts blocked, and Duke has a net punting average of just 29.6 yards.
At first glance, Duke shouldn't be much competition for Vanderbilt even at Wallace Wade Stadium. The Blue Devils have little home field advantage, and if the weather turns sour, more of their fans may end up at the Blue-White basketball scrimmage instead of this game.
However, don't discount this 0-7 team. First of all, they have enough talent to beat Vanderbilt if that talent plays without mistakes. Secondly, this is a team that has improved by more than a touchdown since the beginning of the season.
If Duke were a stock and we looked at their fundamentals and technical charts, we'd see a team with increasing margins, stronger equity, an increase in EPS, and their chart would show a team coming toward the climax of a cup with handle. They could be ready to break out and go on a marked run forward. Let's hope the handle continues one more week before a new base is formed.
For an in-depth comparison of the teams and prediction of the outcome of Saturday's game, check back Friday morning.
For Comparison Purposes, here's how Vandy ranks in the offensive and defensive statistical categories. The first number in parentheses represents SEC rank and the second number represents D1A rank.
Scoring Offense: 20.5 ppg (10 & 87)
Rushing Offense: 147.9 yds per game (5 & 49) and 4.6 avg (5.3 w/out sacks)
Passing Offense: 160.9 yds per game (10 & 99)
54.2% completions and 6.3 yards per attempt
Passing Efficiency: 114.84 (10 & 82)
QB Sacks Allowed: 13 in 8 games (5 & 30)
Total Offense: 308.75 yds per game (10 & 90)
Turnover Margin: 0 (5 & 59)
Scoring Defense: 19.25 ppg (9 & 46)
Rushing Defense: 152.63 yds per game (10 & 84) and 3.8 yards allowed per rush
Passing Defense: 162.0 yds per game (4 & 21)
Allows 58.1% completions and 7.8 yards per attempt
Passing Efficiency Defense: 134.25 (9 & 83)
QB Sacks: 11 in 8 games (9 & 73)
Total Defense: 314.63 yards per game (9 & 48)
TFL: 42 in 8 games (10 & 74)