Following a bye week that gave Duke some much needed rest for several key players, the Blue Devils will wrap up nonconference play Saturday against Navy.
The Midshipmen will travel to Wallace Wade Stadium to take on Duke at 12:30 p.m. Saturday following heavy speculation as to whether or not the game would be played due to the government shutdown. But despite the rumors, the Blue Devils used their off week to prepare for Navy.
“There were rumors of us playing Fresno State and things like that,” defensive end Kenny Anunike said. “We are thinking about it like, ‘Whoa what are we gonna do?’ Everybody’s asking us—family, friends everybody. Coach Cut helped out with that. He kept reassuring us, ‘You guys will be playing Navy. Don’t worry. And if anything changes, I’ll be the first to let you know.’”
Once again, the injury bug came around for the Blue Devils (3-2). But this time, its bite did not hurt that much thanks to the bye week. The week off provided Duke with the time to rest up players that had succumbed to injuries against Troy and get an early look at Navy (3-1).
“[The bye week] helped a lot,” redshirt senior cornerback Ross Cockrell said. “Coach Cut took care of us. We worked on the option, got a head start on Navy. We also got a head start on some of the stuff we needed for the rest of the season.”
The linebacking corps was thinned out against Troy, with redshirt junior Kelby Brown missing the entire contest and younger brother and backup Kyler missing the second half. On the offensive side of the ball, running back Jela Duncan was sidelined for the second half of the contest due to a shoulder injury sustained in the first half.
Redshirt junior quarterback Anthony Boone remained out against Troy for the third game in a row after suffering a broken collarbone in week two against Memphis. But after four weeks of rest, Cutcliffe hinted at a possible return this week, referring to Boone’s status as day-to-day.
“He’s getting some work,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “We’re still holding him as far as any full speed work, but that hold can change, as we all know, with any medical exams. But we’re letting him practice, so he’s getting practice. He’s gotten progressively better each week, and at this point, maybe now, a little bit every day. I would talk in terms of day-to-day with Anthony Boone.”
As of now, the Blue Devils will be led once again by Brandon Connette, who despite some early shaky play, has come on strong as of late. The redshirt junior has thrown seven touchdowns in Duke’s last two games, and while turnovers were an issue early on in the season, he threw only one interception compared to three touchdowns against in the Blue Devils’ 38-31 victory against Troy.
“[Connette] is a great player,” redshirt junior receiver Braxton Deaver said. “He’s a great leader and a great friend of mine. He’s done a tremendous job at filling in as the starting quarterback.”
The matchup should be favorable for the Blue Devil defense, as the Midshipmen will not be attacking their secondary but rather Duke’s strong front seven, which has only allowed five rushing touchdowns all season. Navy sports a run-first offense that is ranked eighth in the nation, picking up 294 yards on the ground per game.
The Blue Devil secondary enters the contest determined not to drop its guard against another spread option team as they did against Georgia Tech, when the Yellow Jackets scored five touchdowns through the air. Though the Midshipmen rank 119th in the NCAA in yards per game and dead last in attempts, Cockrell was adamant that the defensive backfield will do its job against Navy.
“You’ve still got to do your responsibility,” Cockrell said. “As corners, we’ve got the outside guys on the line of scrimmage. We’re going to guard the receivers. We’ve just got to be a little more keyed into the run because they do run the option. If you don’t play your technique, they’re going to go over the top.”
Saturday’s contest against Navy will conclude Duke’s nonconference schedule and give way to a six-game stretch of ACC opponents, starting with back-to-back road trips to Virginia as the Blue Devils take on Virginia and Virginia Tech in the coming weeks.