After the biggest numerical win in the Beamer era, the Hokies turn their
attention towards their first conference game against the Duke Blue Devils
(0-2). It will be a monumental day for the Hokie Nation, as VT participates in
its first ever revenue sport ACC event. Although it won’t be the most exciting
game Lane Stadium has hosted, it may very well be the most significant.
Participating in the ACC truly is special.
As for the game this week, there is no escaping the conclusion that Duke’s
football program has been downright woeful over the past five years. Seven games
into 2003, Duke fired its beleaguered head coach Carl Franks and replaced him
with an assistant named Ted Roof that had “no chance” of keeping the
permanent job according to Duke AD Joe Alleva.
A funny thing happened on the way to the unemployment line for Roof – the
Blue Devils played four good football games out of their last five to close the
season, playing NC State tough (28-21), Tennessee competitively (23-8) and
beating two conference opponents, GT (41-17) and UNC (30-22). Those conference
wins were particularly gratifying for a team that had lost 30 consecutive games
to ACC opponents prior to the win over the Yellow Jackets. Roof instilled some
pride in his players, and he was rewarded by having the interim tag removed from
Despite the solid conclusion to last year, the Blue Devils lost some key
personnel from last year suggesting that 2004 would not build on the promise of
2003. The very good backfield tandem of Chris Douglas, Duke’s all time leading
rusher, and Alex Wade graduated as well as defensive standouts Ryan Fowler
(linebacker) and Matt Zielinski (defensive tackle). Four starters from a solid
offensive line also left.
There also have been some unanticipated losses this offseason for Duke.
Tragically, three-year starting defensive end Micah Harris was killed in a car
accident in Virginia over the summer.
As if that wasn’t enough, injuries have also come in abundance this fall.
Duke lost defensive end Phillip Alexander, their biggest defensive playmaker,
perhaps for the season when he suffered a broken leg last week in a 22-20 loss
to UConn. Leading rusher Cedric Dargan and standout defensive back Kenneth
Stanford also missed the UConn game after suffering injuries in the opener
against Navy. None of them will play against VT, and the Blue Devils will also
be missing receiver Senterrio Landrum, defensive end Brian Sallee, and punt
returner Jamin Pastore.
Duke did not play well in its opening game, a 27-12 loss to Navy, but they
rebounded with a very solid performance against Connecticut last week. It is a
game Duke could have, and probably should have, won. They led 20-6 but lost
22-20 when they missed a field goal late.
Duke’s new offensive coordinator, Marty Galbraith, has an impressive resume
and has a history of coaching high scoring offenses. He uses multiple formations
and emphasizes (at least with this personnel) a short passing game. While
Galbraith is a solid coach, the early returns have not been good with this
talent, as the Blue Devils are ninth in the ACC in scoring at 16 points per
game, ninth in rushing with 118 yards per game, and tenth with 137 passing yards
per game. Among other problems, the offense lacks a jaw dropping playmaker.
Duke has two quarterbacks that will see time against VT. 6’2”, 215 SR
Chris Dapolito played most of the way last week against UConn. Dapolito is
mobile and has tremendous leadership qualities. He was voted as one of five
captains by his teammates despite the fact he wasn’t projected to start this
Dapolito’s physical skills aren’t overwhelming, but he makes enough plays
to keep his team in the game. In the opener he ran for 47 yards on nine carries,
and on the season he is 17-28 for 176 yards with one touchdown and one
interception. When he throws, he tends to utilize the running backs and tight
SO Mike Schneider started eight games last year and the opener this year. He
has nice size (6’2”, 215) and a solid arm. He is the best passer on the
roster. He struggled to read defenses at times last year and his numbers weren’t
very good (only 1,220 yards passing with six interceptions versus four
touchdowns). He does have some promise.
Schneider sat on the bench last week for the first 56 minutes as Dapolito got
the start, but Roof showed great faith in him when he asked Schneider to lead
the Devils on the final drive when Duke was down two points (he asked Schneider
to take over because he is the better passer). Schneider showed great resiliency
in leading his team down the field, converting on a fourth and seventeen, but
Duke lost the game to UConn when their kicker missed a 36 yard attempt with less
than 10 seconds left.
The third quarterback in Durham is a name familiar to VT recruitniks, and he
just may be the best athlete on the Duke roster. SO Curt Dukes (6’1”, 215)
was a high profile option quarterback prospect from North Carolina who narrowed
his choices to Nebraska, PSU and VT before eventually casting his lot with the
‘Huskers. Things didn’t work out in Lincoln, and he transferred to Duke.
Dukes lost the quarterback battle to Dapolito and Schneider, but he is the
wild card in this game. Dukes is a very good runner – he had one carry from
the fullback position last week for 16 yards – he can catch the ball, and he
can throw it. He could line up at any of the skill positions. While his
versatility is a blessing, it also can be a curse this early in the year: Duke
has not given him as many touches on offense as you would think given his
athleticism. Incorporating him into the game plan should be a priority for
Galbraith this week.
The starting tailback was supposed to be 6’0”, 200 JR Cedric Dargan, but
Roof said Wednesday that Dargan will not play this week. After opening with 101
yards in the first half against Navy (on 17 carries), Dargan was limited by
three different leg injuries to only three carries for 14 yards in the second
half. At his best, Dargan is a tough inside runner with speed. He is a
legitimate ACC caliber tailback.
Dargan’s backup, and this week's starter, is 5’10”, 215 SO Aaron Fryer.
Fryer was not productive last week against UConn as he only had 59 rushing yards
on 20 carries. Duke will need to average over 4 yards per carry out of its
tailbacks to have any shot at keeping the game close.
Duke has three very good tight ends. The triumvirate combined for 40 catches
and 606 yards on a team that did not throw the ball well. 6’4”, 260 SO Ben
Patrick has the most talent and may very well end up in the NFL. He has
excellent hands and is a very good route runner. He only has four catches on the
year, but he still is a big part of the offense. Roof considers him the team’s
The backup duties at tight end will be handled by 6’5”, 255 SR Calen
Powell. Powell is a good blocker at the point of attack and a solid, dependable
veteran somewhat similar to Jared Mazzetta at VT.
The third tight end for Duke is slated to start at fullback. 6’4”, 235 JR
Andy Roland was the starter at tight end last year and played well enough to be
an early nominee for the Mackey Award given to the best tight end in college
football. However, in an effort to put his best players on the field, Roof has
moved Roland to fullback. Just because Roland is labeled a fullback does not
mean he will always line up in the I formation: Duke uses multiple alignments
and is not afraid to shift Roland to show a jumbo look with three tight ends.
Roland was responsible for Duke’s longest offensive play from scrimmage this
year, a 47yard reception.
The wide receivers do not have much game experience. The veteran is 5’9”,
185 SR Senterrio Landrum, but he is out this week and will be replaced by Ronnie
Elliot, another undersized player (5’10”, 185 JR) who has shown some
productivity with six catches for 60 yards this year. 5’10”, 180 SO Deonto
McCormick is the other starter, and he is Duke’s leading receiver with 7
catches on the year for 66 yards.
The player to watch long term is freshman Corey Thompson, a good prospect
with size (6’2”, 180) and ability. Thompson is a true freshman who came up
with two big catches last week in Duke’s final drive.
The offensive line was very strong last year, but Duke only returns one
starter from that group, right tackle Christian Mitchell. Mitchell is massive at
6’7”, 325, and Duke likely will look to run behind him in short yardage. The
other tackle, JR Jim Moravchik, is also big (6’5”, 305) and has some
Duke’s interior line is composed of 6’4”, 300 SR center Dan Mooney, 6’5”,
305 JR left guard Chris Best and 6’4”, 300 SO right guard Tyler Krieg. Krieg
moved over from center after the spring to allow Mooney to start. It is a
homecoming of sorts for Mooney as his father was a former player at Virginia
Overall, the Duke offensive line is not a strength. They are only averaging
3.3 yards per rush on the season, and they have surrendered 5 sacks this year. I
expect VT to be able to redirect the line of scrimmage and play in the backfield
a lot Saturday if the footing is solid. If rain is severe, that may help the
bigger Duke line cope with the Hokies’ quickness.
The Blue Devils typically are a 4-3 defense, but Roof threw a curveball last
week when he opened in a 3-4 and then blitzed on virtually every down. Roof has
been forced to cut and paste because of injuries, and with the loss of Alexander
and Sallee and the depth at linebacker, don’t be shocked if Duke also plays
some 3-4 this week.
Duke’s numbers on the defensive side of the ball aren’t pretty either:
ninth in the ACC in total defense (416 yards surrendered per game), eighth in
scoring defense (24.5 points), and tenth in the conference in both rush defense
and pass efficiency defense.
Up front, the loss of Harris and Alexander is difficult to overcome. 6’4”,
235 JR Justin Kitchen will be replacing Alexander and he had a nice game last
week with 8 tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack. Roof thinks he is more
than capable of manning the spot full time.
The other end is 6’4”, 250 SO Eli Nichols. He is an active player who
registered 2 solo and 4 unassisted tackles last week, along with a tackle for a
loss. He is a first time starter this year.
Duke has some big bodies inside. 6’6”, 315 Orrin Thompson holds his
ground and is enough of a stalwart to play either defensive tackle in a 4-3 or
nose guard in a 3-4. He gets the unenviable job of keeping the Duke linebackers
free to run to the ball. SO Casey Camero showed some promise last year at end,
and he might be a playmaker down the line. At 6’5”, 265, he can play any
position on the defensive line. Duke likes to rotate defensive linemen to keep
their players fresh, but rather than substituting they may simply resort to a
The strength of the Duke defense lies in their linebacker corps. 6’1”,
240 SR Giuseppe Aguanno started last year on the strongside, but he moved to the
middle last spring to fill Fowler’s shoes. He has 16 total tackles on the year
and is a natural, instinctive player. He likely will be the leading tackler for
the Devils on the season, and he will make his fair share of plays in the
The other returning starter is weakside linebacker Brendan Dewan (6’1”,
205 SO). Dewan is very fast and in fact started out as a running back after he
matriculated. He is not overly physical at the point of attack and VT may chose
to attack him head on, particularly if Duke goes to a 3-4. He has 15 tackles on
the year and can fly to the ball.
Junior strongside linebacker Malcuff Ruff is a 6’0”, 250 thumper in run
support. He sheds blockers well and is solid at the point of attack. He also
moves better than you might think given his size. Like Dewan, he began his
career in the Blue Devil backfield. He has 14 tackles on the year.
If Roof goes to a 3-4, Ruff will slide inside and allow 6’0”, 210 JR
DeAndre White onto the field. White played a significant amount last year, and
as you would figure from his frame, he is best in space. Roof’s defensive
philosophy is much like VT’s in the early 1990’s in that he is willing to
sacrifice size among his linebackers for speed.
Duke’s best player in the secondary is senior corner Kenneth Stanford, who
is (repeat after me) out for this game, according to Roof. Stanford is
undersized at 5’9”, 180, but he is one of the fastest corners in the ACC. He
won the award as the team’s best defensive back each of the past two seasons,
and he was fifth last year in the conference with 13 passes defensed. Stanford
missed last week with a shoulder injury and will be replaced this week by
5'11", 170 FR Daniel Charbonnet, who got his first career start last week
The other corner is 5’11”, 180 SO John Talley. Talley tied for the team
lead last year with two interceptions although he wasn’t a starter. He made
the biggest play of the game last week against UConn when he intercepted a pass
and returned it 62 yards for a touchdown.
Both safeties are two year returning starters. 6’1”, 190 JR strong safety
Brian Greene is a converted corner who has good speed but isn’t a great
tackler. He will be challenged in run support by the physical nature of Cedric
Humes and Justin Hamilton. 6’2”, 195 SR free safety Alex Green is a solid
player, but he has tended to overcommit in the past and that could be exploited
by a senior like Bryan Randall.
Duke’s Special Teams
Historically, Duke is pretty solid on special teams. However, this year Duke
is no better than average because of the absence of a big play return
The kicker is senior Matt Brooks who is four of six on the year. His makes
are all relatively short, as his long kick on the season is 36 yards. Both his
misses were also from 36 yards, and his big miss last week versus UConn could
affect his confidence going into a windy and rainy Lane Stadium against arguably
the best kick blocking unit in the country. That should be a concern for Duke.
The place kicking backup is a scholarship player, freshman Alex Feinberg, and
he could get an opportunity if Brooks misses one early or if the Devils need a
long field goal. Brooks struggles kicking from 40 yards or more.
Punter Trey McDonald is a senior who has kicked for parts of the last four
years. He averaged 40.7 yards per punt last year and has a reputation for being
a good placement kicker. In the UConn game, McDonald punted three times and
Brooks punted twice. The net average for the five punts was over 40 yards per
kick, an excellent number.
The return game has been nonexistent thus far. 5’9”, 195 JR Jamin Pastore,
who won't even play this week, has returned only one punt for five yards, and
Duke as a team is only averaging 14.4 yards per kick return. Landrum and Elliot
are deep to return kickoffs.
Roof has energized the Duke program since he was hired last year and while
progress may not be seen on the field this fall, he has the program moving
forward on several fronts.
As his first order of business, Roof convinced Alleva to increase the budget
for his assistant coaches, and then he proceeded to aggressively recruit some
big names. New offensive coordinator Marty Galbraith came from the Arizona
Cardinals and has an impressive resume after working with Phillip Rivers at N.C.
State and Chad Pennington at Marshall. Other assistants came from Stanford (wide
receivers), Syracuse (defense) and Georgia Tech (recruiting coordinator). He
also hired Tom Knotts to coach quarterbacks. Knotts is a Duke alumnus who won
four straight state titles at Charlotte Independence High School. Knotts has a
certain degree of credibility because of his work developing both C.J. and Chris
Leak, and he has helped Duke land some nice quarterback commitments in its 2005
Roof also signed a recruiting class last February with far better athletes
than Duke typically lands. He put an emphasis on speed, a necessity when trying
to build a program because it’s easier to find speed (and add weight) than
vice versa. His 2004 class consisted of eight kids from Georgia, Roof’s home
state, and he had eight signees from the three best talent states in the
country: three each from Texas and California and two from Florida. He even beat
UCLA and Notre Dame for a wide receiver out of the state of Washington.
All that may bode well for improving the future, but it won’t help this
weekend. In order to have consistent success against the VT defense this year a
team needs game changing athletes on the offensive side of the ball, a la Reggie
Bush, or (perhaps) a pounding running back. Duke has neither. It seems very
unlikely they will be able to consistently move the ball.
Defensively, Duke will need to play aggressively. That includes walking an
eighth man into the box, and playing bump and run on VT’s fabulous foursome at
wide receiver. Right now the youngsters still need work on staying consistent
with routes after a jam at the line.
All told, I think Duke will make a representative showing defensively,
especially if the weather is bad thereby limiting VT’s passing game. It will
be interesting to see if the Hokies’ running game, thus far their weakest
link, is able to come through if the conditions require it.
I think the weather will help keep the score down for both teams, and I
wouldn’t be surprised if VT had a few turnovers in the rain with their young
players. Bear in mind one thing Duke has done well this year is win the turnover
battle as they are plus 1.5 per game on the season. Regardless, VT has too much
talent for the Blue Devils.
Prediction: VT 27, Duke 6
Will Stewart's Take: I went back to look at the box score from last
year's Hurricane Isabel game against Texas A&M, which VT won 35-19, and I
noticed the following: