Duke football faces another challenge, another Heisman winner

CorrespondentDecember 17, 2013 

This story incorrectly reported the Duke football team's record as 9-3. The Blue Devils are 10-3.

DURHAM -- Duke is facing a rare challenge as it heads into yet another huge football game.

The No. 22 Blue Devils (10-3) will be in their second straight bowl game when they take on No. 20 Texas A&M (8-4) in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta on New Year’s Eve.

And after losing to this year’s Heisman Trophy winner in the ACC title game, Duke will go up against last year’s winner.

The Blue Devils didn’t fare well when they took on Jameis Winston and No. 1 Florida State in a 45-7 shellacking in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte two weeks ago. They’ll face 2012 winner Johnny Manziel in the Georgia Dome in two weeks.

Duke returned to regular practices starting on Monday after exams were finished. The players aren’t working against A&M schemes and formations yet, but it’s hard for any of them looking at game footage not to notice the Aggies’ charismatic quarterback.

“The amount of time since the Florida State game has been good for us, because we almost had to forget about it while we focused on exams,” Duke’s junior linebacker Kelby Brown said Tuesday at a press luncheon. “By the time we got back to football we’d all moved on from the game. But A&M will present a similar challenge to us with a Heisman quarterback.”

Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe couldn’t avoid talking about Manziel.

“When you watch tape of all three phases, you see athletes in every area with a lot of speed and a lot of size,” Cutcliffe said. “Obviously, it’s hard to get away from Johnny Manziel once you’re watching tape – as far as extending plays and ad-libbing and making plays, I know in my time he’s the best I’ve ever seen in that regard. They’ve only given up nine sacks, and people can’t hardly touch him much less tackle him.”

Duke’s redshirt freshman safety DeVon Edwards, whose kickoff returns and interceptions were huge factors in the Blue Devils’ wins against N.C. State and UNC, said Winston and Manziel are similar in key ways.

“The thing is that they both try to stay behind the line of scrimmage and scramble and wait for their receivers to come open and let them fight for it,” said Edwards, a native of Covington, Ga., who said he’s hoping 15 family members can get tickets. “They believe their receivers are better than the defensive backs. (Manziel) is a great quarterback.”

Most of the work until Thursday, Cutcliffe said, will be one-vs.-ones drills, etc., to shore up fundamentals before the team focuses on the Aggies. Duke’s last practice in Durham will be on Sunday, and the players will gather again the night of Dec. 25 in Atlanta to get serious about A&M.

“Practice is going really well,” quarterback Anthony Boone said. “We’re just emphasizing getting back to the speed of the game, going against the defense. We’re just kind of sharpening the tools we’ve been working on all year.”

Duke is practicing without backup quarterback Brandon Connette, in California with his mother, Nancy, who is recovering from surgery from a brain tumor.

Cutcliffe said that there is no timetable for Connette to return and that freshman Parker Boehme is taking snaps with the second team.

Senior tackle Perry Simmons, who started 50 straight games but suffered a torn ACL against Florida State, is out, and sophomore Lucas Patrick will get his first career start in Simmons’ place.

“(Patrick is) ready for this challenge,” Cutcliffe said. “I told him yesterday: ‘I’ve already named the position you’re starting at. It’s not going to be called right tackle any more.’

“ He’s starting at ‘Simmons.’ 

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