Thursday, June 8, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Duke Blue Devils

Duke Blue Devils
With the loss of Thomas Sirk at QB before the season even started in 2016, Duke completely went into a collapse, and finished just 4-8 with only one win in ACC play. Daniel Jones emerged at QB as a freshman, but it was a bumpy road for him, and for the offense, as the Blue Devils were limited to just 23.3 points per game. Jones will have to improve, and showed signs that he can be the guy last season, but will Duke have enough around him to make a major comeback in 2017?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Jones was never supposed to have played last season, but showed extreme maturity in winning the job after Sirk was lost for the season in camp. He ended up passing for 2836 yards and 16 scores to nine picks, and averaged 236.3 yards per game. He also added seven rushing scores to what ended up being a fairly solid freshman year overall. He stands a chance at becoming a breakout star in 2017 in the ACC.
Three starters will return up front on the line, which should give the Devils half a shot a improving this fall. Casey Blaser is back at OT, Austin Davis returns at Center, and Zach Harmon will be back at Guard. This group will have to absolutely do a better job this fall of paving the road, as Duke averaged just 3.89 yards per carry as a team last fall. One would expect that to be a concern, but whenever you get more than half of your line back, it's a solid development.
TJ Rahming caught 70 passes last fall to lead the team, and will return as the top target for Jones in the passing game. Johnathon Lloyd also returns after catching 34 passes last fall.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The run game was fairly average to bad last season, and that really cost the Blue Devils as the season wore on, and more and more pressure was being placed on a freshman QB to lead the way. Shaun Wilson returns after carrying the football 151 times last season, but he averaged just 4.13 yards per carry, and just 51.92 yards per game, and scored just four times. Duke does not have that home run back right now, and they likely need to find one down the line on the bench. Not one back returning with at least 50 carries averaged more than just a shade over four yards per carry, and that is not a good thing.
The passing game seemed limited, and it would not shock anyone to know that Jones likely had a leash on him as a freshman passer last season. Only Anthony Nash, who is gone at WR, had as many as 13 yards per reception last season, and everything else was of the dink and dunk variety. That has got to open up, as Duke also lacks a long ball threat in the passing game as we currently stand.
The line will need to find a new Tackle and Guard this fall, and that should be a couple of interesting battles in fall camp.
Another situation to keep an eye on is at PK, where sophomore AJ Reed hit just three of ten FG attempts last fall. He should not have a comfortable hold on the job this fall.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Duke slid a bit on defense in 2016, and that is completely to be expected from a team where the offense was hardly running on all cylinders. As a whole, Duke allowed just over 28 points per game last season, and will spend this fall trying to mitigate that issue.
The LB group should be a source of excitement this fall, as both Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys are back. They combined for 20.5 TFLs last fall, and combined for 8.5 sacks. Only one tackle separated them last fall, as Humphreys finished with 107 and Giles-Harris finished with 106. Tinashe Bere, who largely played as a reserve and on special teams last fall, should get first crack at the open job.
Marqueis Price is back at DE, and DT Mike Ramsay return up front, but two starters were lost, with AJ Wolf's departure being costly. The good news is that three freshmen played as part of the rotation last fall, and should provide replacement parts and depth in 2017.
Austin Parker is back as the Punter, and averaged 40.95 yards per punt as a freshman. He punted 5.4 times per game on average.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
AJ Wolf wass very good up front last season, and represents the loss of 8.5 TFLs on the line. That will be hard to replace.
There is plenty of depth on paper at LB, but when you look at real world stats, there is not a ton of experience should either Humphreys or Giles-Harris be lost to injury, and that should raise some flags.
Three starters are gone, with two returning in the secondary, where Duke employs the nickle defense most of the time. CB Bryon Fields is back at CB, and Alonzo Saxton returns at Safety, but Duke must replace two all-ACC selections in Breon Borders at CB and DeVon Edwards at Safety. Jeremy McDuffie is expected to figure in at one of the Safety spots, but is transitioning from CB, where he has played his entire career at Duke.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 North Carolina Central, 9/9 Northwestern, 9/16 Baylor, 9/23 at North Carolina, 9/29 Miami, 10/7 at Virginia, 10/14 Florida State, 10/21 Pittsburgh, 10/28 at Virginia Tech, 11/11 Army, 11/18 Georgia Tech, 11/25 at Wake Forest
Final Overview
It is hard to see, with this schedule, where the opportunities will fall to improve on the four win season of 2016. The talent level, specifically on offense, has dropped of in a big way in the last two years, and the defense has a very similar problem coming into fall camp with the exception to the LB position. David Cutliffe will have his hands full trying to keep this team afloat, but the good news is that the Coastal Division is amazingly watered down, so if there is an opportunity to steal a win or to, now is the time to do it. The staff will have to do the job of their lives to get this team coached up enough to make it to postseason play this fall.

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