the chronicle’s guide to
august 29, 2008
accFootball acc Football
MEN AT WORK THE REBUILDING OF DUKE FOOTBALL
CHASE OLIVIERI/THE CHRONICLE
PLUS: X’S AND O’S WITH CUTCLIFFE AND THAD
2 | FRIDAY, AUGUST 29, 2008
ACC FOOTBALL PREVIEW
Blue Devils’ slate more suitable for winning Duke’s opening home games could set tone
Why Northwestern is the most critical game
by Will Flaherty
road starts Oct. 25 with a trip to nonconference foe Vanderbilt and a Nov. 1 game at Wake Forest. The Commodores downed Duke 45-28 in their last meeting in 2005, but this year’s team is relatively inexperienced with only nine returning starters. Wake Forest, whose rapid ascent in the ACC standings in recent years is a model that Duke and Cutcliffe hope to emulate, is led by quarterback Riley Skinner and cornerback Alphonso Smith. Duke will return to Durham Nov. 8 to face Triangle rival N.C. State in the teams’ first showdown since 2003, then head out for a final two-game road trip against the two teams picked to finish first in each of
Since the day I saw the Blue Devils’ schedule, I have thought this team can go to a bowl. I know that sounds unrealistic— ludicrous, even—but I have also thought, at times, that this team can go winless. Again: unrealistic, even ludicrous. And both extrema hinge on Duke’s Sept. 6 home game with Northwestern. Football seasons are naturally segmented. Ben They are divided into games, further into quarters, drives, first downs, even play clocks—which is to say that deeming one of 12 games more important than any other is, at best, not possible, and, at worst, absurd. But the matchup with the Wildcats is still early enough for us to know, at least somewhat, the mental and physical status of the Blue Devils. Duke will enter the game either riding high having validated the hype that has built since David Cutcliffe’s introductory press conference in December, or it will trudge into Wallace Wade having lost, again, to a Division I-AA opponent and, worse, squandered a large chunk of its momentum. There are no in-betweens; Cutcliffe’s team will be 1-0, or it will be 0-1. Northwestern, a Big Ten foe Duke managed to beat in Evanston, Ill., last year, offers the opportunity to further the energy around the football program to heights it hasn’t seen since 1994. What’s more, if the Blue Devils top James Madison and Northwestern, I firmly believe the snowball effect will boost them to a win over Navy the following week, pushing them into their ACC opener against Virginia after a bye week—a game that will generate the most football buzz since the days of Steve Spurrier. That’s three wins, with the potential for more victories against Virginia, Georgia Tech, N.C.
SEE SCHEDULE ON PAGE 10
SEE COHEN ON PAGE 4
At least for the season’s first four games, the Blue Devils’ longest trip will be a short one—the new pregame “Devil Walk” from the Duke Chapel to Wallace Wade Stadium. And they won’t trek much farther the rest of the season. Duke will play seven of its 12 games at home this fall, including a crucial, opening four-game stretch that could very well influence the final record of new head coach David Cutcliffe’s first season in Durham. The Blue Devils’ home matchups against James Madison, Northwestern, Navy and Virginia won’t mark the first time that Duke has played four home games in a row—that last occurred during 2006’s winless season—but it will be the first time in program history that the team has opened the season with four home games. But beyond historical significance, the opening stretch of home dates should provide a quartet of contests that will provide tough tests, yet could all be classified as eminently winnable games. Duke will face a James Madison team in the opener that had its 8-4 season last year ended by Appalachian State in the Division I-AA playoffs, but the Dukes haven’t beaten a Division I-A team since downing Navy back in 1990. Duke’s 20-14 win at Northwestern last season snapped a 22-game losing streak, but the Wildcats are an experienced team with 17 returning starters and shouldn’t be expected to go down easily. Up next is Navy, a team that gave Duke a heartbreaking 45-42 loss last season in Annapolis but which also lost head coach and triple option mastermind Paul Johnson to Georgia Tech in the winter. An off week will give the Blue Devils a quick break before a Sept. 27 matchup with Virginia in Duke’s first ACC game of the year. Virginia was one of the conference’s surprise teams in 2007 with a 9-4 final mark,
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Duke lost last season’s opener to Connecticut, but this season’s slate appears markedly less difficult. but the Cavaliers have a major question mark at quarterback after the suspension of starter Jameel Sewell for the season due to academic ineligibility. Thirty-six days after opening the season in Durham, the Blue Devils will hit the road for the first time in October to face Georgia Tech in Atlanta Oct. 4. The team’s final bye of the season will provide a quick break before the season ends with seven consecutive games. Miami will visit Wallace Wade Oct. 18, returning for the first time since Oct. 21, 2005, when a late interception of a Thaddeus Lewis pass inside the red zone helped the suspension-plagued Hurricanes escape with a 20-15 win. The Blue Devils’ second stint on the
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FRIDAY, AUGUST 29, 2008 | 3
ACC FOOTBALL PREVIEW
Fixing special teams vital to turnaround by Stephen Allan THE CHRONICLE
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When your special teams have been as bad as Duke’s have been for the past several years, you don’t look for immediate answers or a quick fix. Rather, you just want to do things right on a regular basis, even if it means sacrificing the occasional big play—which is exactly the mentality David Cutcliffe has adopted in choosing his special teams starters. “If I got a guy that can punt it 58 yards in the air but he only does that twice and shanks it eight times, he is of no use to me,” Cutcliffe said. “What I’m looking for is consistency and looking like a major college player.” But at first glance, finding that might be difficult. Kickoff returner Jabari Marshall is a home-run threat, as seen in last year’s opener with a 94-yard touchdown return. But he strikes out just as much, such as when he fumbled two kickoffs in one half in last season’s 43-14 drubbing at the hands of Virginia Tech. The kicking game has not only been woeful, but has also directly cost the Blue Devils at least two victories in the past two years. In 2006, Duke had a 26-yard chip shot to win the game against eventual ACC champion Wake Forest, but could not hold off the Demon Deacons’ rush and had the kick blocked. The Blue Devils’ troubles continued the last time they took the field at North Carolina, when Nick Maggio’s
potential game-winning 40-yard field goal went wide left. And there’s no telling how much the momentum could have swung in Duke’s favor in numerous games if its kickers had converted more than 3-of-11 field goals, which was more than 30 percent worse than the next-lowest team in the ACC. The Blue Devils’ punt return unit ranked 11th in the ACC with just 6.9 yards per return, and their net punting yardage was also last in the league. In other words, Duke needed a lot of work on special teams. And, Cutcliffe said, they still do. “I’ve seen every special teams snap for two years here, and they don’t look like a major college unit out on the field,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s very obvious we’re better as a team.... Again, consider where we were. So, much better is not good enough at this point.” For right now, though, he will have to make due with what he’s got. And to do so, he’s putting his players in the best position possible for their respective talents. Although he lost his starting kicker role, senior Joe Surgan will still handle kickoff duties because of his powerful leg. Despite his issues with handling the ball, Marshall remains the primary return man, as his explosive return ability is being counted on to set up field position. Maggio has been handed the starting kicker role with the expectations that he will perform as well as he has so far in off-
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Returner Jabari Marshall can strike out, but is also a home run threat, evidenced in his 96-yard return last year. season practices. Last year, he converted all 13 of his extra points and made 2-of-5 field goals, including a team-long kick of 40 yards. “I think I know what I’m going to get from Nick Maggio,” Cutcliffe said, citing his consistent play as “absolutely” the reason for him getting the starting gig. With those players in position to succeed, Cutcliffe envisions some strong possibilities for his team. He cites the kickoff
game as “excellent” and suggests that the team could even block some kicks, giving opponents a taste of Duke’s bitter medicine. But they’re still the same players that struggled most of the time last year. And that means that while it would be nice for a game-breaking play here and there, Cutcliffe would much rather have consistent performers than the outstanding but unpredictable player.
4 | FRIDAY, AUGUST 29, 2008
ACC FOOTBALL PREVIEW
MacIntyre, Hobby to co-teach defensive unit by Sam Levy THE CHRONICLE
The David Cutcliffe era has generated excitement because of Cutcliffe’s offensive resume. Although Cutcliffe has garnered much of the attention, many forget that Duke’s new head man has brought with him a staff of almost entirely new coaches—and two defensive coordinators. In 2007, the Blue Devils did not have a defensive coordinator on staff—former head coach Ted Roof put the heat on himself and doubled in that role. Shortly after arriving in Durham, however, Cutcliffe hired Mike MacIntyre and Marion Hobby to co-coordinate a defense that finished near the ACC cellar in almost every statistical category last season. “We’re ready to go out and play,” MacIntyre said. “The guys have pushed themselves and they’re motivated. Now it’s time to get out there.” Cutcliffe brought in his former Ole Miss staff member from the New York Jets, where MacIntyre spent the 2007 season coaching the defensive backs. Prior to his stint in New York, MacIntyre spent four seasons under Bill Parcells with the Dallas Cowboys. In their first season coordinating the defense, MacIntyre and Hobby will employ a 4-3 scheme that will rely heavily on Duke’s experienced front seven, anchored by fouryear starter Michael Tauiliili and NFL prospect Vince Oghobaase, a junior. Tauiliili is the team’s leading returning tackler, as his
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9.8 tackles per game were good for third in the ACC in 2007. The Blue Devils also lined up in a 4-3 defense a year ago, but this year, the scheme focuses more on the entire front seven swarming the ball and will consist of formations not seen a season ago. “It’s not basic, but it’s not too advanced for us,” Tauiliili said of the scheme. “One thing they always tell us is knowledge equals confidence equals playing fast. As long as you know what’s going on and you can anticipate different plays based on formations and things like that, it really works out for us. We have a very strong base, so it’s not like we’re changing every week.” Both Tauiliili and Oghobaase commented on the changes in the mentality of the coaching staff in regards to swarming the ball and stripping it away from the opponent. Hobby doubles as the team’s defensive line coach, and has stressed this fact since day one. “Every person on the defensive staff has the mentality of swarming the football,” Tauiliili said. “Through practice and team drills, it’s showed positive signs. Vince [Oghobaase], he’ll come and knock the ball out of a receiver’s hands.... You have to get to the ball and work on your technique of stripping it, punching the ball out. That’s a major difference that I’ve seen since they’ve been here.” Hobby spent six seasons with Cutcliffe SEE DEFENSE ON PAGE 10
Good Luck, Blue Devils
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Duke took its lone win last year at Northwestern, and a home game with the Wildcats could decide this season.
COHEN from page 2 State and North Carolina, three of which would result in a likely bowl berth. It’s also a monstrous jump—perhaps illogical—but it has made more sense to me every day, especially when I hear Cutcliffe talk about posting 30 points per game. Then there’s the other, uglier scenario. Should Duke lose this weekend to
JMU—which is, of course, a verifiable possibility—it has the chance to salvage its season the next week against Northwestern and maybe even attain the previously mentioned, best-case scenario. But if the Wildcats avenge last season’s outcome after the Blue Devils had surrendered a golden stab at revival the previous week? Then, Cutcliffe will have to make a journey to the Blue Zone to see any students on Saturdays.
Want to watch video previews of Duke games? Check out The Chronicle’s Sports Blog at www.dukechroniclesports.com
FRIDAY, AUGUST 29, 2008 | 5
ACC FOOTBALL PREVIEW
Time for the Tigers to thrive
OLL P N O AS PRESETLANTIC A CLEMSON AP: 9 / COACHES: 9 2007 RECORD: 9-4 2007 ACC: 5-3 WAKE FOREST AP: 23 / COACHES: 23 2007 RECORD: 9-4 2007 ACC: 5-3 FLORIDA STATE AP: NR / COACHES: NR 2007 RECORD: 7-6 2007 ACC: 4-4 BOSTON COLLEGE AP: NR / COACHES: NR 2007 RECORD: 11-3 2007 ACC: 6-2 (CHAMPS) MARYLAND AP: NR / COACHES: NR 2007 RECORD: 6-7 2007 ACC: 3-5 N.C. STATE AP: NR / COACHES: NR 2007 RECORD: 5-7 2007 ACC: 3-5
ZACHARY TRACER/CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO
Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden could finally escape from his father’s shadow if the Tigers meet hopes.
Tommy Bowden thinks it’s time. In his 10th season at Clemson, it’s time for Bowden to finally escape from the shadow of his father, Florida State head coach and NCAA all-time wins leader Bobby Bowden. It’s time for his team to come through down the stretch, unlike the last two seasons, when the Tigers faded in November. And it’s time for this proud program to win its first ACC championship since 1991. National experts seem to agree with Bowden. No. 9 Clemson returns most of its dynamic offense and is the conference’s only top-10 team. “We’re the team to beat [in the ACC],” senior safety Michael Hamlin said. “We’ve got nothing but weapons.” The most important of those weapons is quarterback Cullen Harper, an Alpharetta,
Ga. native with 29 career passing touchdowns. Harper struggled at times last season, but for the most part, he showed off his strong arm while completing long passes and took care of the ball—reflected in his 27 touchdowns versus just six interceptions in 2007. The Tigers have some of the best skill players in the country besides Harper, including running backs C.J. Spiller and James Davis, which is why Harper has high expectations for himself and the squad. “If we don’t make it to the ACC championship, we let some people down,” Harper said. “We let ourselves down. All the pieces of the puzzle are there. I think this is the first time since I’ve been here that we really have a legitimate shot of being in the ACC championship game.” —by Gabe Starosta
Wake ignores top-25 status For the first time in school history, preseason polls have pegged Wake Forest as a top-25 team. Not that the No. 23 Demon Deacons are letting any of the talk get to their heads. “You never know before the season starts,” senior cornerback Alphonso Smith said. “That’s the thing about preseason predictions. You haven’t done anything yet. We haven’t even played one game. So it’s all based off your potential and what we did last year, so we have to understand that we haven’t done anything yet and that we can’t relax and be satisfied with the predictions.” Thanks to nine returning starters on defense, Wake Forest may have the best unit in the conference. Their defensive pressure will be crucial to their success, especially without a high-octane offense to light
up the scoreboard. On the other hand, junior quarterback Riley Skinner has been proficient in his past two years, including completing an NCAA-best 72 percent of his passes, and could make a leap to stardom this year. Although all of the pieces seem to be in place for a finish at the top of the Atlantic Division, the Demon Deacons are all too aware of how easy it is to get caught up in the hype. After winning the ACC Championship in 2006 with an 11-win season, Wake Forest took a bit of a slip, finishing 9-4 last year. “With the expectations through the roof for this football team, I think there’s a little bit of pressure,” head coach Jim Grobe said. “I hope we handle it better than we did last year.” —by Madeline Perez
MAYA ROBINSON/CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO
Quarterback Riley Skinner and the Demon Deacons are ranked in the preseason poll for the first time ever.
Hokies favored despite losses
GLEN GUTTERSON/CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO
Virginia Tech lost a large portion of its starting team, but is still favored to win the Coastal Division.
After losing 13 starters from last year’s ACC championship team, Virginia Tech could be expected to have a down year. Throw in the fact that head coach Frank Beamer just selected a starting quarterback, last season’s leading rusher was booted off the team and the Hokies have just two receivers that have ever caught a collegiate pass, and “down year” might be generous. And yet, No. 17 Virginia Tech is still the overwhelming favorite to return to the conference title game. “That’s a compliment to our program that we can lose 13 guys to the NFL and still be picked to win,” Beamer said. The Hokies’ strength has always been their defense, and they will have to play well for Virginia Tech to realize its title hopes. Although the defensive unit lost the majority of its start-
ers, defensive coordinator Bud Foster has always been able to put together a solid line. “We have some guys that have plenty of talent,” defensive end Orion Martin said. “They’re ready to step in, they’re hungry and they’re ready to go. They’re young, but we have a good scheme. They know it, so we’ll be fine.” The Hokies have far more question marks on the offensive end. Fifth-year senior Sean Glennon got the nod behind center, but the senior will have few offensive options. Graduation has paved the way for an influx of younger players, even if they take a few weeks to develop. “Those young guys are very talented guys,” Beamer said. “But we need to get us a starting point. Then hopefully, we can stay healthy and then improve as the season goes along, and I think we will.” —by Sabreena Merchant
UNC looks to reverse record For most teams, doubling its win total in one season would come as a pleasant surprise. But for North Carolina, reversing last year’s 4-8 record would not necessarily be a major accomplishment; instead, it would be merely meeting lofty expectations. Thanks in large part to the development of redshirt-sophomore quarterback T. J. Yates and running back Greg Little, the Tar Heels are expecting a sudden jump—and it would be old hat for second-year head coach Butch Davis, who took a Miami team in disarray to the brink of the national title game in just six seasons. The names are largely the same, but of the team’s eight losses, six came by a touchdown or less, and the experience and maturity gained could make the difference. “Once you’ve been there more than a year, you don’t have nearly the experimenta-
tion that you did in the first year,” Davis said. Davis will largely rely on Yates throwing to a star-studded cast of receivers that includes Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate. Nicks has already said he believes the Tar Heels boast the best receiving corps in the country. The team’s youth will be exposed quickly, too. After the opener against McNeese State, North Carolina travels to Rutgers for a Thursday night showdown on ESPN, then plays Virginia Tech, Miami, Connecticut and Notre Dame in succession. “By the end of the first month of the season, we’ll have a pretty good idea of what kind of football team we’re going to have,” Davis said. In other words, by October, UNC fans will know whether to start counting down to Late Night with Roy. —by Stephen Allan
CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO
North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates could help head coach Butch Davis lead a Tar Heel resurgence.
LL O P N ASO L E S E R A P COAST VIRGINIA TECH AP: 17 / COACHES: 15 2007 RECORD: 11-3 2007 ACC: 7-1 (CHAMPS) NORTH CAROLINA AP: NR / COACHES: NR 2007 RECORD: 4-8 2007 ACC: 3-5 MIAMI AP: NR / COACHES: NR 2007 RECORD: 5-7 2007 ACC: 2-6 GEORGIA TECH AP: NR / COACHES: NR 2007 RECORD: 7-6 2007 ACC: 4-4 VIRGINIA AP: NR / COACHES: NR 2007 RECORD: 9-4 2007 ACC: 6-2 DUKE AP: NR / COACHES: NR 2007 RECORD: 1-11 2007 ACC: 0-8
6 | FRIDAY, AUGUST 29, 2008
ACC FOOTBALL PREVIEW
Diagramming The T resurgence THE RUNNING GAME
Backup corps fill in for loss of captain Boyette by Laura Keeley THE CHRONICLE
Even the most ardent Duke supporter would have few positives to say about the Blue Devils’ run attack last year. It doesn’t take a mathematician to realize that Duke’s average gain of 2.0 yards per attempt was not going to deliver the necessary 10 for a first down. And it does not take a Steve Spurrier-esque football expert to realize not many teams are fooled by a one-dimensional offense. So head coach David Cutcliffe has made revamping the running game his top priority. “Having a good running game is very important because last year our running game wasn’t very good,” wide receiver Eron Riley said. “Now, our throwing game was decent, but look at our record. It’s very important out here to be able to run and pass it in this league if you want to be successful.” Cutcliffe, an offensive wizard in his own right, found a solution in senior running back Re’quan Boyette. Or so he thought, until Boyette suffered a knee injury in the first practice and is now sidelined indefinitely. “When [Boyette] went down, we just knew that more people had to step up and make special plays for our offense,” senior
HITTING THE HOLES With senior running back Re’quan Boyette sidelined indefinitely, Duke will need serious production from backups Clifford Harris, Tony Jackson and Jay Hollingsworth in order to provide balance to the Blue Devils’ otherwise pass-happy offense.
running back Clifford Harris said. “We had to get more guys ready to play early, such as some of the freshmen.” Harris himself has had to quickly adjust to life as a featured back. Last season, he was used as the fullback to create running room for Boyette. Harris, originally recruited as a running back, said the time spent at fullback made him a more complete runner because it forced him to work on his blocking techniques and backfield catching abilities. The other running back getting most of the remaining snaps with the first team is sophomore Tony Jackson. At first appearance, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Jackson might not look tough enough to handle 300-pound defensive linemen. His experience last year as a safety, however, ensures that he will not shy away from contact. Additionally, Jackson— like Harris—is a former high school running back, which has eased the transition. Even though he is not on the field, Boyette is still a big part of the team. The elected captain is always around, attending all meetings and practices, and serving as a mentor for Harris, Jackson and freshman Jay Hollingsworth, who is also expected to SEE RUNNING GAME ON PAGE 10
Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis said the key to the Blue Devils’ success on offense is simply taking what the defense gives them. In order to discern what coverage the opponent is in, he said: “The safeties will tell you. If both of them go to the hash out wide, I know it’s cover two. If they sit on the hash, I know it can be cover four or cover eight. Or if they rotate (to the right)... I know it’s cover three.” In cover two, Lewis said he’d look for receiver Austin Kelly in the slot or Eron Riley at the X. Against cover eight, he said Raphael Chestnut has a chance running his post on the far right. When it comes to reading the defense, look to the safeties for the answer.
Typically, defenses will feature seven men in the box—three linebackers and four down linemen or vice-versa. In this play, Duke has the ability to use a five-, six- or seven-man protection depending on the defense’s blitzing choices. If the linebacker on the left blitzes, the tight end bails on his route and picks up the defender. If the linebacker on the right blitzes, the running back stays in the backfield to make the block. If the middle linebacker blocks, the offensive line shifts in order to compensate for the extra pass rusher. On paper, Lewis should never have to worry about a sack. Of course, protecting the quarterback is easier said than done.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 29, 2008 | 7
ACC FOOTBALL PREVIEW
The resurgence THE PASSING GAME
Cutcliffe not one to shy from talking X’s and O’s BY MATTHEW ILES
or 33 years, David Cutcliffe has worked as an offensive football coach, rising through the ranks because of his everlasting creativity and thorough knowledge of the sport. He’s an all-business, all-thetime man, but just ask him to draw up some plays, and he’ll show you the little boy still inside that fell in love with the game so long ago.“Oh Lord, [I knew I wanted to coach football] when I was about 14 years old,” Cutcliffe says. “I love the X’s and O’s and love to talk offense.” So he draws out one of his favorite passing plays like he’s done thousands of times before. “This is an option route, he can go either way,” he explains as he goes. “This is what we call a bend. This is a post-curl, and this is a checkout.... That’s spreading the field right there. That’s a bunch of [defenders] right there having to deploy.” Like a chess grandmaster, he moves his pieces across the lined paper to their appropriate places, diagramming the same plays
Starting tight end Tielor Robinson and slot receiver Kelly run option routes in this play, meaning they do different things depending on the defensive coverage. If the opponent is in man coverage, Robinson and Kelly will break their routes outward toward the sideline after five to seven yards. If the defense is in zone coverage, they will “settle down” in a curl between the zones. This allows the offense to react in real time to whatever their opponent tries to throw at them, making it difficult for the defense to stymie the Blue Devils with various schemes and coverage decisions.
Lewis will make a protection call at the line before every snap to prepare for a possible blitz, but sometimes there are not enough blockers to go around. If this happens, one linebacker will be left unaccounted for, and, if he blitzes, will have a clear path to the quarterback. If Lewis sees this, he’ll point to the receiver closest to the unmarked defender, and they silently understand each other. “If he comes, I’ve got to throw it to you,” Lewis said. The blitzing backer leaves a temporary void in the defense, and the receiver breaks off his route to go straight for it. Threat neutralized.
that gave us the Mannings, produced a national championship at Tennessee and have “terrorized people for a long time,” as he says. Now, he’s trying to add the remarkable rejuvenation of one of the nation’s historically worst programs to his list of accomplishments. Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis is playing with his third offensive coordinator in as many years, but has shown why Cutcliffe calls him a “really bright guy” through his solid understanding of the new playbook—even though Lewis freely admits he has more to master. Like his mentor, Lewis loves the X’s and O’s, too. As he traces his own favorite play, he explains his pre-snap protection calls, his pass progressions and when he calls for a hot route. He scribbles two safeties and describes why they are the key to discerning what coverage the opponent has called. In just the first step of his dropback, Lewis says the safeties tell him whether the defense is in cover two, three, four or eight. He shrugs his shoulders and, sounding quite SEE PASSING GAME ON PAGE 8
touchdown threat Watch for Eron Riley to go deep on a fly route from the X position. Last year, Duke’s leading wideout amassed 830 yards on 40 receptions, good for an average of 20.8 yards per catch. He also scored nine touchowns, including four in a loss to Navy.
8 | FRIDAY, AUGUST 29, 2008
ACC FOOTBALL PREVIEW
PASSING GAME from page 7 coach-like, says, “The defense is showing their hand, so [the receivers] have a pretty good idea where I’ll throw the ball.” And he’ll be working with a group of experienced skill players that should help Duke at least flirt with their coach’s prediction of scoring 30 points per game. With wideouts as varied as the big and strong Eron Riley, who can torch defenses for a long bomb, and the agile and explosive Johnny Williams, who could see more time than any other freshman on the team, Duke should have considerable success against opposing secondaries. After all, Cutcliffe is well known for utilizing and maximizing each individual’s skills. “One of my favorite sayings is, ‘Think players, not plays,’” Cutcliffe says. “It’s just getting the ball in the right people’s hands. It’s kind of like when you’re in the backyard. You used to figure out who to get the ball to if you wanted to win the game. You hoped you were one of those guys, and then you had a lot of fun.” Now that the backyard is Wallace Wade Stadium,
though, Duke’s trouble lies in getting all it’s players on the same page. “We are very much a rhythm throwing team, and they’ve struggled with that,” he says. “Our throwing and catching was really what I would call poor. It has now reached a point where it’s much better. Again, a little too inconsistent for what I like. But I’m pleased with the progress.” Football fans are familiar with offensive strategies like the triple option, West Coast, pro-style and the spread. Football coaches, however, know it’s much more complicated than that, as each team operates within its own shades of gray. When asked to categorize his own offense, Cutcliffe first answered pro-style, but it wasn’t long before he expanded on his definition. “We use and have used principles of what people refer to as the spread,” Cutcliffe says. “Some kind of four wides or three wides and a tight end—shotgun. That’s been around for a long time. If people would really study the game and see... it’s not all that new. People have come up with wrinkles. “I think what you see is you’re either a well-coached football team, or you’re not.”
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Head coach David Cutcliffe is an offensive guru who loves X’s and O’s .
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Given injuries, some freshmen will earn time by David Ungvary THE CHRONICLE
Head coach David Cutcliffe has a dilemma on his hands when it comes to this year’s freshman class. In terms of his team’s depth, some positions—like the offensive and defensive lines—are lean in numbers, which may require freshmen to be prepared to take the field this year. And for the newcomers, the chance probably couldn’t come soon enough. “We do have some [freshmen] that are playing exceptional for us,” Cutcliffe said. “I can tell you that Johnny Williams is going to be in the mix and be in the game, [along with] Jay Hollingsworth and Matt Daniels... [and] Lee Butler.” With senior running back Re’quan Boyette out indefinitely with knee surgery, the Blue Devils have injected some new life into the backfield mix. Hollingsworth, a North Carolina native, has shined thus far for Duke. He could get some playing time at running back when the team takes on James Madison in its season opener. With the experience and power brought by senior back Clifford Harris, the quickness of converted cornerback Tony Jackson and the addition of a traditional runner in Hollingsworth, the Blue Devil backfield is certainly multifaceted. In fact, starting quarterback Thaddeus Lewis has dubbed the combo a “three-headed monster.” Perhaps Duke’s most prominent signing, four-star cornerback Randez James has shown solid skill on the defensive side and is moving his way up the Blue Devil depth chart. James followed the path of junior defensive lineman Vince Oghobaase and enrolled at Duke last January to help ease the transition from high school to college and further prepare himself for this level. Along with James, the secondary seems to have been fortified by this recruiting class as Butler, a cornerback from Anderson, S.C. and Matt Daniels—a safety from Fayetteville, Ga.—were included in Cutcliffe’s list of the freshmen talent, which has been quick to develop. But if Cutcliffe had his way, his first-years would have even more time. “Not to hurt our recruiting, but I would love to redshirt the bulk of our class, particularly these first few years. It’s the fastest way to building a program,” Cutcliffe said. Freshmen are unavailable for comment to the media. Allowing freshmen to take a year off to soak in the system and prepare physically for the college level may be a luxury that Duke cannot afford to take. Former head coach Ted Roof was also an advocate of redshirting his players, to which he attributed Wake Forest’s rise up the rankings. One highly-touted recruit who will most likely not see immediate action is four-star quarterback Sean Renfree. Renfree will sit behind Lewis, perhaps even for two years, before he gets his chance to play. And if Renfree ends up getting redshirted this season, it probably won’t be to Cutcliffe’s chagrin. “I love fourth-year juniors,” he said. “When you get fourth-year juniors and fifth-year seniors together on a team, you’ve got a pretty good football team if you’ve recruited right.”
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ACC FOOTBALL PREVIEW
Lewis the starter, but Asack will see snaps Cutcliffe incorporates 2 QBs in same plays by Joe Drews THE CHRONICLE
CHASE OLIVIERI (ABOVE), CHASE OLIVIERI (BELOW)/THE CHRONICLE
Thaddeus Lewis (above) is the starting quarterback, but Zack Asack (below) will see time, David Cutcliffe said.
Duke’s top two quarterbacks won’t be platooning this season. But they’ll both get a chance to pick apart opposing defenses— possibly at the same time. Starting quarterback Thaddeus Lewis is coming off a successful sophomore season in which he amassed 2,430 yards through the air and connected for 21 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions. But fellow redshirt junior Zack Asack has been pushing Lewis in practice, providing the Blue Devils with another potential weapon behind center. “Thad’s our starting quarterback,” head coach David Cutcliffe said Thursday. “We’ll just find the right situations for Zack to get out there and do his thing, and we’ll just see how that progresses as the season goes.” Previously, Asack’s presence on the field generally indicated that a running play was on the way. But Asack and Cutcliffe believe that the quarterback’s passing has improved since last year, allowing Asack to be used in both throwing and running situations this season. Besides, using Asack solely for running plays and Lewis on throwing downs would be too simple for an offensively-minded coach like Cutcliffe. “It’d be too predictable if I was just in
on the passing situations and he was just in on the running situations,” Lewis said. “The defense would know what’s coming at them, so I don’t think [Cutcliffe] will do it like that. If I’m in, I think he’s just going to call the plays accordingly, as well as if Zack’s in, he’ll just call the plays accordingly.” Having two dual-threat quarterbacks should help Duke keep opposing defenses off-balance, Lewis said. But that’s not the only card Cutcliffe is holding in his effort to throw off the Blue Devils’ opponents. He’s considering playing both Asack and Lewis at the same time, although the team hasn’t practiced any such plays yet. “You’ll see Zack Asack,” Cutcliffe told The Chronicle. “He’s earned the right to play. We’ve got some things that we’re looking at trying to get them both in the game at the same time. But we’re just kind of keeping it a little bit under wraps.” That includes keeping the details from his players. Even Lewis and Asack don’t know how a two-quarterback situation would play out. “I don’t know what Coach Cutcliffe has up his sleeve with game strategy like that, but he hasn’t gone in depth,” Asack said. “He briefly mentioned he could have me at running back or Thad at running back and the other would be at quarterback or receiver, just to give them a different look.” SEE QUARTERBACKS ON PAGE 10
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ACC FOOTBALL PREVIEW
2008 SCHEDULE Aug. 30
@ Ga. Tech
@ Va. Tech
SCHEDULE from page 2
RUNNING GAME from page 6
the ACC’s two divisions—Clemson and Virginia Tech. A 2004 upset win over the Tigers gave Duke its last win over a conference opponent, but Clemson’s strong team and home-field advantage will pose a tough test for the Blue Devils when they travel down I-85 Nov. 15. Virginia Tech’s recent history against Duke has been nothing short of dominant, with the Hokies winning by no fewer than 29 points in each of their four wins over Duke since joining the ACC. The regular season winds to a close for the Blue Devils with their Nov. 29 tilt against North Carolina for the Victory Bell trophy. Duke has narrowly lost each of the past two meetings against the Tar Heels largely because of miscues in the kicking game, but a win in the final game of the season would give Duke control of the Victory Bell for the first time since 2003 and draw Cutcliffe’s first season to a solid close.
see some playing time. “He is staying with the team and helping us out with his knowledge about the game,” Harris said. “He has played a lot in this league, so he kind of knows the ins and outs.” Once game time comes, however, it takes more than a running back to make a successful ground attack. Harris and Jackson can only be as good as the offensive line allows them. Last season, the line was as porous as a sponge, letting the defense through to crush the ball carrier before he left the backfield. The linemen, who were undersized by ACC standards but still carrying too much body fat, were more to blame for the poor ground performance than the backs themselves. Throughout this past offseason, the weight issue was addressed. Many of the linemen are now up to 20 pounds lighter than they were under former head coach Ted Roof. The rest of the offense has taken notice and is expecting a vast improvement in performance. “Everyone is more aggressive,” Jackson said. “Since they lost a lot of weight, they can move faster and have more agility, so it improved how athletic they play and how fast they play. They get off the ball quickly.” There are additional benefits to the weight loss, as well. “I think the biggest thing I have seen is the confidence they have, going up there and knowing what to do,” backup quarterback Zack Asack said. “They are lighter on their feet and look good in the jerseys and pads.” Cutcliffe’s ground unit looks to have eliminated its major performance and style issues from the previous campaign. The practice and preparation are in place, and the only thing left to do is wait for the opening whistle to officially usher in the Blue Devils’ new two-pronged offense.
QUARTERBACKS from page 9 And Cutcliffe likely won’t restrict his options to what an opposing defense might expect—a double pass or a run by one of the Duke quarterbacks. Lewis said he wouldn’t be surprised if Cutcliffe had one of his quarterbacks run a route. The fact that Lewis and Asack can both run and throw further multiplies the number of directions the former Tennessee offensive coordinator can take in designing his dual-quarterback plays. “I don’t know what a defensive coordinator would do if he saw two quarterbacks out there who both have the ability to run and throw,” Asack said. “It’ll be interesting once that time comes.”
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DEFENSE from page 4 at Ole Miss and had spent the past two years with the New Orleans Saints. While he will focus on the line and MacIntyre on the defensive backs, the two will share duties as coordinators. MacIntyre will call most of the plays in Duke’s first game Saturday, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be talking to his counterpart between series, he said. “It’s a shared responsibility,” MacIntyre said. “So far it’s been like teaching a course—but Saturday is the first test.” While the defense will aim to score high on its first exam, its final grade will depend heavily on MacIntyre and Hobby’s ability to co-teach the class.
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