Preview 2017: Duke Blue Devils
Breaking down, previewing and looking ahead to the 2017 Duke Blue Devils.
If you look around the division and can’t figure out who the sucker is, maybe it’s you.
Duke is picking a bad time to be in a rebuilding/reloading/figuring-it-out mode, with the ACC coming off a massive season and the Coastal Division not just along for the ride.
Miami, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Pitt and Virginia Tech are all excellent or improving, and Virginia is only going to get better. And now Duke has to try to contend with all of them.
The Blue Devils manage to somehow miss Clemson, Louisville and Florida State from the Atlantic, but even so, the schedule isn’t going to be a peach for a team that has to find more firepower on offense, and needs to be much, much stronger defensively.
A few good young weapons appeared to emerge in spring ball, and Daniel Jones looks like the right quarterback for the next few seasons, but there needs to be – to go Charlie Weis – a decided schematic advantage to overcome the talent gap with the rest of the league.
Head coach David Cutliffe has done a nice job of recruiting – he has a great class coming in – but if the schemes don’t work, it’s just not that easy for the Blue Devils to make a whole lot of noise.
The defense has plenty of work to do on the line, and the secondary that got torched last year has to replace some key producers, but the linebackers are going to be a major plus. Cutcliffe is too good, and the program has been too solid to keep struggling, but the ACC isn’t about to get any worse. Duke just has to be better.
What You Need To Know About The Duke Offense
It was okay last season, but it wasn’t as explosive as it needed to be and it didn’t crank up the scoring punch averaging just 23 points per game. Part of the issue was the injury loss to QB Thomas Sirk early on, but that gave Daniel Jones a year to figure out what he was doing.
With Sirk transferring, now Jones is the main man for the attack – and he appears to be ready to be a statistical star. The running back situation should be fine with Shaun Wilson back, but he’s more solid than sensational. Three of the top four receivers are back – led by the 70 catches of T.J. Rahming – and three starters return to a decent line.
Biggest Key To The Duke Offense
The line needs to come up with a better year, especially for the ground game. For the first time since 2012, the Blue Devils averaged under four yards per carry with a mere 1,843 yards on the season. The offense threw the ball more, but that’s partly because the ground attack didn’t work on first downs and without enough big dashes to take the pressure off Jones.
He’s a good runner, but he’s not Sirk when he takes off. Wilson and the running backs need more room to move, too. Getting in Ohio State transfer Evan Lisle should help an already experienced front five.
What You Need To Know About The Duke Defense
The D didn’t do any one thing particularly well, and it crashed and burned over the final few games, but it had too much pressure to produce considering the offense was so mediocre. Six starters return, but most of the top pass rushers and playmakers behind the line are gone.
The linebacking duo of Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys is excellent to work around – this should be among the ACC’s most productive 1-2 punches. The D line is a problem with just one starter back, especially after losing DE Marquies Price. The secondary needs to be more productive despite losing playmakers Deondre Singleton and Breon Borders, but CB Bryon Fields and S Alonzo Saxton are decent veterans.
Biggest Key To The Duke Defense
The pass defense has to be better. The Blue Devils were hit for 230 yards or more in seven of the last ten games, getting roasted the worst over the final few weeks. To be fair, they had to deal with North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Pitt’s Nathan Peterman, and Miami’s Brad Kaaya in the final three games – they combined for 930 yards and ten scores – but everyone seemed to go off. Duke gave up way too many big plays, allowing almost nine yards per pass – the most by far since 2012.
Duke Will Be Far Better If …
It scores more points. The Blue Devils put up an average of over 30 points per game from 2012 to 2015, but last season the O stalled way too often, averaging a mere 23.3 points per game and scored over 30 just three times – and one of them was in the opener to North Carolina Central.
The Blue Devils have to take advantage of their opportunities, finishing 34th in the nation in red zone offense in 2014 and 66th in 2015, but – partly due to a miserable placekicking game – was 93rd last season. Yeah, it doesn’t work this way, but if the Blue Devils had averaged their normal 30+ points per game, they’d have won seven games.
Best Duke Offensive Player
WR T.J. Rahming, Jr. – The ultra-quick 5-10, 165-pounder came up with a team-high 70 catches for 742 yards, but he only scored one touchdown. Great as a freshman – with 43 catches for 571 yards and two scores – he turned into the No. 1 target the team needed, with 28 catches in each of the last three games, hitting the 100-yard mark in each.
2. QB Daniel Jones, Soph.
3. RB Shaun Wilson, Sr.
4. WR Aaron Young, Soph.
5. WR Scott Bracey, RFr.
Best Duke Defensive Player
LB Ben Humphreys, Jr. – Back from a shoulder problem – eventually – he takes a beating at an undersized 6-2 and 215 pounds. However, he’s a quick tackler in the middle, coming up with 106 tackles last season with 4.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss, after making 31 as a freshman. A great get for the program, he has the skill to work on the outside, but he’s been an all-star factor alongside Joe Giles-Harris in the 4-2-5 alignment.
2. LB Joe Giles-Harris, Soph.
3. S Alonzo Saxton, Sr.
4. DT Mike Ramsay, Sr.
5. LB Tinashe Bere, Jr.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Daniel Jones, Soph. – Thrown to the wolves when Thomas Sirk got hurt, he did a solid job throwing for 2,846 yards with 16 touchdowns and nine picks, while running for 486 yards and seven scores. While he’s 6-5 and 210 pounds, he’s a quick, dangerous runner, too. With a year under his belt, it’s his job to to carry the offense and make it even better down the field.
The Duke Season Will Be A Success If …
It gets back to a bowl game. There are way too many issues on defense, and way too many concerns on an offense that has to try keeping up the pace in the dangerous conference to even think about contending for the ACC title. But with a little more scoring punch, the Blue Devils can be two games better. Four of their first five games are at home with just three games outside of North Carolina.
Key Game To The Duke Season
Sept. 23 at North Carolina. Technically, it’s the only road game until October, but it’s a big one beyond just the rivalry factor. Duke pulled off the stunning 28-27 win last season, and it needs to do it again with Northwestern and Baylor before, and Miami right after. Lose, and a 1-4 start might be possible.
2016 Duke Fun Stats
– Duke 1st Half Scoring: 184 – Duke 2nd Half Scoring: 96
– Field Goals: Opponents 13-of-17 – Duke 3-of-10
– Average Passing Yards Per Game: Duke 239.8 – Opponents 239.8