Belk Bowl preview: Duke vs. Cincinnati

lkeeley@newsobserver.comDecember 27, 2012 

— Duke vs. Cincinnati

When: 6:30 p.m.

Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte

Line: Cincinnati by 9

TV/Radio: ESPN2, WDNC-620 AM, WKIX-102.9 FM

Bowl preview central:

***Duke accepts Belk Bowl bid

***There was a time, Conner Vernon can now admit, that he doubted Duke would make a bowl

***Luke DeCock on the passing of Geri Collins, wife of LB coach Jim Collins and team photographer (and the return of Collins to practice two days later)

***Underdog role just fine with Duke

***Position changes and early practice notes

***A look back to the last Duke team to go bowling, the 1994 Blue Devils, led by Fred Goldsmith, built by Steve Spurrier

***Small tweaks and position changes on offense make a big impact for Duke

***A Q&A with Sean Renfree and Conner Vernon

***Luke DeCock on the emergence of Jamison Crowder

Duke player to watch:

Desmond Scott

Senior, wide receiver,

5-9, 190 pounds

Duke’s two main receiving threats, Conner Vernon and Jamison Crowder, will match up against Cincinnati’s best pass defenders. Scott, though, has a knack for finding holes in the secondary, particularly on third down. Against North Carolina, two of Scott’s three catches resulted in third-down conversions, and he converted 3rd-and-27 and 3rd-and-19 in the Blue Devils’ win at Wake Forest. On the year, he finished with 61 catches for 606 yards and tied a Duke record with three games with at least 10 catches (against Stanford, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech).

Cincinnati player to watch:

Greg Blair

Senior, linebacker

6-2, 252 pounds

A junior college transfer who missed most of last season with a knee injury, Blair was given an opportunity to start this year, and he made an immediate impact, leading Cincinnati in total tackles (123) and tackles for loss (8.5). The first-team all-Big East selection recorded at least 10 tackles in seven games and also finished the regular season with six pass breakups, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble. Athleticism runs in his family— his older brother, DeJuan Blair, starred at Pittsburgh has a basketball player and is a four-year NBA veteran who plays for the San Antonio Spurs.

Duke's best win:

The Blue Devils only beat one FBS team that finished with a winning record, and that came Oct. 20 against North Carolina in front of a sold-out Wallace Wade Stadium. In arguably Duke’s biggest game in 14 years, Sean Renfree led the offensive on a game-winning drive that began with 3:12 left to play. On fourth down, Jamison Crowder hauled in a five-yard touchdown pass despite getting drilled by two Tar Heels defenders. That catch put Duke ahead 33-30 and clinched the team’s first bowl berth since 1994. Duke was also able to establish the run against the Tar Heels, as the Blue Devils gained 234 yards, a Cutcliffe-era high, on 53 attempts.

Cincinnati's best win:

A 35-24 win over co-Big East regular season champion Syracuse on Nov. 3 stopped a three-game losing streak for the Bearcats. Running back George Winn set career highs in rushing yards (165), attempts (30) and total touchdowns (4), and quarterback Brendon Kay came off the bench in the third quarter and led Cincinnati on back-to-back touchdown drives. Kay went 3-for-3 for 32 yards and threw his first career touchdown. He went on to start the Bearcats’ four remaining regular season games and will lead the offense against Duke as well.

Duke's worst loss:

The Blue Devils went down to Tallahassee with a 6-2 record with a matchup with Florida State awaiting them the week after beating the Tar Heels. And the Seminoles dominated Duke in every sense of the word. Duke managed just 232 yards of total offense and only forced one punt in a 48-7 blowout. To make matters worse, Duke was physically beat by FSU, as Renfree and running back Juwan Thompson were knocked out of the game, and defensive end Kenny Anunike missed the following game as well. The non-competitive showing against the Seminoles was the beginning of a four-game losing streak that ended the season.

Cincinnati's worst loss:

Cincinnati lost its two games against ranked opponents—34-31 in overtimes against then-No. 16 Louisville on Oct. 26 and 10-3 to then-No. 22 Rutgers on Nov. 17. The Bearcats other loss—the one that knocked them from the rankings—came on Oct. 20 to Toledo, a MAC team. The Bearcats only led for a few seconds in the third quarter, as they gave up a 91-yard kickoff return on the ensuing kick and ultimately lost 29-23.

TALE OF THE TAPE

Duke---Category---Cincinnati

31.2---Scoring offense---31.0

120.2---Rushing offense---199.8

278.0---Passing offense---231.0

35.0---Scoring defense---17.2

201.4---Rushing defense---130.2

261.8---Passing defense---243.5

WHEN DUKE HAS THE BALL

Rushing:

While this year’s running game was the most effective Duke has had during the five-year David Cutcliffe era (an average of 120.2 yards per game), the unit struggled against better-than-average defenses. The Blue Devils were held under 100 rushing yards in four games this year—at Stanford (23 attempts, 27 yards) at Virginia Tech (29 attempts, 22 yards), vs. Clemson (33 attempts, 85 yards) and at Georgia Tech (22 attempts, 77 yards). Cincinnati’s defense of 130.25 yards surrendered per game ranks 27th in the nation.

Edge: Cincinnati

Passing:

This is the Blue Devils’ strength. Conner Vernon, Jamison Crowder and Desmond Scott are the only trio of teammates in the country that each caught at least 60 passes. Sean Renfree ranks 22nd nationally with a .663 completion percentage.

Edge: Duke

WHEN CINCINNATI HAS THE BALL

Rushing:

Duke has had a hard time stopping any of it’s recent opponents on the ground. During the four game losing streak that ended the season, Duke surrendered an average of 294.5 rushing yards to each opponent. And Cincinnati had a particularly strong ground game, led by senior George Winn, that ranks 31st in the nation with an average of 199.75 yards per game.

Edge: Cincinnati

Passing:

Cincinnati made a November quarterback switch, handing the offense over to redshirt senior Brendon Kay. In his four starts, Kay averaged 229.5 yards per game and threw just two interceptions as Cincinnati went 4-0. Duke’s secondary is still ravaged by injuries, to the point were freshman running back Shaquille Powell will be playing safety during the game because there just aren’t enough bodies. Duke lists just three cornerbacks on the depth chart.

Edge: Cincinnati.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Duke’s two young specialists, freshman kicker Ross Martin and redshirt freshman punter Will Monday, have been fabulous. Martin was a Freshman All-American selection by the Sporting News, converting 18 of 20 field goals and ranking fifth in the country in field goal percentage (.900). Monday was a first-team all-ACC selection, averaging 44.12 yards per punt. In the days leading up to the Florida State game, he drew constant praise from Jimbo Fisher.

Edge: Duke

INTANGIBLES

The Blue Devils are well aware of the fact that, while the 17-season bowl drought was epic in length, Duke hasn’t actually won a bowl game since the 1961 Cotton Bowl (a 7-6 win over Arkansas). Cincinnati will be led by interim coach Steve Stripling, the Bearcats’ defensive line coach. Butch Jones left at the end of the regular season for Tennessee, and incoming coach Tommy Tuberville won’t take over until after the Belk Bowl.

Edge: Duke

My prediction:

If Duke is going to win this game, the Blue Devils must outscore the Bearcats, plain and simple. The Blue Devils' defense struggled mightily down the stretch, and Cincinnati has the offensive firepower through both the air and ground to overpower and overmatch Duke defense.

The X-factor is, of course, how the Bearcats respond to an interim coach. While that will slow them down a bit, ultimately, I don't see that affecting the outcome.

Cincinnati 38, Duke 24

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service