Quarterback Advantage: Even
Miami fans have been openly disappointed with the play of Jacory Harris. He came into the season with extremely high expectations. The fans and the media expected to see the same Jacory Harris they saw at the beginning of the 2009 season when he tore up the Florida State Seminoles and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in his first two games and led a comeback victory against the Oklahoma Sooners in his fourth game. He played the majority of the remainder of that season with a hurt wrist and never was quite the same. This year he was supposed to be back at 100% and better than ever, but it appears as if he has regressed as a quarterback and is once again playing hurt—this time around with a hamstring and a left shoulder. Even when Harris is throwing interceptions, one strength he’s always been able to rely on is his high completion percentage. However, even that number has plummeted. Harris has only completed 32 of 80 passes in the last two games; his receivers haven’t helped him out all that much in this area either. Harris and his receivers have especially struggled on picking up key third downs.
Under center and in the shotgun for the Blue Devils is the sophomore out of Scottsdale, AZ Sean Renfree. Renfree is the man replacing last year’s senior quarterback out of Opa Locka, FL Thaddeus Lewis. Lewis had the program improving in each of his years, but they’ve been missing him a bit this year. Renfree is strictly a pocket passer and Duke loves to throw the ball. They rank 15th in the FBS with 295 passing yards a game, and Renfree has completed about 59% of his passes whilst throwing for 10 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Truth be told, this is a matchup that should not even be remotely close and should easily be in Miami’s favor, but Harris’ play as of late warrants this matchup to be “even.”
Running Back Advantage: Miami (FL)
Senior running back Damien Berry just inched over the 100-yard mark (101) on the 20 carries he received against FSU. Despite reaching 5 yards per carry against a defensive front that, for the most part, had their way with the Miami offensive line, Berry also lost a pivotal fumble in the first half during the snowballing series of miscues that led to an early deficit. Berry was very critical of himself despite playing a relatively decent game. He is a big-time leader on this team and welcomes all the blame for the team’s shortcomings, even when they’re really not his fault. Another senior on this team, Graig Cooper, returned to action last week against the Noles, but was very limited in his reps. Cooper returned a kick for 21 yards and rushed for 22 yards on his 2 carries. Cooper, as well as Lamar Miller, who missed the FSU game, is not listed on this week’s injury report. Expect a great day for Miami’s running backs in Durham on Saturday.
Duke is not very strong in the running game at all. The Blue Devils’ leading rusher is sophomore Desmond Scott. Aside from padding his stats in an atrocious shootout against Wake Forest earlier in the year, Scott has not been anything special. His only other decent game came against an FCS foe in Elon in their first game of the season. He has not received more than 10 carries in any of the past three games and only averaged 2 yards a carry in his last outing two weeks ago against Maryland, his worst game yet in his sophomore campaign. Also receiving reps at tailback in the Duke backfield will be freshman Josh Snead.
Wide Receivers/ Tight Ends Advantage: Even
Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that this receiving corps, which was so highly esteemed coming into the season, would get to the point where they are viewed as even against Duke. Two weeks ago against Clemson, senior Leonard Hankerson did have an outstanding game earning ACC honors for the week, but he was the only receiver that truly showed up. Against Florida State last week, it’s safe to say that none of the receivers showed up. Hankerson led the team in receiving but had several critical drops. Although the Florida State secondary is awfully talented, Hankerson, Laron Byrd, and Aldarius Johnson had distinct height advantages over them and could not take advantage of it. Even Travis Benjamin who has always destroyed Florida State could not get anything going last Saturday.
Duke’s wide receivers are probably the strongest point of their squad, and they have a couple of Miami boys leading the way for them in sophomore Conner Vernon and junior Donovan Varner. Vernon is a big play and deep ball threat with a 16.1 yards average on his 34 catches to go along with three touchdowns and a long of 70 yards which came against Wake Forest. He did, however, get shut down when the Blue Devils faced off against Alabama earlier in the year. As opposed to the 6’2” Vernon, Varner is more of the small, sneaky, and quick receiver. He is right behind Vernon with his 31 catches for 386 yards and a touchdown.
Offensive Line Advantage: Miami (FL)
Miami got beat up physically up front on both sides of the ball against Florida State. The Seminoles were simply far more physical than the Canes, and some of the blame has to be placed on strength and conditioning coach Andreu Swasey. The offensive line has really been scrambling and shuffling all year and were embarrassed in last Saturday night’s affair. Joel Figueroa is reportedly out for the game against Duke, and we should see more of the young offensive linemen on this squad in Seantrel Henderson and Brandon Linder. Duke’s offensive line is certainly nothing to write home about. They are incredibly incapable of run-blocking for their backs. The Duke offense relies heavily on the passing game so they’ll have to face a Miami defensive line that’ll have their ears pinned back and ready to rush Sean Renfree into some poor decisions.
Defensive Line Advantage: Miami (FL)
The Miami defensive line—the greatest strength of the team—but you would’ve never been able to notice it if you watched the way they performed against Florida State. They were absolutely manhandled against an experienced group of Florida State offensive linemen. The Seminoles ran it down their throat and the Miami front seven could never evade and fight off blocks nor get to the ball carrier, and when they did they simply couldn’t wrap up and make a tackle. This defensive line should come out hungry and ready to prove themselves against Duke and for every other game left on their schedule. They can’t come out and get embarrassed they way they did again. Micanor Regis and Adewale Ojomo are two names who had big expectations this season but have been nonexistent on defense and could really help.
When you look up and down the Duke roster on the defensive side of the ball you see their greatest weaknesses. Their defensive line, albeit an experienced one with juniors and seniors earning majority of the playing time, has been far from stout. Against Alabama Duke gave up 315 rushing yards and 311 more through the air in a game in which the Crimson Tide scored 62 points. A mediocre Wake Forest team also had their way with the Blue Devils defense scoring 54 points on them. The Duke D-line is incapable of stopping the run or rushing the passer.
Secondary Advantage: Miami (FL)
What a difference a week makes. Against Clemson this Miami defense forced six turnovers. Then they come out against Florida State and only get one, which was on a Christian Ponder deep pass over the middle that gave Miami field position at their own 2-yard line thanks to a Vaughn Telemaque interception. In the linebacking crew, Sean Spence has been impressive in virtually every game this season. He’s really been flying around from the weakside outside linebacker spot and is leading the team in tackles and tackles for loss. The team could really use some improvement from middle linebacker Colin McCarthy who has not proven he can make open field tackles. Brandon Harris has been incredible for the Canes; he appears to have first round draft pick potential written all over him. Safety Ray Ray Armstrong led the team in tackles against Florida State. It’s good to see him flying around, but the unfortunate aspect of it is that FSU was running the ball most of the time and Armstrong was making all these tackles because the Nole running backs were getting to the last line of the Cane defense.
Duke’s secondary should be no problem for the Miami receivers to go up against. However, one cannot ignore the fact that in the first halves of the last few meetings between Miami and Duke the Canes have allowed them to stay in the game early by not scoring early and often. Last season, at home against the Blue Devils, Miami was actually down 16-13 against Duke. I would expect the Canes to come out and hit the Duke defense in the mouth early but not surprised if they actually let them hang around before beating them in the second half.
Special Teams Advantage: Miami (FL)
With how much talent and potential the Canes have on special teams, they have really underachieved thus far this year. The senior leader Matt Bosher, who’s supposed to be automatic, has missed three tries on field goals this season. The kick coverage has been atrocious; Miami opponents are seemingly always starting around the 40 or 50 yard line, and if it’s not for Matt Bosher making tackles as the last line of defense, some of these returns the Canes are giving up would be going for touchdowns. One bright spot has been Lamar Miller on the kick return game. He should be back on the field for Saturday’s affair.
Kicking duties for Duke are handled by Will Snyderwine who has connected on 16 extra points and 9 field goals this year. The Duke punter is Kevin Jones while kick and punt returns will be handled by Patrick Kurunwune and Johnny Williams respectively.
Coaching Advantage: Duke
It was obviously a rough week for Miami head coach Randy Shannon, to say the least, and deservedly so. The majority of the blame for the team’s performance against Florida State has to fall on Shannon. The just wasn’t prepared nor motivated, plain and simple. He has tremendous athletes all across the board on this team, but has not been able to maximize on their potential. He’s had far too many players that turn out to be busts; it gets to a point where you just can’t continue to blame the kids for their shortcomings. Some want Shannon fired immediately. I, however, say wait until the season is over and re-assess the situation. If this team wins out and ends up getting to the Orange Bowl after a win in an ACC Championship Game over the same Florida State team that demolished them last Saturday, no one is to say that this season was a failure. Shannon, nonetheless, is skating on thin ice, and no more losses this season would be acceptable.
Duke football is coached by David Cutcliffe, and he has a clear-cut coaching edge over Randy Shannon.
David Furones may be contacted at email@example.com.