September 7, 2011

Campus Questions: Duke Blue Devils

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By The Daily Axe Staff
Duke Chapel

We got a chance to ask Tom Gieryn, Managing Sports Editor for The Chronicle, Duke’s daily newspaper, ten questions about the Blue Devils and how he thinks they will match up against the Card this Saturday in Durham. Get the full Duke side of the story and see more of his work by clicking here.

Here’s what he had to say.

Will last week’s loss to FCS Richmond galvanize the Blue Devils or just discourage the team?

David Cutcliffe is nothing if not an upbeat, optimistic coach, and this program has been through lots of defeat already, so I don’t think the Richmond loss is going to destroy the team’s morale. It’s certainly a setback, but remember that two years ago, when they also lost their opener to Richmond at home, they went on to win five of the next ten games (and going .500 is a big deal given the program’s recent history). It remains to be seen whether the team will come out like it has “something to prove” after the loss, but they’re definitely not going to just hang their heads and sulk over it.

Which part of the Duke defense should Stanford avoid?

Right now, the secondary looks best. It’s very difficult to know much at this stage, since the Blue Devils have installed a radically new 4-2-5 defensive scheme under 2nd-year staffer and first year coordinator Jim Knowles, and we’ve only seen 60 minutes of play under the new system. But ballhawking senior safety Matt Daniels is the defense’s best player and fellow safety Walt Canty has shown potential. Corner Johnny Williams looked much improved in the first game of his second season at cornerback (since moving from wide receiver), and Ross Cockrell also appears to have made significant strides since last year.

Which part of the Duke defense should Stanford try to exploit?

The defensive line is improved but nonetheless undersized, and it remains to be seen how Duke will handle an opponent with anything resembling a dangerous run game. I’m not sure if the Blue Devils will try any creative blitzes to throw Luck off, but if they don’t, the Stanford offensive line should be able to hold the Duke D-line at bay to give Luck plenty of time to pick apart the Duke secondary.

You’re David Cutcliffe. What’s the 1-minute version of your gameplan against Stanford?

My gameplan is to execute. That might not sound like much of a plan, but honestly I know that it’s highly unlikely my team is going to come away with a win. So the focus is to learn and get better, and prove that my team can at least hang with a national power. If that sounds like a low expectation, that’s because it is. This is Duke football, after all. More specifically, I would definitely let Sean Renfree take his shots down the field, and do my best to put him in a position to use his arm to make plays. On defense, I’d try to get creative with some of the looks from my new defense, though with my players still learning the base defense that might be difficult. Basically, the goal is just to get some experience and stay in the game.

If the Blue Devils pull off the upset, what kind of game will the team have to play?

The simple answer is everything has to go right. And they have to get a lot of luck to boot, if they’re going to pull off the upset. It’s even hard to imagine what such a game might look like; Luck wouldn’t be the only player that would have to be off his game for the Cardinal. Given that the Duke offense is better than the defense, they’d probably prefer a shootout, but even then Stanford has the offensive firepower to easily keep up. For Duke to even be competitive, they’ll have to have their passing game clicking, and that success creating holes for the run (where the questionable health of the RB corps will come into play).

If the Blue Devils pull off the upset, which player will have made the biggest difference for Duke?

Again, it’s hard to pick a player because if the Devils were to win, it would likely be because someone from the defense stepped up and made some plays. With the new defensive scheme, we’re not yet sure who might stand out as a difference maker. It could be Daniels, or quality linebacker Kelby Brown. Or, it would be a great boost to get a standout performance from one of the linemen, like Charlie Hatcher or Sydney Sarmiento.

What kind of performance do you expect from junior quarterback Sean Renfree?

Renfree’s performance will depend on whether the coaching staff turns him loose or not. Against Richmond, the staff largely took the ball out of his hands early in the game, choosing to stick with an ineffective run game. When they did call on Renfree to pass, he was throwing short routes and checkdowns most of the time. With two of the best receivers in the conference in Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner, it’s hard to imagine why Renfree wasn’t allowed to air it out more. I think Renfree is a skilled enough quarterback to complete some passes against Stanford’s relatively inexperienced corners, but obviously that can only happen if the coaching staff will call some plays to stretch the field vertically.

All things considered (weather, fans, field eccentricities, etc.) what kind of home field advantage does Wallace Wade offer?

Honestly, very little, as far as I know. Last year’s tilt with Alabama drew just 39,000 fans, and the stands were basically a sea of red. What Duke fans there were had little patience to watch their team get steamrolled. The crowd should not be a factor, and Stanford fans can easily pack the house by snapping up cheap tickets if they want.

Are the “Back in Black” uniforms set for retirement after last week?

I can’t speak to that. I hadn’t heard anything about them beforehand, and I don’t know what the plans are for those uniforms. Again, given the program’s history, I hardly think one loss would make them retire the uniforms.

What’s your final prediction for the game?

My final prediction for the game is a big win for Stanford. It will be a moral victory for Duke to still be in the game into the second half, and I’ll be watching much more for growth and confidence out of the Blue Devils than any kind of success on the scoreboard. This is a program trying to dig itself out of decades of punchline status, and while strides are being made, it’s not yet ready to give a team like Stanford a legitimate run for its money.

Thanks, Tom!

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The Daily Axe Staff
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