Duke's Football team is limping into this weekend's Bull City Gridiron Classic both literally and figuratively. The Blue Devils who are coming off a 50-13 drubbing will play host to their cross town neighbors from North Carolina Central University, will have to do so without a list of scholarship players that continued to grow this week.
Duke announced its injury report for the week and the Blue Devils are adding four new names to the list, with one having undergone surgery and out for an undetermined amount of time.
Safety Corbin McCarthy, defensive end Justin Foxx, safety August Campbell, and linebacker Kyler Brown are all out for the game against NCCU and for the defense that is already banged up that is bad news.
If there is a bright spot in the injury report it is the fact that linebacker Britton Grier who has been out with a hand injury since before the start of the season is listed as probable.
While most still expect Duke to be able to handle the Eagles, even with 15 scholarship players out, this game could end up being much closer than many expect and what many Blue Devil fans are hoping for.
The Blue Devils are clearly more talented, as they should be being the FBS team, but that doesn't mean that the Eagles are void of talent. In my conversation with the Sports Editor of the NCCU Campus Echo, Trent Little, he filled me in on what we could expect to see in the line of playmakers.
On the offensive side of the ball Little lists receiver Geovonie Irvine as a guy to watch. Irvine, a high school teammate of current Duke players Desmond Scott and Corey Gattis, is a returns punts and kicks in addition to his receiving duty.
Duke Coach, David Cutcliffe also speaks highly of the Eagle's defensive front and anticipates a challenge for his offense line that was abused last week at Stanford.
For Duke to get back to winning they have to run the ball effectively and they have to get back to an aggressive stance on offense. Against Stanford Duke ran the ball just 5 times in the first half, yet only had about 71 passing yards, mostly coming from short swing passes and screens.
Most of those passes generated little yardage, and the Blue Devils never were able to get anything consistently down the field. That has to change against an NCCU team that most would expect Duke to be able to physically out match.
Still when you get a team coming in with something to prove and another team that is beat up physically and potentially a bit fragile after a very disappointing performance last week, you never know what could end up happening.
I look for Duke to try and go with more running while trying to take advantage of the improving receiver tandem of Conner Vernon and Jamison Crowder.
The area that offers the biggest concern is the Blue Devils defense which is now without really any depth at most every position. At this point you might even see redshirt freshmen Chris Tavarez start at one of the safety positions.
The Blue Devils have to have eliminate the big plays that have plagued them for years and they have to put this game away early to build back some of their confidence. The program is in a much better place, but it still isn't to the point where it has consistently won games it should.
Now coming off another lopsided loss this will be a test to see if Duke can rebound, something it isn't necessarily known for doing.
I see this game as being won by Duke with some ease but with such depth issues on defense I think the Eagles get some points and keep the game interesting at times.
Duke's goal in this game should be to try and win as convincingly as possible and get some experience for some of the players that may otherwise not see the field. And at the rate that the Blue Devils are coming up injured they may need to.
Overall Duke should be too good for NCCU in the end, though I expect a lot of energy and a solid performance from the Eagles. My prediction is a lot closer than I know a lot of Blue Devil fans want to see, but given the injuries and the lack of precedence for bouncing back strong, I think the game may be a bit closer.
Duke could get a big emotional boost when their teammate Blair Holliday makes his first appearance at Wallace Wade following his serious head injury suffered back in July.
Holliday is expected to walk out on the field and I expect a huge wave of emotions. Granted these things can end up having a reverse effect, but I see the Blue Devils using Holliday's appearance as motivator.
Rivalry Just Getting Started
I've hesitated to call this a rivalry game even though the schools are only about three miles apart. The fact is this will be only the second meeting and the programs do not play on the same level.
But the frequency of the Bull City Gridiron Classic is about to increase as the two school announced Thursday that they will extend the series and play again in 2013, 2015, 2016, and 2017.
All games will be played at Wallace Wade Stadium and very well could be the start of a rivalry afterall; a friendly one of course.
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