Duke Football is back at work after a brief break following the end of the regular season and boy do they have a lot of work to do to get ready for their first bowl appearance in 18 years.
After a disappointing November saw the Blue Devils drop all three games they played in during the month, as well as losing 5 of their last 6, including a four game losing streak to end the year, Duke has no where to go but up. The Blue Devils have to get better and they have to get better fast because Cincinnati may be one of the best teams they will end up playing this season.
The Bearcats finished the year tied for first in the Big East at 9-3 and are a well balanced offense averaging more than 400 yards of offense per game and about 21 points per contest. They are not going to be an easy opponent for a Duke team that is giving up 35 points per game.
Defense is where Duke needs to get better but given the injury woes and now the lack of depth in the defensive backfield thanks in part to injuries and players leaving it could end up being a difficult task to slow down the Bearcats.
I expect Duke to get back to fundamentals, namely tackling better but they are still short manned. The departure of Chris Tavarez combined with the season ending injury to Lee Butler means the Blue Devils are even thinner in the secondary. The hope is everyone else remaining will be healthy but it is hard to overlook the problem of playing a 4-2-5 scheme if you barely have enough in the secondary to fill those five spots.
Duke has to be better at stopping explosive plays but they have been given them up in both the running game and passing game, something that has to have the Bearcats balanced offensive attack salivating. A lot of the late season issues had to do with the talent of the competition but also the wear and tear of the season. Hopefully with rest and a chance to get back to some fundamentals the Blue Devils will be much better in stopping both.
Offensive has been more of a strength for Duke all season and given the defensive woes it is likely going to have to be clicking to get the win. But even though Cincinnati is known more as a high scoring team their defense has only given up about 17 points per game. If they do that kind of work against Duke’s offense or if the Blue Devils offense comes out looking like they haven’t played a game in a month it could be a long game for the Blue Devils.
Duke has the talent on offense and it will be interesting to see what they look like with some rest. I’m excited to see the running game and if the Blue Devils utilize more Jela Duncan as the primary back. You know the Blue Devils will throw it all over the field but I expect to see a focus on getting the running game established.
David Cutcliffe hinted right after the bowl selection that he may play around with some position changes so it will be interesting to see what if any changes and of course who those changes may involve.
The good news all around is that the Blue Devils have this extra practice time and it is something that any program, but especially one trying to improve needs to continue to grow. The Belk Bowl is not a must win game, but it does provide an opportunity for Duke Football to get some exposure and to get better.
You can believe that the coaching staff and players with exams out of the way have two things on their mind; getting better and beating Cincinnati. I’ll have more on the matchup including a look at Cinncinati from Chris Banes of Bearcats Nation closer to game day so stay tuned.
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