As we head into the Duke Football season we at Duke Report wanted to look at previewing the 2013 season from a best and worst case scenario. Today I’ll look at he worst case scenario.
The Blue Devils head into the season with a number of major question marks: Can Anthony Boone lead the Blue Devils offense, be efficient and protect the ball? Do the Blue Devils have enough weapons at receiver? Can the defense improve and keep opponents from scoring on big plays? Can the secondary overcome its lack of experience? And can the Blue Devils avoid the injury bug that has consistently haunted them over David Cutcliffe’s tenure?
Looking at those questions one at a time, the possibility of Duke taking a step back this season is very good if a majority of those answers end up being no. A worst case scenario would likely come to fruition if that were to happen.
Anthony Boone has a lot of confidence but he struggled a bit in the Blue Devils first scrimmage throwing two interceptions. With projected backup QB Thomas Sirk likely out for the season recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, a lot of weight falls on Boone.
In a worst case scenario, Boone would be ineffective at quarterback turning the ball over a lot and just not moving the chains. If Boone can’t get the job done, the role would fall on Brandon Connette, the multi-purpose player who, while recruited as a quarterback, has evolved his game into more of a utility player. Connette was effective in the Blue Devils’ first scrimmage but hasn’t had any experience being Duke’s “primary” quarterback option.
If Duke can’t get at least solid quarterback play then the offense could very well be sunk. Unfortunately for Boone, or any other Blue Devil quarterback, they are going to have to replace two of Duke’s best receiving options from last season in Conner Vernon and Desmond Scott. Jamison Crowder is poised to step up into the role of a major playmaker but opposing defenses will key on him. If guys like Max McCaffrey, Issac Blakeney, Brandon Braxton, TE Braxton Deaver as well as an assortment of younger guys don’t step up, it may not matter who plays quarterback.
The offense not functioning isn’t the only thing that can lead to a Duke worst case scenario. The Blue Devils defense at times last year, and in most years, has been a virtual sieve. Unable to stop the run or avoid big plays in the air, Duke’s defense has routinely ranked near the bottom of the ACC. Though the have compiled more talent, Duke has struggled keeping its best players on the field due to injury and the defense has taken the brunt of that.
With a relatively healthy defensive line and linebacking corp, the defense is expected to be better against the run, but the youth in the secondary has many thinking hard times are ahead for the Blue Devils. Despite returning corner Ross Cockrell, Duke’s most decorated defender, and perhaps most decorated player period, the Blue Devils secondary is young.
Garrett Patterson, the other starting corner, has never started before, and the guys behind Patterson and Cockrell are both freshman. The situation is only slightly less precarious at safety. Jeremy Cash perhaps is the most skilled but has never played for Duke and hasn’t played in a year since transferring from Ohio State. Fellow starters, Dwayne Norman and Crobin McCarthy both have some experience but are still very young.
If the secondary can’t slow down opponents’ passing game and/or the front six can’t slow down the run, the Blue Devils will have to win shootouts again and with so many question marks on offense that isn’t a situation Duke wants to be in.
To complicate this worst case scenario is the real possibility of injuries which have haunted Duke recently and it is already starting again. In the spring Sirk was hurt and just this week the Blue Devils lost projected backup right tackle Tanner Stone for the season with an ankle injury. To make matters even worse, his backup Casey Blaser broke a bone in his hand and will be out for an as yet to be determined time.
Those injuries forced the move of defensive lineman Sam Marshall over to the offensive line just to fill in the gap left by Stone and Blaser. Anymore injuries up front and Duke is in serious trouble. It also goes without saying that a worst case scenario would include an injury to a key player on either side of the ball.
While the Blue Devils have improved their talent level and depth, they aren’t at the level of the upper echelon programs who can sustain a high level of play when suffering an injury to a key player.
Beyond personnel, a worst case scenario would involve losses to teams whom, all things being equal and ideal, Duke should beat. Looking at their schedule, the Blue Devils have a very workable non-conference schedule. With wins likely against NC Central and Memphis and winnable games against Troy and Navy, but who could give the Blue Devils problems.
Many are thinking Duke could go 4-0 out of conference, however, a loss to more than one of those teams puts the Blue Devils behind the eight ball heading into the heart of conference play. Despite a much less strenuous conference slate than in years past (no Florida State or Clemson) Duke still has to pick up wins against conference foes, something it hasn’t had a lot of success with especially late in the season.
The Blue Devils have to beat the likes of Pitt at home and Virginia and Wake Forest on the road. Those are the three most winnable games followed by NC State at home and North Carolina on the road. Failure to win at least a couple of these games as well as running the table in non-conference means the Blue Devils likely would finish no better than 5-7, a step back from last year’s 6-7 finish and Belk Bowl appearance.
A lot has to go wrong for Duke to do worse than 5-7, but it could happen and that makes a worst case scenario for Duke anything that leads them to not getting to back to back bowl games for the first time ever, especially with such a favorable schedule.
Stay tuned for my look at the best case scenario that could fall into place for the Blue Devils this season.