Game preview: Duke vs. Navy

Posted by Laura Keeley on October 12, 2013 

Duke vs. Navy

When: 12:30 p.m.

Where: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham

Line: Duke by 3.5

TV/Radio: ACC Network/WRAL, WDNC-620 AM, WKIX-102.9 FM

Scouting Navy (3-1)

The Midshipmen make their first return to Durham since 2008 (a 41-31 win for Duke in head coach David Cutcliffe’s inaugural season) and are bringing their spread-option/ triple-option offense with them. Cutcliffe did say, though, that Navy will break from the triple-option formation more frequently than Georgia Tech, the similarly styled team that the Blue Devils played in week three.

Navy is particularly disciplined (there’s a shock) in the formation, having fumbled just once when starting quarterback Keenan Reynolds, a sophomore, is in the game (and he’s thrown zero interceptions in his 31 pass attempts). The Midshipmen have taked just nine penalties on the year, far and away the fewest in the nation.

For more on Navy, which out this Q&A with Navy beat writer Bill Wagner. He also offers up a prediction.

Scouting Duke:

The Blue Devils are coming off their open date, during which they worked Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before breaking until Sunday evening. Duke has the benefit of having faced Georgia Tech’s spread-option offense earlier this year, so they’ve drilled plenty against that type of scheme (cut blocking included).

“It’s slightly different,” defensive end Justin Foxx said when asked to compare the two offenses. “Georgia Tech has added some new wrinkles this year. With Navy, they’re going to try to keep the ball in their quarterback’s hands and try to let him be a playmaker. So we know we have to be ready to defend that.”

It would behoove the defense to start playing effectively from the start of the game instead of waiting for the start of the second half. In the first halves of the Blue Devils’ last two games, a 58-55 loss to Pitt and a 38-31 win versus Troy, Duke has allowed 58 points and 743 yards of total offense. In the second halves, Duke’s defense had allowed 24 points and 367 total yards. The main difference in the halves is that the defensive line has been able to generate pressure on the opposing quarterback in the second half, registering five sacks in the final halves of both ball games (and none in the first halves).

Duke injury report:

PROBABLE

DE Michael Mann (upper body)

S Dwayne Norman (leg)

QUESTIONABLE

QB Anthony Boone (shoulder)

LB Kelby Brown (ankle)

OUT

WR Johnell Barnes (hand)

CB Jared Boyd (leg)

LB Kyler Brown (leg)

QB Thomas Sirk (leg)

DT A.J. Wolf (leg)

OUT FOR SEASON

OT Tanner Stone (leg)

Cutcliffe called Norman, Mann, Boone and Brown game-time decisions. Here’s more on what he said about Anthony Boone Thursday. For what it’s worth, I think there’s a 60 percent chance Boone plays.

Also, Brown’s potential absence is slightly mitigated by the fact that, against option offenses, Duke’s safeties, like Jeremy Cash, can play hybrid-linebacker roles.

Key Player for Duke:

WR Jamison Crowder, Jr.

Mixing it up a little bit in the format. Check out this mini-profile on Crowder, part of our Saturday package on undersized guys making large impacts.

As a 5-foot-9, 175-pound receiver, Jamison Crowder was never a combine all-star in high school. But it didn’t take him long to impress his Duke teammates when he arrived on campus.

“You hear it all the time, speed kills,” senior receiver Brandon Braxton said. “He is the quickest person I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Some of the moves he makes on punt returns are crazy ridiculous. We all knew he was going to be something special.”

Crowder, a junior, has straight-line speed, but his true talent is in his ability to change directions on a dime and juke defenders. That’s been evident this year on his punt returns, as he ranks fifth in the nation with an average return of 19.3 yards per punt, and his two touchdowns lead the country as well.

On offense, he is Duke’s unquestioned No. 1 receiver, posting 37 catches for 530 yards (both rank top five in the ACC) and a pair of touchdowns. He still plays with that chip on his shoulder he had in high school, making up for what he lacked in height with toughness and speed.

“He could be three inches shorter and I’d still take Jamison Crowder,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. “If you ever saw him play basketball, you would understand what speed and quickness look like as well. He’s fun to watch.”

Key Matchup:

Duke’s defensive line vs. Navy’s offensive line

When the Blue Devils’ veteran line can generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks, the entire defense becomes significantly more effective. In the win against Troy, Duke was able to pull out the victory thanks to three sacks, two tipped passes and forced two holding penalties in the final half.

Key Mismatch:

Duke’s running game vs. Navy’s front seven

I seriously doubt in the past six years that a Duke beat writer has ever looked at Duke’s running game against a defense and called it advantage, Duke. But the rushing offense, spearheaded by the zone-reading quarterback ( Brandon Connette for most of the season) and Josh Snead and Jela Duncan, has been effective this year, ranking 48th nationally and fifth in the ACC with an average of 193 yards per game. An effective run game will allow Duke to maintain possession for longer periods of time, which is critical against the option.

Navy’s rushing defense, meanwhile, ranks 85th nationally, yielding an average of 181.3 yards per game.

Key Numbers:

.894—Navy’s red zone scoring percentage this year, coming away with points on 17 of 19 possessions. The Midshipmen’s touchdown percentage is .737 (14 for 19).

.870— Duke’s red zone scoring percentage (20-of-23) through five games this season. Only two of those scores were field goals

51— ACC-leading tackle total for Jeremy Cash

Pulse Check:

A win today would be the first time in the David Cutcliffe era that the Blue Devils go 4-0 in nonconference play. After four years of facing a ranked opponent in nonconference play (No. 22 Kansas in 2009—not a typo—, No. 1 Alabama in 2010, No. 6 Stanford in 2011 and No. 25 Stanford in 2012), the Blue Devils’ schedule has finally become more in line with realistic expectations for the program.

My prediction:

This game is critical to Duke’s bowl hopes—beat Navy, and the Blue Devils just have to fine two victories in the three games against Virginia, N.C. Sate, and Wake Forest (though it is looking more and more possible with each week that Duke will keep the Victory Bell and beat a hapless UNC to end the year).

I expect this game to play out like Duke’s past two games: he who finally stops the opposing offense wins the game.

Duke 48, Navy 45

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