CHARLOTTE — 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 player to watch:
Senior, wide receiver,
5-9, 190 pounds
Dukes two main receiving threats, Conner Vernon and Jamison Crowder, will match up against Cincinnatis best pass defenders. Scott, though, has a knack for finding holes in the secondary, particularly on third down. Against North Carolina, two of Scotts 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:
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 Dukes 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 teams 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 opponents34-31 in overtimes against then-No. 16 Louisville on Oct. 26 and 10-3 to then-No. 22 Rutgers on Nov. 17. The Bearcats other lossthe one that knocked them from the rankingscame 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
WHEN DUKE HAS THE BALL
While this years 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 yearat 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). Cincinnatis defense of 130.25 yards surrendered per game ranks 27th in the nation.
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.
WHEN CINCINNATI HAS THE BALL
Duke has had a hard time stopping any of its 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.
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. Dukes 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 arent enough bodies. Duke lists just three cornerbacks on the depth chart.
Dukes 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.
The Blue Devils are well aware of the fact that, while the 17-season bowl drought was epic in length, Duke hasnt 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 wont take over until after the Belk Bowl.
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