"Behind Enemy Lines" returns for another installment after a week hiatus as Tulane takes on the Duke Blue Devils Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham. The Blue Devils, coming off a 41-3 victory against the Kansas Jayhawks, are only playing for the fourth time ever against the Green Wave and first time since 2011.
Recently I spoke with Patrick Cacchio from BlueDevilNation.net about this year's Blue Devil squad and what to expect on Saturday in Durham.
1) Duke reached a breakthrough in 2013 by reaching the ACC championship game. How has that helped with not only recruiting but also morale on campus regarding the football team?
Ten wins, an ACC Coastal Division championship, and a Chick-fil-a Bowl shootout with Johnny Football quickly put Duke football back on the map. Given the winless seasons and embarrassments that this program endured over recent decades, the success of the 2013 season was no small feat for Coach Cutcliffe and his staff.
Never before in Duke football history has the program put together a 10-win season, and the success of 2013 has certainly resulted in an up-tick in support and enthusiasm for the gridiron Devils. While the suggestion that Duke is now a "football school" is a bit tongue-in-cheek, there is no question that this is a program on the rise.
The Blue Devils continue to attract talented student-athletes to Durham, and have even begun to win critical recruiting battles against traditional football powers. Recent feedback on the recruiting trail suggests that Duke is viewed as one of the most "hyped" programs in the country, and is potentially the "Stanford of the East Coast." The University, under the leadership of AD Kevin White, has committed to building a winning football program in Durham.
The early phases of a large-scale renovation of Wallace Wade Stadium have already begun, and the Blue Devils were one of the first programs in the conference to boast an indoor practice facility. While these upgrades and successes have increased enthusiasm, there are still plenty of available seats in Wallace Wade Stadium on any given Saturday.
2) Against Kansas last week, Anthony Boone and Shaun Wilson torched the Jayhawks and posted big numbers. What should Tulane expect from the Blue Devils on offense?
Shaun Wilson was the story last Saturday, breaking the Blue Devils' rushing record and scoring on runs of 69, 68 and 45 yards. The true freshman is exactly the kind of explosive athlete that Coach Cutcliffe's offense has attracted to Durham; he's averaging over 15 yards per carry through the first 3 games of his college career.
Even though the Blue Devils put up 41 points against Kansas, it was a slow day for their top veteran playmaker, WR Jamison Crowder, who finished with just 2 catches and 14 yards. Having followed Anthony Boone for his entire career, I would actually characterize last week's effort against the Jayhawks as one of his weaker performances. He finished the day 19/32 for just 180 yards, finding junior WR Max McCaffrey for 2 TDs, but struggled with accuracy at times.
But that was all against Kansas, and I expect things to be different against the Green Wave. Under new OC Scottie Montgomery, I look for Duke to re-establish the Boone-to-Crowder connection early this Saturday as they prepare for ACC play. Opposite Crowder is 6'6" senior WR Issac Blakeney, who appears poised for a breakout campaign with 3 TDs through his first 3 games. While Wilson remains an explosive threat, he will continue to share carries with veterans Josh Snead and Shaquille Powell in what I expect to be a balanced Blue Devil offensive gameplan.
3) One of my favorite players on defense last year, Ross Cockrell, is gone from the team as well as a few others. What are some of the defensive standouts for the Blue Devils?
Ross Cockrell, now with the Buffalo Bills, was a key veteran in an otherwise inexperienced Duke secondary a season ago. His leadership and experience remains a big loss for the Blue Devils in 2014, as Duke still lists 7 first or second-year players on their secondary two-deep. Safeties Jeremy Cash, a transfer from Ohio State, and last year's breakout star, DeVon Edwards, are the new faces of the Blue Devil defense, both with a flare for making the big play.
The Blue Devils' defense is holding opponents to 11 points per game so far in 2014, which is more a statement about Duke's opponents than their own defensive prowess. Make no mistake, Duke has playmakers on defense, but this remains far from a dominant unit. Under DC Jim Knowles, the Blue Devils seem to feature a "bend but don't break" mentality defensively, giving up yards but not points, and finding timely turnovers. The biggest challenge for them this week will be to contain young Tanner Lee, by far the most talented and dynamic QB they have faced this season.
4) Should David Cutcliffe be considered as greatest FB coach in Duke history?
Given the colossal failures of his recent predecessors, it's easy to coronate Coach Cutcliffe, but calling him the greatest in Duke history is probably premature. Wallace Wade, who won 115 games at Duke in the 1930s and 1940s, and Bill Murray, who won 93 games after Wade's departure, both deserve credit for the glory days of Duke football.
Cutcliffe is quickly closing in on the #3 spot for wins at Duke, which is an impressive accomplishment in just 7 seasons. The revitalization he has led in Durham within the constraints of Duke's academic standards and the modern college football environment is certainly remarkable - just ask the residents of Cutsboro, the neighboring tent village to Duke's better-known and more densely-populated Krzyzewskiville.