Overview: David Cutcliffe (21-40) added an emphatic high note to his fifth season in Durham by securing the school’s first bowl bid since 1994 on a last-second touchdown against North Carolina. After clinching postseason eligibility, the Blue Devils faltered down the stretch, losing their final five games. Duke competed with Miami in a close contest yet suffered blowout defeats to Atlantic Division powerhouses Florida State and Clemson and then struggled to contain Georgia Tech’s triple-threat option attack. The season ended with a 48-34 loss to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl despite taking an early 16-0 advantage over the Bearcats. Duke finished the 2012 season below .500 for the 19th season in a row, yet positive feelings still surround the program entering the 2013 season.
Offensively, the Blue Devils lose their top two contributors as both quarterback Sean Renfree and wide receiver Connor Vernon have moved on to the NFL. Duke will move to a totally different offensive approach this fall with quarterback Anthony Boone at the helm. With Renfree’s big arm, the offense centered around a pass-heavy attack yet a zone read offense will be installed for Boone. In 2012, the passing attack ranked 31st in the country, averaging 283 yards per game. The rushing offense lacked the punch of the passing game ranking 98th in the nation (125 ypg). In total, the offense ranked 55th, averaging 409 yards per game.
The new offensive scheme will increase the opportunities in the ground game for the talented trio of running backs returning for the Blue Devils - senior Juwan Thompson (352 yards), junior Josh Snead (496 yards) and sophomore Jela Duncan (553 yards). The Blue Devils ran the ball 400 times in 2012, averaging 3.71 yards per carry. The zone read offense will increase those totals in 2013 and Duncan may deliver a breakout junior season with more carries allotted. The passing game may drop off a bit but junior Jamison Crowder offers an All-ACC caliber talent at wide receiver after a breakout sophomore season. Crowder pulled in 76 receptions for 1,074 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012. The offense returns seven starters, including four offensive linemen.
Defensively, Duke struggled to contain teams last season and will look to make major strides in 2013. The Blue Devils were consistently mediocre, ranking 101st in both rushing defense (201 yards) and pass defense (267 yards). The defense allowed 469 yards per game with the main issues occurring in the secondary due to the lack of pass rush. Senior Kenny Anunike (44 tackles, 5 sacks) will be relied on to provide the pressure after coming back from a knee injury he suffered during the 2011 season. The experience from the linebackers will offer a chance for improvement with Kyler, Kelby Brown and C.J France. In total, the defense returns seven starters from the 2012 season.
Historic Context: North Carolina and Duke may be known for their rivalry on the basketball court but the rich history between the two football programs dates back to Oct. 12, 1922 when the Tar Heels won 20-0 in the initial meeting. North Carolina owns a 56-32 record over the Blue Devils, although last season’s loss broke an eight-game winning streak. Duke’s longest winning streak over the Tar Heels was seven in a row from 1950-56.
“This is a very hungry football team. We’re hungry to win football games and return to a bowl game, hungry to win the Coastal Division of the ACC. Last year we were in the hunt for the division title in November. That’s where we want to be again this year; playing late in the season for a title.” – Cutcliffe
“We have some guys up front that have really gotten beat up in their career that now possess a great deal of experience they can use to help us win games. Our linebackers are very capable, but we have a lot of work to do in the secondary with only Ross Cockrell as a veteran.” – Cutcliffe
Notable Matchups: Duke’s early season slate is favorable with their only away game in the first six games at Memphis on Sept. 7. The Blue Devils host two ACC home games during that stretch against Georgia Tech on Sept. 14 and Pittsburgh the following Saturday. The toughest stretches will come late in the season with back-to-back away games against Coastal Division opponents Virginia and Virginia Tech. The three games to end the season will be crucial as Duke takes on Miami at home, Wake Forest in Winston-Salem and its regular season finale at UNC on Nov. 30.