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[2020] Duke Blue Devils Season Preview - Presented by the ACC Network

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:duke: Duke Blue Devils

2019 Record: 4-8 (0-7 ACC)

7th in the ACC Coastal

 

The Blue Devils went on a rather crazy ride last season. After three strong wins to open the season, including a big one in Atlanta over Georgia State, Duke was only able to win only one of their final nine games. We saw the best and worst of Kyle Jefferson in his true freshman season, and we saw a defense that struggled heavily at times. 2019 was a step back after nearly reaching the postseason in 2018, but the 2020 season shows a lot of promise for a team primed to overcome a few major hurdles.

 

Notable losses:

WR Danny Paz 6-0 219 Sr Keefe Technical (Framingham MA) 4.5 of 4.5 [Target]

DE Zachary Allen 6-2 250 (Jr) Westside (Clear Fork WV) 3.5 of 3.5 [Blitz]

OG Carter Walden 6-7 290 Sr Castlewood (Castlewood VA) 3.0 of 3.0 [Run Blocking]

OG Colin Talbert 6-8 330 (Sr) Elkins (Elkins, AR) 3.5 of 3.5 [Run Blocking]

RB Jeffrey Galindo 5-11 221 (Sr) Saranac Lake (Saranac Lake, NY) 3.0 of 3.0 [Power]

RB Joe McNeil 5-9 202 (Sr) East Greenwich (East Greenwich, RI) 3.0 of 3.0 [Power]

OLB Travis Blackman 5-11 236 Sr L.E. Dieruff (Allentown PA) 3.5 of 3.5 [Coverage]

 

Looking at what Duke lost during the offseason, you could argue that aside from Paz, the Blue Devils don't lose too much prodution. Allen failed to make his presence known in the backfield last season, and the two running backs, while being Duke's top two rushers, were outdone by Reginald Saunders of Virginia. Yes, Saunders had more yards alone than the two Duke backs combined. It always hurts to lose experienced members of the offensive line though, and Paz was a huge part of a pass-oriented offense, but aside from those two, Duke really isn't hurt by their offseason losses.

 

Notable Returners:

QB Kyle Jefferson 6-2 204 So Parkview (Lilburn, GA) 3.0 of 5.0 [Pocket]

WR Sean Spaczek 6-2 201 Jr Wayne Hills (Wayne, NJ) 4.0 of 4.0 [Target]

DE Omar Vasquez 5-11 236 Sr Danville Community College (Danville, VA) 4.0 of 4.0 [Blitz]

DT Kai Betts 6-7 320 (Sr) Friends (Wilmington DE) 4.0 of 4.0 [2-Gap]

ILB Ahmed Mark 6-3 242 (Sr) Dunbar (Washington DC) 4.5 of 4.5 [Will]

CB Nehemiah Samuel 5-11 161 (Jr) Friends (Wilmington, DE) 4.0 of 4.0 [Zone Coverage]

FS Jeremy Easter 6-1 195 (Jr) Stebbins (Riverside, OH) 5.0 of 5.0 [Man Coverage]

SS Brandon Brinkley 5-11 202 (So) Dreher (Columbia, SC) 3.0 of 4.5 [Man Coverage]

 

For a defense that struggled mightily in 2019, they return a lot of big pieces for this season. Kai Betts and Ahmed Mark were big up the middle last year, with Betts recording 3.5 sacks and 39 tackles, and Mark getting 65 tackles on the year. With Vasquez expected to play a larger role and the secondary being a good year older, we could see more from that dynamic duo. Speaking of that secondary, Easter has to show that he's much improved from a 2019 season that lacked a lot of production. He and Brinkley will be relied on a lot this season, so they have to be able to step it up. With Paz gone on the offensive side of the ball, we should expect Spaczek, Duke's leading receiver last season, to get even more of the ball. Jefferson returns to the starting role after a mixed 2019, although we might see Bryce Thompson fill in if results go south once again.

 

Potential Strengths:

Secondary - On paper, this should be one of the best secondaries in the division. The Blue Devils return both starting safeties and their top two cornerbacks, with that group recording seven of Duke's eight interceptions last season. The secondary was a weak point in Duke's defense last season, but that shouldn't necessarily be the case this season. Easter, arguably the most talented player in this group, has to play up to standards this season; we can't see the kind of impact, or lack thereof, that he had last season. Duke's secondary should be much improved from last season, but will it be improved to the point where it can help Duke win games instead of losing them? That is yet to be seen.

 

Aerial Attack - Jefferson had a very up-and-down freshman season, throwing for 2,815 yards and 19 touchdowns, but also throwing a conference-high 17 interceptions. Paz's departure definitely hurts, but the Blue Devils have added JuCo transfer Amari Nicholson and true freshman Dean Stinson, making for a potentially mean receiving corp. Kaden Lloyd returns as a trustworthy target for Jefferson, and tight end Owen Workman could add another dimension to the passing game. Jefferson (or Thompson, if he is to replace Jefferson) will have a plethora of targets to throw to this year, and that could give them the extra offensive boost that they've needed these past few years.

 

Potential Weaknesses:

Running Game - The ground game has always been less than stellar for Duke, and in Christian Collins' first season as starter, that could once again be the case. Collins easily has more potential than previous backs, but as inexperienced as he is, and with a less experienced line on the interior, it could be hard for Collins to find his footing this year. I could be very wrong about this, but I don't expect too much from Duke's newest running back this season. 

 

Offensive Line - Duke returns two starters from last season's line, both being at the tackle position. Both of those players are seniors as well. The other three will be first-timers, and although they are skilled, they are incredibly young. Adam Rapp is a slight improvement at center however, and David Coon was a highly-touted guard in the 2018 recruiting class. That said, experience does matter, and Coon isn't quite there yet. Expect the line to struggle to protect Jefferson and open holes for Collins, but don't be surprised if they play above expectations.

 

2020 Schedule:

Week 1: at BYU (Provo, UT)

Week 2: Western Michigan (Durham, NC)

Week 3: at Tulane (New Orleans, LA)

Week 5: Florida State (Durham, NC)

Week 6: UNLV (Durham, NC)

Week 7: at Virginia (Charlottesville, VA)

Week 9: Miami (FL) (Durham, NC)

Week 10: Pittsburgh (Durham, NC)

Week 11: at Wake Forest (Winston-Salem, NC)

Week 13: at Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, VA)

Week 14: Georgia Tech (Durham, NC)

Week 15: at North Carolina (Chapel Hill, NC)

 

What To Expect:

In Darman's sixth full season with the program, this is arguably his most talented squad to date. The schedule provides them with many opportunities to pick up wins, and they could finally make the breakthrough and reach a bowl game. I would expect them to be a year or two away from beating the likes of Florida State, Pittsburgh, and Virginia, but the rest are either very winnable or complete toss-ups. I'd favor Duke to beat BYU, Tulane, UNLV, Miami (FL), Wake Forest, and North Carolina (for the first time ever, surprisingly), and I'd believe them to lose games against WMU, Florida State, Virginia, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech. I predict Duke to finish 6-6 (3-5 ACC), putting them in 5th place in the Coastal Division, but with their first ever appearance in the postseason. 

 

Best Case Scenario:

Duke matches up well against Georgia Tech, and with the game at home, they could be able to pull that off. Virginia Tech doesn't look nearly as strong this year, so that could be another demon that Duke overcomes. WMU was incredibly solid last year and should be just as good this year, but in Durham, Duke might have the pieces to avoid being toppled by the Broncos. Jefferson plays much better than he did last year, and the secondary is worlds improved, and Duke reaches a season-high 9 wins, being just behind Virginia and Pittsburgh in the Coastal.

 

Worst Case Scenario:

Jefferson shows more of the same signs from last season, throwing a ton of picks again and struggling to adapt without Paz. The secondary remains good on paper but average at best in practice. BYU is down but not out, and they're able to claim a win at home, and a revitalized Tulane gives Duke a run for their money in NOLA. Duke finishes with only 4 wins, and they'll be left to rue what could've been once again.

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