Duke Now

Duke vs. Boston College: Ask an opponent’s beat writer

In anticipation of Duke’s matchup against Boston College, veteran Boston Globe sports writer Michael Vega was kind enough to provide some info on the Eagles. Check out Michael’s BC coverage here.

1. Rough break (literally) for the Eagles with quarterback Darius Wade breaking his ankle against Florida State. Duke coach David Cutcliffe seems to think his replacements, Troy Flutie and Jeff Smith, are fairly different from each other—what does each one do well, and do you have a feel for who will play more.

It was a rough break, indeed, for the Eagles. The worst break of all, as Steve Addazio lamented the week following that setback to the Seminoles. It left Addazio and his staff to scramble to make a decision that vexed them all throughout preseason camp. The question: Who will be the No. 2 QB? With Wade having wrapped up the starting job coming out of spring drills, redshirt freshman Troy Flutie, the son of Darren Flutie and nephew of Doug Flutie who set a Massachusetts state record with 47 TD passes as a Natick High senior, was left to engage true freshman Jeff Smith in a spirited battle for the backup job. It never seemed to be resolved until Flutie was named the starter for last week’s 17-14 victory over Northern Illinois. David Cutcliffe astutely pointed out that Flutie seemed to have a better command of the offense (which he does), while Smith, an offensive dynamo from Seminole, Fla., seemed to be more of a dual-threat (which he is). The problem with Smith, however, is his lack of experience trumps his talent. So, given that, Addazio will start Flutie when the Eagles play their first ACC road game of the season at Duke, but has indicated said reserves the right to play both (which he probably will) for the remainder of the season to make sure both quarterbacks get ample playing experience.

2. Speaking of rough breaks, with starting running back Jon Hilliman breaking his foot last weekend, what's the depth chart look like at running back?

One of the reason’s everyone at BC believed its running backs corps was the strength of a young and inexperienced unit, which this season had to replace all five starters on the offensive line along with its quarterback, was because of the depth the position. Hilliman was BC’s leading returning rusher from last year after emerging by last season’s end as the featured back of the running attack as a true freshman. However, in the first three games of this season, Hilliman did not run with the same authority and seemed to slip on the depth chart until, that is, he ran 24 times for 119 yards and a 21-yard TD against Northern Illinois. Junior Tyler Rouse, an overachieving 5-foot-8-inch, 194-pounder from Baldwinsville, N.Y., emerged as the bell cow of BC’s backfield this season, rushing for 160 yards on 27 carries and a team-leading 5 TDs, including three in the 41-point first quarter of BC’s 76-0 romp over Howard in Week 2. Versatile sophomore Marcus Outlow will also factor as a receiver in BC’s short-to-intermediate passing scheme, but it is Rouse who is expected to do the bulk of the work. Junior Myles Willis, perhaps the fastest player of the group, remains questionable for Duke with a nagging shoulder issue, so the Eagles cannot afford to have any more injuries to their running backs.

3. But on the plus side, BC's defense ranks 1st nationally in terms of total defense, giving up just 118 yards per game. I know the Eagles have played two FCS opponents, but they've also played Florida State—is it possible that BC really might have one of the best defenses in the country?

At first, I was a bit skeptical about BC’s statistical ranking as the nation’s top defense, especially after they put up some dominant performances in their first two games of the season, limiting both FCS opponents to 7 yards rushing apiece. It seemed like the Eagles were just padding their statistics. But then came the performance against Florida State where BC held the Seminoles 217 yards total offense on 57 plays, but allowed just 134 yards on 49 plays after giving up a touchdown on FSU’s opening 83-yard scoring drive in eight plays. They kept constant pressure on QB Everett Golson and completely flummoxed RB Dalvin Cook, who wound up having to leave the game in the fourth quarter after being held to 54 yards on 15 carries. That was an eye-opening performance that, in my opinion, justified BC’s exalted ranking as the nation’s top defense. The Eagles followed it up with another strong effort against a Northern Illinois squad that almost upset top-ranked Ohio State the week before. So, I’d definitely say BC’s defense is legit.

4. Is the defense stronger up front or end the back end? Any standout individuals?

When you look at it, BC has been strong, really, in all areas of its defense. But I would say the area where they made the biggest gains over last season was in their ability to generate a pass rush. Last year, Don Brown practically used smoke and mirrors to get a pass rush out of his down linemen, who were whittled down to three able-bodied players -- Connor Wujciak, Truman Gutapfel and Nick Lipfka (since graduated) – by season’s end. Now they have depth at the position and have been bolstered by the return of Mehdi Abdesmad, a 6-7, 286-pound senior defensive end, and the emergence of Harold Landry, a 6-3, 245-pound sophomore from Fayetteville, N.C., who had a breakout performance against Florida State (11 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss) and now ranks as the team’s leading tackler (21). Senior middle linebacker Steven Daniels is the thumper of the group and senior free safety Justin Simmons is the leader of the secondary.

5. How do the Eagles look on special teams? With the heavy rains expected to come Saturday, I feel like kicking and punting well won't necessarily be a given.

As it was last season when BC missed 8 PATs, all costly, special teams will be an area of concern. Last week, senior punter/kicker Alex Howell was ailing with an injured quad and forced to scale back his role to punting, leaving true freshman Colton Lichtenberg to handle the kicking duties. While he made a 25-yard field goal, Lichtenberg was short on second-half kickoff that resulted in an 83-yard return for a touchdown that provided a cliffhanging ending to last week’s victory over Northern Illinois. With the inclement weather predicted for Saturday, I suspect BC’s not-so-special teams play could rise up and bite the Eagles in their tail feathers.

Thanks again to Michael for his time.

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