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5 takeaways from Duke football's preseason scrimmage

Gunnar Holmberg, in his fifth year in the program, will look to turn around Duke's offense.
Gunnar Holmberg, in his fifth year in the program, will look to turn around Duke's offense.

There is no truer indicator of fall than college football, and the Blue Devils are back in action at Wallace Wade Stadium. 

Head coach David Cutcliffe led an 85-play, full-team scrimmage last Saturday, and all players logged valuable game-simulating minutes in pads. 

Here are our five takeaways from all the action.

Gunnar Holmberg is the conductor

With multiple options at the quarterback position entering this season after the departure of Chase Brice, there are a few questions surrounding which players will ultimately get playing time under center. Saturday’s scrimmage looked to put any questions of this nature to rest. 

Graduate student Gunnar Holmberg took the snaps with the starting rotation, and did not blink. Holmberg connected on 3-of-8 passes for 36 yards, and picked up 15 yards and a rushing touchdown on eight carries. 

“[Gunnar] was efficient throwing the football and took care of the ball," Cutcliffe said. “[He] put the ball where it was catchable, he managed to get the ball thrown on time.”

Holmberg had a very solid night, leading the offense in an impressive fashion, and setting his team up for the remainder of preseason training.

“We’re trying to keep the ball security issues low and continue to raise explosive plays which is going to lead to a lot of wins and a really successful year for our offense and make life easier for our defense and special teams,” Holmberg said. 

This offensive line has a high ceiling

Duke’s offensive line impressed Saturday, as the group looked experienced, in sync and deep. Four of Duke’s expected five starting lineman are juniors or older, and four of last year’s five starters have returned for another season. 

“That offensive line is an interesting opportunity for us to build depth, and I was thrilled that Jack [Wohlabaugh] got as much as he did tonight live,” Cutcliffe said.

In addition to this core group, Saturday’s scrimmage showcased a variety of talent and fruitful depth along the offensive line. This should ensure Duke’s ability to run the football effectively and give Holmberg time to find open receivers. 

“We tend to rotate O-line to keep them fresh, so the more options we have the better," Holmberg said. "The guys we have now are all a pretty experienced bunch, from left tackle to right tackle, they all look good, they've all been in the system for a while."

Secondary impresses

After losing two talented safeties in Michael Carter II and Marquis Waters, along with cornerback Mark Gilbert, there are some concerns surrounding the secondary entering this season. However, the unit answered many of those questions Saturday. 

The Blue Devils' standout receivers, such as Jake Bobo and Jalon Calhoun, struggled to create separation and space down the field. Duke’s pass coverage is rooted in man-to-man, and they did an excellent job staying connected with the Blue Devil downfield threats all night. 

“We need to tackle better, and clean that up a little bit, ” graduate student cornerback Josh Blackwell said.

The Blue Devils need to minimize their penalties

In 85 snaps, the Blue Devils committed 10 penalties—four on offense and six on defense. Offensive penalties set the offense back and can stall and end drives, while defensive penalties give the opponent’s offense free yards, extending their drives. Duke will look to clean this up with increased discipline moving forward. 

“Six penalties is something we need to correct, but I think over the next couple of weeks and into the first week of the season, well get it corrected and we’ll be ready to go,” Blackwell said.

Running backs are poised for success

Senior running back Mataeo Durant raised a lot of eyebrows last season, racking up 817 yards and eight touchdowns on 120 carries, along with 12 receptions for 107 yards and a touchdown. Durant's efficiency and explosiveness last season impressed, and he continued that during the scrimmage with four carries for 44 yards. Durant is projected to be the lead back this season for the Blue Devils. 

In addition to Durant’s success, redshirt sophomore Jaylen Coleman had a phenomenal night, racing for 80 yards on nine carries. 

“We had some outstanding play early from the offense running the football," Cutcliffe said. “All looked really good, but Jaylen Coleman... certainly his speed showed up.”

Those two, along with the rest of Duke’s deep backfield, give the Blue Devils a lot to be excited about. 

“It's really fun to see Mataeo, Jordan Waters, Jaylen, Nakeie [Montgomery], Nate [Kyei-Donkor], they all looked really good tonight,” Holmberg said."

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