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Duke vs. Tulane: What to Watch For

Credit:Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

When: Thursday, September 3, 2015.  9:30 pm

Where: Yulman Stadium, New Orleans, Louisiana

Television: CBS Sports Network

Line: Duke -9

All Times Series: Series tied 2-2

Last Time: Duke 47, Tulane 13.  These teams met last season in Durham. Duke ran for 256 yards and the defense intercepted four passes in the blowout victory.  Thomas Sirk had 94 rushing yards and 1 touchdown on just five carries.  Shaun Wilson added 70 yards on seven carries with a touchdown. The fourth quarter featured a Bryon Fields pick six and a wacky special teams play that ended with running back Joseph Ajeigbe intercepting a throw and running it in for a touchdown.

What to Watch For:

1. Thomas Sirk, QB1:  Not only is Thursday the first game of the season for the Blue Devils, but it is also the first career start for quarterback Thomas Sirk.  There has already been plenty of offseason discussion as to whether or not Sirk can smoothly go from situational, running quarterback to a full time starter.  The season is here and now its time to show and prove for Sirk.  Cutcliffe has exuded plenty of confidence his new starter.  This is Sirks fourth season in the program so there won’t be any limitations on what the staff feels he can handle in the offense.  Nevertheless, opening the season on the road, on national tv, on a Thursday night can bring nerves for even seasoned quarterbacks.  The Duke offense is expected lean on the running backs all season, but it will be interesting to see how much they turn Sirk loose to make plays through the air.  Or if they opt to keep it conservative and ease him into his new role.

2.  Rushing Defense:  It doesn’t take much analysis to see that opposing teams will probably try and attack the Duke defense on the ground.  The secondary receives the bulk of the praise for the defense, and deservedly so.  In last year’s matchup the Duke defense intercepted Tulane 4 times.  While the game was a blowout in the Blue Devil’s favor, Tulane running back Lazedrick Thompson racked up 124 rushing yards on just 19 carries.  Thompson is back this season and will be part of a trio of running backs with Dontrell Hilliard and Sherman Badie.  All three backs are extremely talented and all averaged at least 4.7 ypc last season.  Duke is replacing a lot of guys up front, including All-ACC linebacker duo of David Helton and Kelby Brown.  Several contributors on the defensive line are gone, as well.  While the Duke rushing defense wasn’t exactly stout last season, there is still a lot of uncertainty when you are replacing that many mainstays on defense.  I expect Tulane to go to the ground early and stick with the run until the Blue Devils can stop it.  The potential for rain as tropical storm Erika moves into the United States could force both teams to keep the ball on the ground.  Duke may have to sacrifice a member of the secondary to aid in stopping the run early and force Tulane to try and go against the talented Blue Devil secondary.

3.  Wide Receiver Rotation:  Senior Max McCaffrey is the lone returning starter among the wide receiving corp.  His consistent play over his career has cemented his role in the offense.  The same can’t be said for the rest of the receivers.  Johnel Barnes is slated to start on the outside.  Barnes has played well at times but is looking to contribute consistently over the course of the entire season.  True freshman TJ Rahming will get the start on the opposite side.  He’s expected to split time with redshirt freshman Chris Taylor.  There are plenty of other guys who will get their opportunity, as well.  Trevon Lee, Ryan Smith, and Anthony Nash will all probably see the field Thursday night.  The coaching staff will, in all likelihood, go with the hot hand over the course of the first few games before solidifying the receiver rotation.  Thursday night will mark the first opportunity for everyone to show what they can do going forward.