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Duke vs. NC Central: What to Watch For

Duke Blue Devil Mascot / Photo by Chris Summerville
Duke Blue Devil Mascot / Photo by Chris Summerville

When:  Saturday, September 3, 2016.  6:00 PM.

Where:  Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, North Carolina

Television: ESPN3

Line:  Duke -32

Last Time:  Duke 55, NC Central 0.  Last season the Blue Devils totally dominated the Eagles to move to 2-0 in front of a sold out crowd in their home opener.  The Duke defense only allowed nine first downs and just one third down conversion.  Thomas Sirk threw for 315 yards and 3 touchdowns including an 89 yard swing pass to Shaun Wilson, the third longest passing play in Duke history.  Duke racked up 655 yards of total offense in the victory.

What to Watch For:

Daniel Jones, QB1:  When news of Thomas Sirk’s initial injury back in February became known, Daniel Jones was thought of as a dark horse candidate to take the starting job.  As the season approached we watched in amazement as Sirk inched closer and closer to being healthy enough to start the season.  Late last week that amazement went out the window when Sirk reinjured the same achilles, ending his Duke career.  There’s no time to hang our heads, though.  The season starts this week and Duke has to field a quarterback.  That quarterback will be redshirt freshman Daniel Jones.  Many will point to his list of scholarship offers (or lack thereof) in high school as a real cause for concern.  However, his reviews from practice dating back to last season offer plenty of hope that 2016 will not be a lost season and that Jones, once nicknamed “The Future” can be “The Present.”  Jones has prototypical size for a college quarterback, and while he does possess some athleticism, it would be a real stretch to expect him to contribute to the running game on the same level that Sirk did.  Duke will most likely shift to a more traditional offense and lean on running backs Jela Duncan and Shaun Wilson, but don’t expect them to limit the playbook for Jones.  Jones has earned this starting spot and his coaches and teammates are confident he is ready to lead the team, even if it is happening a year earlier than expected.  Opening against an FCS opponent will be good for Jones.  Duke will have superior talent at every position and Jones will have the opportunity to settle into his new role as starting quarterback.

Young Depth:  Duke will open the season with nine new starters, some with plenty of experience, others with little or none.  The two deep depth chart features even more new names, featuring four true freshmen and another seven redshirt freshmen.  This could mean that Duke’s recent success in recruiting could be ready to show itself in the field, but anytime there is a widespread lack of experience questions will be raised about how ready this young talent may be.  Saturday is the first opportunity for most of us to see these young players and is their first taste of real game action.  In addition to Daniel Jones, redshirt freshman linebacker Joe Giles-Harris is set to start in the first active game of his career.  Julian Santos (LG), Mark Gilbert (CB), Koby Quansah (LB), and Tre Hornbuckle (DE) are all listed on the two deep as true freshmen.  Its a bit suprising that the two most coveted recruits in Duke’s freshmen class, Scott Bracey and Dylan Singleton, are not listed on the two deep at this time.  Bracey has been slowed by a hamstring injury for The majority of preseason practice.  If things go as expected on Saturday the coaches should have the opportunity to get a look at everyone and see how they respond in the first game of the season and their career.  

Stadium Renovation:  After years of planning and a couple offseasons of construction the Wallace Wade renovation project is nearly complete.  While there are still some finishing touches being done on the concourse and at the entrances, Blue Devil Tower and the stadium itself will be complete by Saturday.  New LED stadium lights will enhance viewing for night games.  There is almost as much excitement to see the “new” stadium as it is to kick off the season on the field.  Get there early to enjoy the new scenery before the game.  The renovations and update to Wallace Wade are symbolic of the upgrades made to the football program itself.  The hard work and dedication by David Cutcliffe, Kevin White, and staff have earned respect for the football program and now they have a stadium worthy of showcasing their talent.