CFN Preview 2013 - Duke Blue Devils
Duke WR Jamison Growder
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Duke Blue Devils
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By Richard Cirminiello
By Duke standards, 2012 was a long-awaited breakthrough. Now, the program is aiming to prove that its success wasn't fleeting.
Head coach: David Cutcliffe
Sixth year: 21-40
Off. 22, Def. 22, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 20
Ten Best Duke Players
1. CB Ross Cockrell, Sr.
2. WR Jamison Crowder, Jr.
3. DE Kenny Anunike, Sr.
4. OT Perry Simmons, Sr.
5. QB Anthony Boone, Jr.
6. OG Dave Harding, Sr.
7. OG Laken Tomlinson, Jr.
8. LB Kelby Brown, Jr.
9. PK Ross Martin, Soph.
10. DT Sydney Sarmiento, Sr.
8/31 NC Central
9/7 at Memphis
9/14 Georgia Tech
10/5 OPEN DATE
10/19 at Virginia
10/26 at Virginia Tech
11/2 OPEN DATE
11/9 NC State
11/23 at Wake Forest
11/30 at North Carolina
For the first since 1994, the Blue Devils bowled last season, crossing a threshold that had eluded them for so long. The fact that they lost to Cincinnati, 48-34, in the Belk Bowl failed to confuse the meaning of a postseason appearance for a school that's struggled on grass for so many years. It represented a tangible sign of progress for ACC Coach of the Year David Cutcliffe, the kind that resonates with recruits and a justifiably fickle fan base.
Duke certainly backed into a bowl game, dropping its final five games, and defeating just one opponent with a winning record. It's a foundation nonetheless, and a talking point when Cutcliffe and his assistants get back on the recruiting trail. Remaining in contention for a December bonus game is going to require a couple of things this season, replacing two of last season's top offensive performers and finding some answers on defense.
The Blue Devils are moving forward without longtime starting QB Sean Renfree and all-time leading receiver Conner Vernon. Yet, the offense still should be pretty good. Anthony Boone is equipped with the skill set to make a seamless transition behind center, and Jamison Crowder has already proven that he has go-to guy ability in the passing game. The D? Duke will have to forge ahead in spite of it. The Blue Devils sport of the country's leakiest defensive units, a trend that's likely to continue in 2013. If Cutcliffe is going to get his kids to hover around the .500 mark again, the offense will need to continue leading the way.
Duke is gradually headed in the right direction … finally. No, this is not an ACC contender, but by appearing in a bowl game last year, the Blue Devils showed that progress and relative success is possible. Cutcliffe is determined to keep the momentum going, because the attention span around Durham is extremely short when the subject is football.
What to watch for on offense: Leave it to Deaver. The graduation of record-breaking WR Conner Vernon has left the offense searching for new receiving targets to complement star WR Jamison Crowder. Junior TE Braxton Deaver is up for the challenge. The 6-5, 240-pound seam-buster was poised to bust out in 2012 before an injury to his knee and thumb shut him down for the season. He's back, healthy again and ready to give the new quarterback a sure-headed and athletic target in the intermediate passing game.
What to watch for on defense: The health of the D-line. The Blue Devils have a chance to be pretty good up front in 2013. They'll certainly be deep. But the key will be to remain healthy, which eluded the unit last fall. DE Kenny Anunike is the team's best pass rusher, an DT Sydney Sarmiento is a steady presence on the inside. However, everyone is going to be better off if DE Justin Foxx and NG Jamal Bruce can go the entire season without missing any time.
The team will be far better if… the defense can make even modest gains this fall. No one is banking on a complete turnaround. That would be unrealistic. But the Blue Devils have to force more points and stop allowing so many back-breaking at the worst possible times in games. Getting the ball back in the hands of the offense has to be a priority for coordinator Jim Knowles' kids, or else Duke will be climbing uphill all year long.
The Schedule: It's all about getting hot early. The Blue Devils only have to leave North Carolina three times - early at Memphis and in back-to-back October road games at Virginia and Virginia Tech - but that's it. Going away to Wake Forest and North Carolina to close out the year doesn't really qualify as a major road swing. Over the first half the season the schedule couldn't work out nicer with five home games in the first six including winnable games against NC Central, Troy and Navy. The back half isn't bad, but the run of at Virginia, at Virginia Tech, NC State and Miami will be trying. On the plus side, playing Wake Forest and NC State from the Atlantic isn't a bad thing - there's no Clemson or Florida State.
Best offensive player: Junior WR Jamison Crowder. One star receiver graduates, and another one emerges. Actually, Crowder introduced himself to the rest of the ACC last fall as a complement to Conner Vernon, without a lot forewarning. The 5-9, 175-pound jackrabbit posted 76 receptions for 1,074 yards and eight touchdowns to earn honorable mention All-ACC. Best of all, he's only at the halfway point of his college career and bound to become even better. Crowder is extremely quick in space, beating opposing defenders to the open spot on the field.
Best defensive player: Senior CB Ross Cockrell. The 6-0, 180-pound pass defender isn't just a big fish in the shallow pond that is the Blue Devils secondary. He's actually one of league's top pass defenders. Cockrell parlayed a career-high with 71 tackles, four stops for loss, five interceptions, 13 pass breakups and two pick-sixes into the All-ACC First Team. The starter in all 36 games of his Duke career has developed the footwork, speed and swivel to attract the attention of pro scouts seeking a lockdown corner.
Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Anthony Boone. Everyone's success hinges on the play of the quarterback. David Cutcliffe certainly is no different. Boone probably has more physical upside than his predecessor, Sean Renfree. However, the talented first-time starter still needs to show that he can lead and manage the offense with a minimum of costly mistakes. Duke is going to win or lose with offense this fall, and no offensive player is remotely as important as Boone.
The season will be a success if ... the Blue Devils again win six games. There can be no retreat for the Duke football program; not after all that Cutcliffe has achieved to get to this point. Anything beyond the six regular-season wins needed for bowl-eligibility is going to be highly unlikely. However, with a schedule that includes non-conference games against N.C. Central, Memphis, Troy and Navy, the Devils will have a shot to once again start fast, deliver a mild upset or two and qualify for the postseason.
Key game: Nov. 23 at Wake Forest. There are a handful of toss-up games on the schedule that'll go a long way toward determining Duke's postseason fate. This late-season trip to Winston-Salem is one of them. Beyond being just a rivalry game, this will also be a meeting of similarly talented programs with similar goals as the 2013 campaign winds down. November wins have been scarce for the Blue Devils, especially outside Durham, making this an opportunistic trip to BB&T Field.
2012 Fun Stats:
- Average yards per rush: Duke 3.7 – Opponents 5.0
- Average yards per catch: Duke 10.5 – Opponents 15.5
- Sacks: Duke 25 - Opponents 19
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