Duke football held their second scrimmage Saturday, and with more practice under their belts, these Blue Devils are in the final stretches of preparation for the start of the season.
In the 85-play scrimmage, graduate-student quarterback Gunnar Holmberg shined, completing 7-of-12 attempts for 168 yards, a touchdown and a two-point conversion. Senior receiver Jake Bobo added 49 yards and a touchdown grab. Luca Diamont also entered the game at quarterback and showed off his speed with 86 yards on the ground.
The scrimmage featured Duke’s starters, such as Holmberg—who Cutcliffe confirmed was the starter during a Wednesday presser—Bobo and defensive leaders DeWayne Carter and Shaka Heyward. In addition, plenty of the Blue Devils’ depth was on display, including many younger players who may have never seen the field in college. Here are some of our takeaways:
After the first scrimmage highlighted several areas for the team to improve on, head coach David Cutcliffe was pleased with some of the progress the Blue Devils made from week-to-week.
“The second scrimmage was better on both sides of the ball—I thought our offense took it to heart to take care of the ball better,” Cutcliffe said. “The offense needed to be challenged to create more explosives, and we were able to do that.”
Explosive indeed, as Diamont scrambled for a 59-yard gain, junior receiver Jalon Calhoun scored from 50 yards out and freshman running back Trent Davis bolted for a 48-yard score.
Depth on the defensive line
During media availability this week, Cutcliffe threw out several names of players who have been stepping up in practice up front. Aside from redshirt sophomore DeWayne Carter—a "stalwart" according to Cutcliffe—as the feature defensive tackle, 6-foot-6 redshirt sophomore Christian Rorie, the smaller Aeneas Peebles and the more experienced Notre Dame transfer Ja’Mion Franklin have been rotating in at the second tackle position. Plus, Cutcliffe hinted at senior Ben Frye’s ability to switch from end to tackle if needed.
“What it comes down to is trying to translate this practice into an actual game atmosphere, because that would be the best way to get people ready because you can't replace experience, of course,” Carter said of his younger defensive counterparts. “So the only way you can get experience is playing.”
“They're young, but they're hungry,” the recently-named captain added.
Carter also said he had a couple of personal goals for training camp after he entered play last year following a much-abbreviated training camp due to COVID-19.
“[Using my hands] was one thing I lacked last year because mentally I understand the plays, understand the schemes, but when it came to using my hands and actually playing the schemes, that's what I was lacking," Carter said. "So I really worked on my strength and emphasizing—I guess you could call it my toolbox, essentially.”
With improved tools and a young corps of players aiming to get game experience, the defensive line is going to be an area to watch as the season approaches and Cutcliffe continues to sort out who fits where in the depth chart.
Bobo ready for his number to be called
After hauling in two passes Saturday morning, the senior wideout expressed his interest in being the “go-to” guy when Duke needs a score or a late-down conversion.
“If we need a third down conversion, I'm hoping [Holmberg] is coming to me, 10 times out of 10,” Bobo said.
Though he has only tallied two career touchdown catches, the 23-year-old saw his receptions jump from 10 in 2019 to 32 in 2020, a sign he will be a feature target in Duke’s passing attack. Bobo also noticed a spark in energy from the offense in the second scrimmage, something he believes helps him and his fellow receivers make more plays.
“Everybody was more physical. Everybody's had another week under their belt. In terms of fall camp, that showed in physicality, and then a little bit more electricity,” the North Andover, Mass., native said.
Even if Bobo is not on the field, he has faith that the receiver depth will be there to haul in Holmberg passes and make plays. He brought up Darrell Harding Jr., Sahmir Hagans, Malik Bowen-Sims and Jarett Garner as playmakers that can add to the Blue Devil passing game.
In terms of the tight ends, Cutcliffe appears to be leaning on redshirt senior Jake Marwede, who caught 13 passes last year behind Noah Gray, but he sees depth in that position as well, with several players behind Marwede showing up in training camp as effective blockers and pass catchers.
Eye in the sky
Cutcliffe proudly announced last week that he has now started watching practices and scrimmages not from the sidelines but from a tower that gives him a better overhead view of the field. Bobo and Carter agreed that the “eye in the sky” means no time off for any of the players on the field.
“We always talk about the ‘eye in the sky’ being film. Now, it's in real time, it's coach, and he will light your tail up if you're even slacking a little bit, which is something we definitely need, and, coming off the field, you're praying he didn't yell your name out. But when he does, it's constructive.” Bobo said.
Prep for Week 1
Tuesday was also the Blue Devils’ first day of preparation for their Sep. 3 matchup at Charlotte. The two teams squared off last season, with Duke victorious, 53-19.
“We've sprinkled [Charlotte preparation] in different periods during fall camp, now this week, we'll probably dive in a little bit more to their 2020 tape and watch a little film and try to scheme them up a little bit,” Bobo said.
“Obviously it's been probably almost a whole year since we played so they've had a lot of time to work on a game plan,” Carter said. “We know the right calls, and narrowed it down to what they like to run.”
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.