Hope all are well. I haven’t done many (or possibly any) of these “ask the opposing beat writer” features, in large part because I asked a lot of them to do this for me back in July and August and didn’t want to press them again. (Writers are a surly lot.) (Kidding)
But, anyway, I prevailed upon Laura Keeley, Duke beat writer for the News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C., to help out. She gives a temperature reading on the Blue Devils and provides strengths and weaknesses. You can read her stuff here and follow her on Twitter here.
Almost halfway through the season, it’s still hard to know what to make of Duke. Stats can be misleading—for example, the Blue Devils have the second-best scoring defense in the ACC (yielding 13.8 points per game against FBS-level opponents) but the 10th-ranked total defense (surrendering 377.5 yards per game). And all the numbers are flawed by the fact that the Blue Devils played quite possibly the weakest non-conference schedule of any Power 5 team—1-4 Elon from the FCS, 1-4 Tulane, 2-3 Kansas and 0-5 Troy. Those last two teams have already decided to drop their head coaches.
That said, safety Jeremy Cash has continued his rise as one of the best defensive playmakers in the ACC. He’s part of a secondary that is the strength of the Duke defense. And while Anthony Boone has had his accuracy struggles this year, it’s hard to imagine Cutcliffe not being able to fix that, at least a little. The running game has generally been effective, with true freshman Shaun Wilson emerging as a pleasant surprise. I don’t think Duke is a borderline top-25 team at this point, but, like the rest of the Coastal squads, the Blue Devils will be competitive in every game the rest of the way.
Strengths: I’m willing to write off the offensive line’s issues at Miami as a one-off because I think there were some weird circumstantial issues going on with the way noise was moving throughout Sun Life Stadium. So I’m not anticipating another game with three bad snaps and five false start penalties. Duke’s running game is as strong as it has been under Cutcliffe: Wilson is the best back he has had at Duke, Shaq Powell has progressed nicely and QB Anthony Boone seems to be making better reads in the zone-read and running the ball effectively.
Weaknesses: Duke’s defensive line has to do a better job getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks (and this week, snuffing out run plays before they get into the secondary). The Blue Devils are tied for last in the ACC with an average of 4.75 tackles for loss per game against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. Duke also ranks 11th out of the 14-team ACC with an average of two sacks per game.