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A Look At Duke Football’s Saturday Scrimmage

Jim breaks it down and gives you what you need

Duke v Virginia
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 26: Gunnar Holmberg #12 of the Duke Blue Devils rushes in the second half during a game against the Virginia Cavaliers on September 26, 2020 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

Duke found enough time between lightning storms and rain to put on a football scrimmage Saturday night. Longtime readers may recall my reluctance to draw over-arching conclusions from these zero-sum scrimmages, especially one conducted barely a week after Duke’s first practice in pads.

David Cutcliffe agrees with this caution.

“We got a lot of snaps,” he told the media. “We got a lot of situations in. We worked a lot of people today, purposely. Start with the negatives. There were 10 penalties, six on defense that kept drives alive for the offense, four on offense that stopped drives. To say too much without seeing the film—this will be an all-nighter for me, looking at the film, I’ll know more.“

But I will share a few thoughts. One of the narratives so far has been that there is lots of competition for playing time at lots of positions and the scrimmage reflected that. It wasn’t always clear who comprised the first team, who comprised the second team and so forth. Lots of mixing and matching.

“The only way you can get true evaluations is those very things,” Cutcliffe said. “You’re mixing good against good or best against best. A guy may look good working against a lower-level offensive player and then you put him against the best. That’s why it’s going to be an all-nighter on this film. It’s going to be interesting to see how this all falls. I wouldn’t say we have a clear line, first or second team in many places right now.”

In general Duke’s offensive line looked better than Duke’s defensive line. Oft-injured Jack Wohlabaugh started at center, played a few series and took the night off, as Duke continues to manage his load. Redshirt junior Maurice McIntyre started at left guard and junior Jacob Monk at right guard. That’s an experienced interior. But true sophomore Graham Barton and redshirt sophomore John Gelotte started at left and right tackles, respectively. Redshirt junior Casey Holman and grad-student transfer Kade Parmelly are the Swiss Army Knifes. Addison Penn got some snaps at center.

“I think they looked really good,” quarterback Gunnar Holmberg said of his offensive line.

”They’ve got a really good push in the run game. They’ve all gotten stronger.”

Holman got lots of work at center, a position he’s never played before at Duke.

Holmberg says he and Holman are putting in the extra work necessary to bring Holman up to speed.

“That’s a new thing for him,” Holmberg says “He’s somebody who understands the offense. He’s come a long way and he’s putting in the work to get better.”

Duke’s game-plan was pretty vanilla. There weren’t many shots downfield and Duke’s defensive backs generally kept Duke’s experienced wide-receiver-corps under wraps. Jake Bobo made one highlight-reel catch and there were some defensive pass-interference calls.

“We harp on staying connected to the receivers,” cornerback Josh Blackwell said. “Be technique sound. That’s just the way we play. Be aggressive and I think it shows.”

Mataeo Durant looked like the focal point of an ACC offense but didn’t play much, 44 yards on four carries. Which left opportunities for a bunch of other running backs.

Jaylen Colemen took advantage of those opportunities and looks like he’s got two very fast legs up on being Durant’s backup.

“Certainly his speed showed up,” Cutcliffe said. “Thank goodness he’s healthy. He’s explosively fast. You’ve got to remember that he was a track star in high school.”

Coleman had 80 yards on nine carries.

Jordan Waters made some nice runs but left the ball on the field twice. Duke fumbled three times but recovered all three. No turnovers. Glass half-full or glass half-empty?

Holmberg was under wraps but looked sharp and under control.

“I thought he put the ball where it was catchable. I thought he managed to get the ball thrown on time.”

True freshman quarterback Jordan Moore made some impressive runs, keeping plays alive and leaving some defenders grasping air.

“It’s too early to say [too much]. But did Jordan Moore stick out tonight with his explosive speed? Absolutely.”

Moore had 128 yards on seven carries, including a 65-yard touchdown run.

The defensive line did get pushed around some. Tackle Gary Smith is out following minor knee surgery and Duke hopes to get him back soon. Ben Frye is back at his natural position at end and was the only defensive lineman to consistently make the quarterbacks uncomfortable.

Frye is listed at 255 but Cutcliffe says he’s 250, maybe less.

“Ben plays every down like it’s the last one. He’s a veteran. He likes the weight he’s at right now.”

Michael Reese started at the other end and had a sack as did converted tight end Zamari Ellis. DeWayne Carter, Christian Rorie, and Ja’Mion Franklin got lots of work inside.

Shaka Heyward at linebacker and Josh Blackwell and Leonard Johnson at corner were defensive standouts. Duke played lots of defensive backs.

I’m pretty sure Duke made all of its place-kicks, including several by left-footed Tufts grad-student transfer Matt Alswanger, who provides insurance in case something happens to incumbent Charlie Ham.

One step in a long journey. Holmberg said the benefits include “being able to cut loose. Get out there and have some fun and make it as real as possible.”