Duke football opens its 2020 home season this Saturday against Boston College.
Of course that doesn’t mean what it usually means. If you watch the game, you’ll be watching on TV. Tailgating? Think garage or front yard. Maybe you have an MP3 file of the Duke fight song to set the stage.
At least Duke is the team staying at home, Boston College the team hitting the road.
About Boston College. The Eagles have a new head coach, a new staff, a new quarterback, a new running back. Like almost everyone else their spring practice was obliterated. They’ll be playing their first game against a Duke team playing its second game.
Advantage Duke? More on that later.
But the one thing that isn’t new is Boston College’s offensive line, big, strong and experienced. And talented. With the exception of Paul Johnson’s late and un-lamented triple-option offense at Georgia Tech no ACC team has relied as heavily as Boston College on the ground game in recent years. Boston College was eighth last season in the NCAA in rushing yards per game, third among Power-Five teams.
A.J. Dillon is gone to the NFL but the most of the guys who enabled him to rush for 1,685 yards last season are back. Guard Zion Johnson (6-3, 310) and tackle Ben Petrula (6-5, 315) were second-team All-ACC last season and pre-season All-ACC this season.
Derrick Tangelo is Duke’s senior tackle and at 310 pounds has the bulk to match BC’s size. He says he expects lots of physical play.
“Definitely expecting some smash-mouth football. When you have a big offensive line you can really take control of the game. But we have a big defensive line as well, so it’s going to be experience on experience, big on big. We are just going to try to our best on this end so that we make sure we limit those explosive plays.”
“Experience?” Duke will start four upperclassmen on the defensive line. But Duke is working into the rotation a number of young defensive linemen, freshmen who got their baptism under fire at South Bend last week.
“They looked very good,” Tangelo said. “Coming into college we just wanted to get them ready, wanted to get them confident. They’ve responded. Whatever we’ve asked them to do, they’ve been answering the bell. Gary Smith, Aeneas Peebles, DeWayne Carter, Michael Larbie, have all come in trying to compete and get better every day. We can’t ask for anything else.”
Chase Brice says Duke’s opening game is an advantage only if Duke learns from its mistakes and improves.
“It was pretty tough to watch the film, looking at the mistakes I made. There’s a lot I can grow on, build on for the rest of the season, especially going into week two against Boston College. There are some throws I want back, some decision making. I want to play faster. But I thought I played hard. We didn’t give up. Going into this week we’re going to correct a lot of those things we messed up on and make it better. We’re going to build so much on what we saw on film. A lot of improvement comes from your first game to your second game.”
What does Duke expect from a Boston College defense that returns a lot of players from a defense that wasn’t very good last season and is under new management?
“You just watch a lot of film of their previous coaches and study those tendencies. . . . They have a lot of people coming back. We know a lot of the personnel just not their scheme and what they’re going to do yet. But we’ve got some intel inside on what they might do and that’s what we’re going to prepare for and during the game if it’s not what we expect, then you adjust. That’s how you win.”
Adjust. That could be the key word in this strange season in this strange year. Last year Duke could let a bad play spiral out of control and the next thing you know Duke was on the wrong end of a 49-7 or 48-14 or 38-7 score.
Duke had chances to let things spiral out of control last week and they didn’t. David Cutcliffe cited Duke as “a fierce group, a confident group” after the game and reiterated that thought Monday. Maybe it’s poise, maybe it’s focus but Tangelo says the senior leaders have taken control.
“It goes to the leadership we have. We’ve got guys on offense like Chase running up to the defense when guys are looking tired going off the field and telling us to keep our heads up, guys like Deon Jackson telling us to get the ball back, stuff like that, leadership aspects motivating you before you get on the field. I feel like the players we have have can lead and the coaches are supporting our decisions.”