The Blue Devils will need military discipline on both sides of the ball this weekend if they plan to stop Army and the high-powered triple-option offense of the Black Knights.
A week after a 34-20 loss to Virginia at home, Duke hosts Army at 3:30 pm Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium. After coming up empty in their ACC contest against the struggling Cavaliers, the Blue Devils must now compete with a rising nonconference foe that comes into the matchup scoring 36.3 points per game and allowing just 16.0 points per game to its opponents.
Duke, however, holds the most recent advantage in this series after trouncing the Black Knights last season 44-3 in West Point, N.Y.
“This is certainly going to be a real challenge and test for us against Duke that, quite frankly, beat the pants off of us last year here at home,” Army head coach Jeff Monken said in a press conference Tuesday. “They have a really talented football team and as well-coached a football team that you’ll find anywhere in the country. They have an outstanding coach who has proven his ability to win in multiple programs and he is very well respected. He is certainly respected by us.”
Despite suffering their first loss of the season last week against Buffalo—a 23-20 overtime defeat on the road—Army (3-1) comes to Durham boasting the most rushing yards per game of any team in the nation with 374.8. Against a Blue Devil defense that could not stop the Cavalier rushing attack down the stretch and is missing veteran safety DeVon Edwards, the Black Knights will look to push their advantage in the running game and control time of possession.
At the heart of that bruising rushing attack is workhorse running back Andy Davidson. The 220-pound sophomore has gashed opponents for 414 yards in four games, averaging an impressive 5.2 yards per carry.
Davidson is not alone, though, leading a stable of talented athletes in the backfield that includes fellow sophomores Jordan Asberry and Tyler Campbell. Both players average 7.0 yards per carry.
“We have a lot of guys on our offense that have been here with us, certainly a lot of them for two years, competing in their third year in a row. They have just gotten better.” Monken said. “We have improved as a team and gained some confidence... Guys have gotten more mature and developed and that has helped us.”
The primary key to victory for the Blue Devils in last season’s contest was the seven forced fumbles by their defense. Barring another offensive meltdown from Army—which has already exceeded its 2015 win total this season—the challenge posed to Duke’s defense will likely be more stout this time around.
The architect of the Black Knights’ attack is quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw, who has only 21 passing attempts this season, but has also accumulated more than 400 total yards from scrimmage. Bradshaw has easily found his way into the second level of the defense against opponents this season, and will aim to test younger Blue Devil linebackers like Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys.
Duke may also get some looks against sophomore Chris Carter, however, who has rotated into the quarterback spot at times this season and earned more than 200 total yards in limited action.
Provided the offense keeps its discipline and fundamentals strong, Army will likely not roll over the same way that it did a year ago, when Blue Devil All-American safety Jeremy Cash and company wreaked havoc near the line of scrimmage.
The Black Knights are focused on late-game execution this week after blowing a 20-6 lead against Buffalo, and hope to wear Duke’s defense out then convert in the red zone. Army has controlled the ball almost twice as much as opponents this year.
“Running the ball is one thing, but the bottom line is you have to score points. We did that enough in the first three games and this is where we really lacked last week,” Monken said. “We got the ball down there close and we would settle for three when we needed to get seven...When you do that, you certainly have a better chance of winning.”
On the other side of the ball, the Black Knights allow just 87.5 yards per game on the ground and 264.8 overall. Army’s team defense is ranked 10th in the nation, with both its pass and run defenses cracking the top 20 in yards allowed. For a Duke offense that turned the ball over six times last week and leads the nation with 17 turnovers in five games, limiting miscues will be critical to give its defense a break.
Saturday’s game could also turn into a defensive struggle because of the weather—heavy wind and rain are expected to accompany Hurricane Matthew this weekend, which could make ball security an even bigger priority.