With Duke and Kansas squaring off on the gridiron this weekend, we sat down with Joe Davis, who runs RockChalkBlog.com – the largest Kansas Jayhawks blog out there. We asked each other five questions about this weekend’s match up. First up our five for RCB:
DR: What kind of offense/defense does Kansas run?
RCB: Kansas runs a spread offense (after having a pro-style offense last year). KU’s defense runs a “odd front” with three down linemen.
DR: How do you think the Weis and the Kansas offense will try to attack the Blue Devils?
RCB: KU needs to run the ball effectively to start, in my opinion. In the first half, KU did well in the running game last week and it led to some good things for Montell Cozart. But that was against Southeast Missouri State. Doing that against Duke is a different story. I think Weis will want to know if his running backs are legit and will run the ball heavily.
Defensively, KU’s secondary is going to have its hands full with your wide receivers. However, Weis views the secondary as KU’s deepest position so I expect him to rotate in guys until he finds what works effectively.
DR: Who are the players Duke fans should watch for that will be the difference makers for Kansas?
RCB: On defense, you’re going to want to watch Ben Heeney and Dexter McDonald. They’re KU’s two best defensive players. McDonald leads the NCAA in passes defended with four and had two interceptions last week (and was Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week). Heeney just makes tackles. On the offensive end, Nick Harwell (WR) and Tony Pierson (WR/RB) are playmakers. Harwell had two touchdowns last week and Pierson had a sick spin move for a 60+ yard touchdown.
DR: Do you ever see Kansas making a Duke-style turnaround with their football program?
RCB: If anything, Duke had the KU-style turnaround. KU went to the Orange Bowl in 2008 (the 2007 season). However, once things got tough, KU’s athletic director (Lew Perkins) ditched Mark Mangino at the first sign of any kind of controversy. Perkins never like Mangino because he didn’t hire him. Because of Mangino’s rough personality (he was difficult to work with, even if you weren’t a player), Perkins had to hire a “nice guy” and ended up hiring Turner Gill, which in a lot of fan’s eyes, was a great hire at first. However, Gill ran the program into the ground and has set KU back dramatically. I think Weis has the program going in the right direction and part of that is by hiring great coordinators. John Reagan was here at KU in 2007 under Mangino and now he’s actually doing the play calling for Kansas. Before this season, Weis was doing it. I think going up 24-0 in the first game under Reagan’s play-calling proves it was the right decision.
DR: What’s the attitude in Lawrence toward head coach Charlie Weis? Do you think he’ll still be the coach after this season?
RCB: Right now, it is pretty negative but anything associated with the football program is negative. All the other sports at KU are doing decent. Volleyball and baseball had good postseason runs last year. The KU women track and field team won a national championship two years ago. KU basketball is just like Duke basketball so you know how that is. Ever since 2008, KU has been pitiful on the gridiron and part of that is on Weis but a lot of it is on Turner Gill, too.
Personally, I like Weis and I think he’s doing good things. He’s getting players here that normally wouldn’t come. And yes, some of them have turned into failures. But what program doesn’t have that? Weis gets a bad rap from the media because of his tenure at Notre Dame. I think he’s been humbled since then and the national media still thinks he’s arrogant. Even the people who covered the Chiefs while he was here view him in a negative light.
Anyways… his legacy at KU hinges on the first four games, in my opinion. If KU can go 3-1 to start the season, it is very possible KU can win 5-6 games and make a bowl game. If that happens, Weis will be considered a success. If KU goes 2-2 or even more likely, 1-3, Weis will need to make a bowl game next year or he’ll probably either resign or get fired (Unless he can have a miraculous season after a 1-3 start).
In my opinion, this team has a basement of four wins and a ceiling of seven wins. Teams like Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor are going to beat KU but teams such as Iowa State, TCU, Texas Tech and even Texas are beatable. As you know, Kansas hasn’t won a road game in a long time so I just don’t see KU winning many outside of Lawrence but maybe a win against Duke will dramatically change that.
And now our five from RCB…
RCB: Last year’s team was obviously talented and had a great record. Who were your key personal losses and gains from last year to this season?
DR: The biggest losses from last season’s team are on the defensive side of the ball. Senior cornerback Ross Cockrell was one of the better secondary players in the country and had been a leader on the Duke defense for a long time. One of the other leaders was Kenny Anunike, who offered a strong presence on the defensive line. Both guys have now moved on to the NFL, which also helps show how they raised the quality of play for the Duke program.The other big loss prior to the start of the season was when linebacker Kelby Brown went down with a knee injury. Brown is no stranger to knee injuries as this is his third torn ACL. He was an All-ACC performer last season and was expected to be one of the best linebackers in the conference once again.
The biggest gains are that Duke still returns plenty of talent from last season’s squad. Quarterback Anthony Boone is a senior and he’s got a great weapon in wide receiver Jamison Crowder. On defense, the Blue Devils have some exciting young players in the secondary who are becoming more experienced and confident, such as Breon Borders and DeVon Edwards, who both saw plenty of playing time last season as freshmen.
RCB: We’ve been told Duke has great wide receivers. Tell us about them.
DR: It all starts with Jamison Crowder. He’s already one of the most accomplished receivers in ACC history and continues to put up huge numbers, even though defenses know he’s the top target. At 5’9″, he simply has a knack for finding holes in a defense and making things happen. He actually reminds me a bit of former FSU great Peter Warrick, who was incredibly at creating space and beating teams with his speed and quickness. Crowder is also one of the best punt returners in college football.
Along with Crowder, the other two primary receiving options at receiver are Isaac Blakeney and Max McCaffrey. Both have been more prototypical possession receivers over the past couple years, but at 6’6″, 225 lbs., Blakeney has the type of physical tools that could make him a tough cover in any part of the field if he can constantly hang on to the ball.
RCB: Outside of your wideouts, which players should KU fans look out for on Saturday?
DR: Duke typically goes with the “running back by committee” approach, but one guy to keep an eye on is running back Shaquille Powell. Powell can be a weapon carrying the ball or catching passes out of the backfield and he usually goes looking for contact once he has the ball in his hands. He’s the type of guy defensive backs do not want to have to tackle.
Another guy to watch for is defensive back DeVon Edwards. He had a knack for making big plays in critical moments last season for Duke, including when he returned a kickoff and two interceptions for touchdowns in the second half of last season’s win over N.C. State. He’s a threat to take the ball to the end zone any time he gets his hands on it.
RCB: Kansas and Duke are known as “basketball schools.” What’s the perception of the football program at Duke and do you think basketball’s success has a negative stigma for the football program because it’ll be hard to live up to the same expectations?
DR: That perception is changing at Duke. The turnout for the home opener against Elon was fantastic and the student section had a great showing, which had always been a problem with previous games. There’s a certain energy around this program right now that’s really catching on and people are excited to be talking about Duke football.
With the university making needed upgrades to the stadium and surrounding area to help enhance the gameday experience, it really feels like Duke Football is finally earning a spot at the table and having its own identity. The standard is still high for the basketball program, and it always will be, but David Cutcliffe has earned people’s attention with what he’s done with the football program and fans are excited to be part of it.
RCB: What would hurt more: losing to Kansas on Saturday, KU finishes 2-10 on the season, Duke finishes the season at 11-1 and you miss your shot at the college football playoff OR losing to KU basketball in the NCAA tournament with a Final Four appearance on the line?
DR: Losing to Kansas in the Elite Eight?! That means we would have made it past the opening rounds without losing to teams like Mercer or Lehigh. That’s progress, baby!
The loss in basketball would hurt more.
In all honesty, this is where basketball is a victim of its own success. 11-1 for the football team and people would be thrilled and say that Duke Football is here to stay. The football team is still on the honeymoon phase where mistakes and bad losses are excused. An Elite Eight appearance for the basketball team is expected and failing to reach a Final Four would be a disappointment, which would just have everyone wondering what needs to be fixed going into the following season.