2009 ACC Football Preview: Duke

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Duke Blue Devils

Returning Starters: 13 (7 offense, 6 defense)

Key Returnees: QB Thad Lewis, RB Re’Quan Boyette, RB Jay Hollingsworth,
RB tony Jackson, WR Johnny Williams, C Bryan Morgan, LT Kyle Hill, DT Vince
Oghobaase, DE Ayanga Okpokowuruk, LB Vincent Rey, CB Leon Wright, FS Catron
Gainey

Key Losses: WR Eron Riley, WR Raphael Chestnut, LT Cameron Goldberg, RG
Rob Schirmann, RT Fred Roland, DE Greg Akinbiyi, DT Clifford Respress, LB
Michael Tauiliili, LB Marcus Jones, CB Glenn Williams, CB Jabari Marshall, S
Adrian Aye-Darko

Overall View

Duke was an improved football team last season under first year head coach
David Cutcliffe. The Blue Devils went 4-8, with a 31-3 win over Virginia, as
well as a 10-7 road win against eventual Music City Bowl Champion Vanderbilt.
They were very close in a number of games, losing to Northwestern by four, Wake
Forest by three, NC State by 10, Virginia Tech by 11 and North Carolina by
eight.

The Blue Devils still have limited talent, though their recruiting has gotten
better with Cutcliffe on the staff. However, Cutcliffe’s recruits are still very
young, and it’s unlikely that Duke will be able to qualify for a bowl game in
2009.

Offensive Strength

Quarterback Thad Lewis is the strength of Duke’s offense. Despite
having a poor offensive line in front of him, and not much of a running game to
lean on, Lewis has started since his true freshman season. He has passed for
6,735 yards, with 47 touchdowns and 32 interceptions.

If you throw out his true freshman season, Lewis has 36 touchdowns and just
16 interceptions over his last two seasons. He is perhaps the nation’s most
underrated quarterback. He’s not a runner, but he is mobile enough to escape
pressure, which is needed behind Duke’s poor offensive line.

While Duke isn’t expected to go bowling in 2009, having a very good senior
quarterback under center can’t hurt their chances.

Offensive Weakness

Until proven otherwise, Duke’s offensive line has to be considered
their offensive weakness. The Blue Devils are never able to establish an
effective running game because the line can’t get much push. They lose a trio of
three-year starters heading into the 2009 season, so some backups will have to
show that they can step up.

The good news is that Duke’s pass blocking improved last year in David
Cutcliffe’s new system. After allowing 45 sacks in 2007, they allowed just 22 in
2008. As they continue to adjust to the new offense, this group could get better
in 2009 despite losing so much experience.

Defensive Strength

Duke will be tough up front on the defensive line in 2009. They always
lack athletes on the defensive side of the ball, but the Blue Devils always show
toughness in the trenches. They are led by defensive tackle Vince Oghobaase, who
is projected to be a very high NFL draft pick in 2010. Wesley Oglesby and Ayanga
Okpokowuruk return as starters at defensive end, giving Duke a very solid and
experienced defensive line.

Duke’s only problem up front will be depth. The backups at both defensive end
and defensive tackle will be unproven, after losing Clifford Respress and Greg
Akinbiyi to graduation. We could see Duke play teams close for the first three
quarters before wearing out in the fourth quarter.

Defensive Weakness

Duke doesn’t have much athleticism in their secondary, which makes
them vulnerable against the pass. You can get by with just toughness in the
trenches, but you need more than toughness when defending good ACC wide
receivers in space. Leon Wright and Catron Gainey are experienced players, but
Duke loses safety Adrian Aye-Darko and cornerbacks Jabari Marshall and Glenn
Williams.

The Blue Devils lack depth in the secondary, and whenever they do find a good
player, they struggle to replace him when his eligibility expires. Look for
opponents to continue to attack Duke through the air in 2009.

Biggest Game

Duke’s biggest game could come on September 19 when they travel to Kansas.
The Blue Devils begin the season against Richmond and Army, and they host North
Carolina Central on September 26. The Blue Devils could have a legitimate shot
to be 4-0 when Virginia Tech comes to town on October 3, if they can get by that
road game at Kansas.

That will be tough, however. The Jayhawks return seven starters on each side
of the ball, including senior quarterback Todd Reesing.

Chris Coleman’s Thoughts

I’ve got a lot of respect for what David Cutcliffe has been able to
accomplish in a short time and Duke, and I truly believe that Thad Lewis is one
of the most underrated quarterbacks in the nation. I also like Duke’s front
seven. They are always tough, though they lack depth.

However, they lack the skilled talent that will get them a winning record and
a trip to a bowl game. Eron Riley was an excellent receiver, but he is gone.
Johnny Williams showed a lot of promise as a freshman in 2008, and he has
excellent speed, but he can’t do it all by himself.

In the end, I see Duke winning 3-5 games again, playing a few other teams
close, and narrowly missing a bowl game.

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