Earlier this week I exchanged a few questions with Patrick Cacchio who covers Duke football for Blue Devil Nation. He asked me for my thoughts on the Canes and I asked him questions about Duke.
HIS RESPONSES TO MY QUESTIONS...
1. It's amazing to see the turnaround Duke's program has made under David Cutcliffe. What has really been the key to the Blue Devils growing from being a bowl-eligible 6-6 team to now 7-2 and in the hunt for the Coastal Division crown?
"When Coach Cutcliffe arrived in Durham, he promised fans that the Blue Devils would feature a high-flying offense that put up points. The last two seasons, he's delivered on that promise, as Duke's spread offense averaged 31.5 points a year ago and have improved to 33.4 points per game so far this season. Surprisingly, though, it's the Blue Devil defense that has transformed this program from simply bowl-eligible to ACC contender. The strong play of the defense is even more surprising since Duke entered the season with four true freshmen on the two-deep in the secondary. In September, the Duke defense allowed 58 points to Pittsburgh in a bizarre shoot-out of a game. Since their first bye week, however, it's been a completely different story. Duke has allowed a total of 59 points in their last 5 games. Even after that shaky September, Duke boasts the nation's 32nd best scoring defense and the top red zone defense in the ACC. Though they have received opportunistic plays from the young secondary, the Blue Devil defense is led up front by 3 of the top 5 tacklers in the ACC - LB David Helton, LB Kelby Brown, and S Jeremy Cash. Special teams has contributed, as well, where the Blue Devils rank in the top 5 in the conference in punt returns, kick returns, punting, and kick coverage. While the offense has slumped, Duke has found a way to win with defense and special teams; it's that balance that makes this team a legitimate ACC Coastal Division threat."
2. What's the buzz been like in Durham this week for this game? Isn't that supposed to be basketball country? Or has this football team really won the town over this year?
"It's no secret that support for Duke Football has been lacking in recent years, but with a winning team and a chance to play for an ACC Championship, there's a distinct buzz on and around campus. Last week, as the Blue Devils hosted in-state rival NC State, Wallace Wade Stadium was packed with 32,000 fans mostly in Duke blue, helping to ensure the program's first winning season since 1994. Prior to the NC State game, however, attendance was down significantly this year for the Blue Devils. The University has invested a lot into the program, and during this offseason, significant upgrades to Wallace Wade Stadium to enhance the fan experience are expected. This season has seen nearby Wake Forest, UNC and NC State struggle, making the Blue Devils the best football story in the Triangle. While tickets are still available for Saturday's game, don't expect to see the half-empty stadium of years past."
3. I know the Canes have won nine in a row against Duke, but why do Miami fans need to be worried? Who is playing well for this Duke team right now?
"Miami is still the bigger and more talented team on paper, but the same could be said about the Blue Devils' last two opponents. Duke is playing with confidence as they take a five-game winning streak into Saturday's Coastal Division showdown. The Blue Devils have been carried by their strong play on defense and special teams. I expect to see LBs Kelby Brown and David Helton continue to wrack up tackles and slow the Hurricanes on the ground. Stephen Morris will have to make accurate throws against an opportunistic Duke secondary, who welcomes back All-ACC CB Ross Cockrell this week. That being said, I still think it's the Duke offense that will be most problematic for the Hurricanes. Anthony Boone has yet to lose a game as a starting quarterback, despite giving away 7 interceptions over his past two games. The Blue Devil offense is hungry for a breakout effort and will look to establish All-ACC WR Jamison Crowder early and often. Coach Cutcliffe has emphasized the need for Duke to do a better job of committing to the run, so I also expect to see a stronger effort from star sophomore Jela Duncan and company. Much like in recent years, I think this game ends up to be a high-scoring affair, and if recent history is any indicator for these two teams, a big special teams play or two may be the difference."
MY RESPONSES TO HIS QUESTIONS...
1. Miami enters Saturday's contest on a 2-game losing streak, having recently lost two of their top offensive weapons in WR Phillip Dorsett and RB Duke Johnson to season-ending injuries. Can this offense be as explosive without those two playmakers? What adjustments do you expect to see from QB Stephen Morris and the offensive staff?
"There's no question Miami's offense missed Duke Johnson last week against Virginia Tech. The Canes only ran for 28 yards on 24 attempts and could never really establish a running game, making them one dimensional. Stephen Morris actually played well against the Hokies. What hurt him were the drops by his receivers. They've actually had 11 combined drops in the last two weeks including a pair that would have gone for touchdowns. Allen Hurns has done a real nice job stepping up in Dorsett's absence. Freshman Stacy Coley has had his moments of brilliance. But there's no doubt this offense has missed Dorsett and Johnson and will miss them Saturday."
2. The Hurricanes' are holding opponents to just 23 points per game on the season, but are coming off a game where they allowed a struggling Virginia Tech team to put up 42 points and 549 yards of total offense. What is the source of their recent defensive struggles?
"I definitely feel like there was some carryover from the Florida State loss with Miami's defense. They can't afford to have any this week and know it. The biggest issues have been missed tackles and blown coverage assignments the last two weeks. Watch the film of the last six quarters and it's a horror show. The honest truth is this defense is average at best. What helped them mask their deficiencies for the first seven games of the season were turnovers and sacks. They also were much better on third down earlier this year. Over their last 3 games opponents are converting at a 60 percent clip against Miami. Over the first six games nobody did better than 40 percent against the Canes."
3. The Blue Devils have dropped 9 games in a row to the Hurricanes; entering this year's matchup, Duke and Miami both sit atop the ACC Coastal Division standings at 7-2. What do you expect to be the keys to victory on Saturday?
"Turnovers. Turnovers. Turnovers. It's quite obvious both of these teams live and die with them. Last week, the two fumbles by Miami on special teams completely changed the momentum of the game. If the Canes win the turnover battle they will win this game. If they don't, Duke is going to end that nine-game losing streak."