Friday, May 21, 2010

Opponent Preview: Game 3- Duke

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The Crimson Tide will make their road debut in Durham, NC against the Blue Devils of Duke. While Basketball might come to mind when you think of Duke, the football program has begun to make strides under the direction of coach David Cutcliffe.

I reached out to a former Duke Football Student Athlete, Matt Rumsey,  and asked him what his thoughts on the current state of affairs of the program. He said,

"When talking about Duke Football, one must always deal in terms of relative scales.  To most teams and their fans, a 5-7 season in 2009 would not have qualified as a "success", much less "progress" or "moving in the right direction".  However, when your record over the past decade (19-97) warrants your team being legally named the worst in Division I Football, you're forced to reevaluate what qualifies as success.  Having personally played at Duke for 4 years (in which we won 4 games along with 42 losses, 22 of which were part of the nation's longest consecutive losing streak at the time), my definition of "success" transformed from "winning" to "competing" to "looking good stepping off the team bus".  Thankfully, in the short span of 3 years, times have changed.  With the emergence of some upper-tier talent, legitimate support from the university administration, and a guy by the name of David Cutcliffe, Duke Football is no longer the whipping boy of the ACC. Duke is moving back towards the "competing/winning" end of the success spectrum.”

So while most Alabama fans will think of Duke this season as an automatic “W”. Let’s not forget, that last time the Devils made a trip to Bryant Denny, they almost went home with one of the biggest upsets to date. This is now a Duke team that has goals of bowl bids, not just moral victories.

This season will, however, be a tough road for the Devils. They will most likely be led by a first time starter at quarterback, Sean Renfree, who is coming back from tearing his ACL. Renfree missed a large portion of spring ball due to his recovery. Renfree, will however still have wide receivers Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon to throw to. Both were ranked one and two in receptions last season.

In all, Duke is returning a total of nine starters on the offensive side of the ball, and have added true freshman Josh Snead who will add an extra explosiveness in the backfield. The offense for the Blue Devils will definitely have growing pains this season with Renfree and Snead having to make key decisions and plays. The players around them have the experience to help make this task easier.

On the defensive side of the ball the Devils return 6 players, however the defense will have a different look due to Marion Hobby who has taken over play calling on defense due the departure of Mike MacIntyre, who the Tide will see as the coach of San Jose State. The key concern for the defense will fall on the defensive line and their two fifth year seniors Patrick Egboh and Wesley Oglesby. Other than them, the defensive line will be pretty inexperienced and the depth of talent at line positions will also become a factor. Add in the likes of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson barreling through the line and it could be a long day in the trenches for the Devils. As for the linebackers and secondary, the biggest loss might be Vincent Rey at linebacker who lead the team last year with 98 tackles. As with every other team the Tide will play, there is always a question on defense as to who will match up one on one with Julio Jones and handle the speed of the other Tide receivers.

Though Duke has made strides in the right direction, they will have a tough day when the Tide comes into town. Though as before, we know they will throw everything they have at Alabama and leave it all on the field, especially with Cutcliffe running the show. Look for them to challenge for a bowl bid this season, and remember that the days of 22 loses in a row are over for the Devils.

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