Duke Football still has not reached a point in the development of their program where they can overlook opponent, their game at Memphis on Saturday will serve as a reminder.
The Blue Devils head into the game as a 6-point favorite, which seems about right. Memphis hasn’t exactly been lighting the world on fire, but as they say, hope springs eternal. The first game of the season always brings hope even for the most downtrodden programs. The Tigers come into the game a virtual unknown despite playing and losing to Duke last season.
Memphis is expected to be better with a new quarterback in Paxton Lynch and some veterans on the defensive line. That optimism and excitement has many expecting this game to be close. However, the biggest factor that may make that an even safer bet is the fact that this is a road game for Duke, a team who only managed to get only one road victory last season (at Wake Forest).
Duke has a new quarterback in Anthony Boone. While he isn’t exactly inexperienced, he hasn’t started a game on the road. He wasn’t really tested either against FCS cross town foe, NC Central. Boone only played a series or two into the second half. He was efficient 16-20 for 176 and a rushing touchdown but was never really challenged by Central’s defensive front. On a positive note, Boone does have experience playing on the road as he came in for an injured Sean Renfree at Wake Forest last year and helped Duke come from behind in a crucial win.
Memphis won’t only just challenge Boone, but they should be a step up and challenge the Blue Devils’ young wide receiving corp. Look for Duke to go to Jamison Crowder early, but expect Memphis to try and neutralize him and force Boone to throw to Max McCaffrey, Issac Blakeney and others.
Duke though, will likely try to do more than just throw as they showed in their opener against Central. The Blue Devils rushed for an impressive 257 yards led by sophomore Jela Duncan, who looks prime for a breakout game. If the Blue Devils can get him the ball and the offensive line can make some holes, even small ones, Duncan will be a load to bring down.
As David Cutcliffe indicated in his Sunday teleconference, he isn’t a fan of playing two season openers in one year, but that is how he is treating the game against Memphis.
The Blue Devils have to come out and be efficient and they certainly shouldn’t expect the Tigers to roll over and die. Memphis will try and test the Duke defense, the same defense that is riding high after pitching the program’s first shutout since 1989 last week. Expect Lynch to try and test the young secondary, while at the same time, try and test Duke’s front seven on the ground.
If Duke can protect the ball and limit big plays, they are certainly good enough to go into the Liberty Bowl and win, but this is going to be a battle, one that has the potential to be a lot more nerve racking than many Blue Devil fans may realize. Understanding that Duke still hasn’t reached the level where games like this can be considered a “gimme’ win is a lesson for the sometimes fickle Blue Devil fan base.
The players and coaches know it and you can believe they will be very prepared for Memphis, which is why I think Duke will pull out the victory in the end.
Duke-28 Memphis- 20