One week after losing big across the country in California, the Blue Devils (1-1) will have a great opportunity to bounce back this weekend when they welcome N.C. Central (1-1) to Wallace Wade Stadium.
A 15-point underdog heading into last week’s 50-13 loss to then-No. 25 Stanford (2-0), Duke is the favorite in Saturday’s game against the Eagles, an FCS opponent coming off a 34-14 loss to Elon. Despite the loss, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe believes the Eagles have continued to improve so far this season.
“I thought their pass rush improved a great deal from one week to the next—their coverage, the same thing,” Cutcliffe said. “ I think they made a big jump in the kicking game…and they shored things up well as a staff from game one to game two.”
Located in Durham, just a few miles from Duke’s campus, N.C. Central has faced the Blue Devils on the football field just once before—the Eagles made the 10-minute drive to Wallace Wade for the first “Bull City Classic” in 2009. Duke won that contest in commanding fashion, scoring 49 unanswered points en route to a 49-14 win, though that does not necessarily interest Cutcliffe.
“I’m interested in making a statement about how well Duke can play,” Cutcliffe said. “I want to see a big difference in our team in every area from week two to week three.”
Duke won its first home game in style, beating Florida International 46-26. But the momentum that the Blue Devils gained from their opening win all but evaporated as they watched Stanford take a 20-point lead in the first half by suffocating Duke’s offense then moving the ball freely between the twenties against their defense.
Desmond Scott was a bright spot in last Saturday’s loss, catching 11 passes for 83 yards after recording just two catches in the season opener.
“He is amazingly skilled,” Cutcliffe said of Scott. “Desmond [Scott] and Conner [Vernon] compliment each other well, and Jamison Crowder—who was really good a year ago—may be one of the more improved football players [on the team].”
The emergence of Scott as a receiver after playing running back last year should help open up the field for senior Conner Vernon and sophomore Jamison Crowder, allowing senior quarterback Sean Renfree to spread the ball around on offense.
Defensively, the Blue Devils should be able to contain an Eagles offense that gained 115 yards on 55 plays last week against Elon. Starting quarterback Junior Matt Goggans completed just one of his twelve pass attempts and was intercepted twice before being benched.
Overmatched by the speed and skill of the Duke defense, the Eagles hope to keep the game close by exploiting the Blue Devils’ habit of allowing big plays to opposing offenses. That weakness has already proved to be a thorn in the side of a speedy and experienced Duke secondary as the Blue Devils have allowed seven plays of 30 or more yards through their first two games.
“There are going to be opportunities for our receivers to make big plays.” Eagle head coach Henry Frazier III said. “If the momentum switches on our side, then little brother might have a chance at big brother.”