Duke Blue Devils Football Preview 2014


Of all of the stories that emerged from last season, the rise of Duke Blue Devils football was probably one of the biggest surprises. Duke went from simply making its first bowl game in a long time to winning the Coastal division and facing Florida State in the ACC Championship game. This year, Duke is not going to sneak up on anybody as many of last year’s standouts are now preseason watch list award names. Duke will have the target on its back for the first time since the days of Steve Spurrier. Will it be able to stiff arm the Coastal again?

Dec 31, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Duke Blue Devils head coach David Cutcliffe prior to facing the Texas A&M Aggies in the 2013 Chick-fil-a Bowl at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Coach: David Cutcliffe (6th year, 75-73)

Cutcliffe was rewarded with the ACC, Maxwell, Sporting News, Walter Camp, Bobby Dodd, and AFCA Coach of the Year awards for Duke’s season in 2013.

Stadium: Wallace Wade Stadium (Capacity: 33,941)

Last Season: 10-4, 6-2 (ACC)

Duke played well last season behind a two-headed quarterback attack of Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette. They showed up tough for big games, beating three of the four Coastal division contenders at the time. Most impressive were road wins against rival North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Those wins kept Duke on top of the Coastal division and made them the opponent of FSU in the ACC Championship game in Charlotte. Future national champ Florida State blew them out, but they earned an invite to the Chick-fil-A Bowl to face Texas A&M and their Heisman (2012) winning quarterback Johnny Manziel. The Blue Devils almost kept pace with Manziel in a track meet type game, but fell 52-48.

Offense: Multiple (Spread variant)

Coach Cutcliffe goes into a game looking to use his biggest advantage. That advantage is his ability to adjust to defensive game plans. He’ll probe defenses to see what he can get and then he will take it until you stop him. This makes Duke’s play calling very flexible.

Dec 31, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Duke Blue Devils quarterback Anthony Boone (7) attempts a pass against the Texas A&M Aggies during the 2013 Chick-fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Paul Abell-USA TODAY Sports

If those calls are going to work it is up senior quarterback Anthony Boone to make them. Connette is gone back to Fresno State and the care of his mother, who has cancer. It is Boone’s show. Boone is capable of putting a great game on the field, as he showed against Texas A&M. However his efficiency needs work as he finished with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions on the year.

Hopefully there will be times when the ball is not in Boone’s hands. That means that senior running back Josh Snead will be an important to the Blue Devils this year. With Jela Duncan gone, Snead can expect more carries and improve on his 651 yards from last year and 2 TDs. This seems doable as Snead held a gaudy 6.1 yds/ rush last year.

Boone also has two trusted targets in senior wide receiver Jamison Crowder and tight end Braxton Deaver. Both found their way onto preseason award lists, with Deaver on the Mackey list, and Crowder on several lists including the Hornung and Biletnikoff lists. Crowder, who seems like has been on Duke forever, continues to a guy who can find seems and has enough speed to outrun you, if you not careful.

Supporting them is Max McCaffery, who has a nose for first down markers.
Laken Tomlinson returns to anchor an experienced if somewhat new line. The Duke o-line lost two starters but the second line guys who fill their places saw plenty of action in the rotation.

Jul 20, 2014; Greensboro, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils linebacker Kelby Brown addresses the media during the ACC football media day at the Grandover Resort. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Defense: 4-2-5

Duke was blessed with great secondary play last season, and the 4-2-5 enabled them to put five of those guys on the field at any one time. Safeties like junior Jeremy Cash and sophomore DeVon Edwards will be called upon for more of the same in the upcoming season. Pass defense was not the problem of the Duke defense in 2014.

It was the run. The biggest producers on the defensive line, Kenny Anunike and Justin Foxx are gone. Duke’s defensive line was maligned by run heavy teams, as evidenced by their loss to Georgia Tech. Hopefully the returning linemen have learned from that experience, but there will not a lot of brand new faces up there.

Linking the two units is the ever dependable Kelby Brown, who found his way for 10 tackles for loss last year. His cohort David Helton, who led the linebackers in tackles last year, is also back for a very veteran group. Which is good, as they may have to clean up the defensive line’s messes. Or they could in turn pass on that task to the secondary.

Special Teams:

Junior Punter Will Monday was been a solid punter with a 43 yard average kick and more than twenty kicks inside the twenty last year. Junior Ross Martin returns as the place kicker. Martin was 83% inside of forty yards, but unreliable beyond it at 42%.

DeVon Edwards and Johnell Barnes return to the kickoff return team. Edwards averaged a fantastic 30 yards per return last year. Do everything man Jamison Crowder will field the punts looking to add to his 2 return touchdowns last year.

Dec 31, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Texas A&M Aggies wide receiver Travis Labhart (15) is brought out-of-bounds by Duke Blue Devils safety Jeremy Cash (16) during the first quarter in the 2013 Chick-fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Player to Watch: Jeremy Cash, Junior, Safety, 6’2” 205

Cash found his way onto several watch lists this preseason. He was on the watch list for the Bednarik and Thorpe awards. Cash led the Blue Devils in tackles last season and his spot on the field will continue to be busy. Cash was often the last line of defense for broken rushing plays, and also anchored a Duke secondary that intercepted 16 balls over the course of the season.

Cash was four of those, and he was also 9.5 tackles for lost. This means the Ohio State transfer is also a possible run blitz option for the defense. Duke will likely to pushed back into a bend-don’t-break mode on defense and that will require Cash to be every bit as active as he is currently.


More from Duke Blue Devils

9/6AT Troy
9/27AT Miami
10/11AT Georgia Tech
11/1AT Pittsburgh
11/8AT Syracuse
11/15Virginia Tech
11/20North Carolina
11/29Wake Forest

Projection: 9-3, 5-3 ACC

If you read my North Carolina preview, then you know that I picked UNC to finish with a worse overall record, but a better conference record than you see here for Duke. It will still take some time for tomorrow’s ACC preview to decide the ultimate fate of the Coastal. Anyway I see Duke losing on the road to Miami, option run Georgia Tech, and Pittsburgh. I see them finishing the year strong at home against Wake, UNC, and VT. It will be another good year for Duke football.

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