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October 20, 2006

Miami at Duke scouting report

A rare opportunity for Duke presents itself this weekend, as the eyes of the nation will be very interested in what happens at Wallace Wade Stadium as the Blue Devils battle Miami.

Of course, the attention won't be because of Duke, but rather for the media circus surrounding Miami after the Hurricanes were involved in an ugly brawl last Saturday against Florida International.

Can Duke take advantage of the Miami suspensions and pull off one of the most stunning upsets of the year?

Devils Illustrated gives the weekly scouting report on this week's opponent.

QUARTERBACK

Thaddeus Lewis topped 250 yards passing last week against Florida State and succeeded in not throwing an interception for the first time in a couple of games. His completion percentage could stand some improvement, but he is steadily establishing himself as at least a threat to be dangerous in the passing game. Miami quarterback Kyle Wright came to Coral Gables as one of the most highly touted quarterbacks of this decade, but so far has not lived up to the full billing. Wright certainly isn't horrible, but his numbers are pretty pedestrian for a player that was supposed to be a star. Wright is completing a very high percentage of passes though and has just three interceptions on the year. Wright has been a picture of inconsistency, but he still has a substantially higher efficiency rating than Lewis and he has a more potent running game to lean on than does Duke's talented freshman.

EDGE: Small Miami

RUNNING BACK

Freshman Javarris James has sprinted out to a great start as a Hurricane. He's used his combination of speed and power to tally nearly 400 yards at the halfway point of the season, a pretty good number considering the overall struggles of the Miami offense. The Hurricanes will be without backup Charlie Jones due to suspension, meaning more carries will probably go to Tyrone Moss and/or Derron Thomas. Moss isn't the same back he was before a knee injury last season but he can still make a difference. Miami's run game will be determined by the success of James though. With the exception of the Alabama game, Duke's running game has been anemic. Facing a fierce and talented Miami defensive front that is allowing just 2.1 yards per carry, it will be a challenge to get on track against the Hurricanes. Ronnie Drummer is always the X-Factor; he'll certainly get a number of carries on the perimeter. If he can be successful, that may help soften the middle for Justin Boyle, Requan Boyette, and Clifford Harris. Duke is a bit deeper this game, but James is clearly the most accomplished back this season that will be on the field Saturday.

EDGE: Small Miami

RECEIVERS

Talented freshman receiver Ryan Hill is suspended for Miami, but production wise he has not been among the Canes' top threats. Lance Leggett and Sam Shields are both capable threats particularly against a Duke secondary that struggled against Florida State. The Seminoles had tall athletes on the perimeter though; Miami's tallest receiver among the major contributors is Leggett at 6-3. The player to watch in the passing game for Miami is Greg Olsen, who has been limited in practice this week with a concussion. Miami coach Larry Coker expects him to play but it remains to be seen if the All-ACC candidate will be able to be effective. Duke receiver Eron Riley is riding a wave of momentum after catching a touchdown pass in each of Duke's last two games. Jomar Wright was a significant factor again last week for the first time since the Wake Forest game. Duke needs him to step up again as well as sophomore Raphael Chestnut. Tight end will be an intriguing position to watch for Duke as well. Nick Stefanow is day-to-day according to Ted Roof. If he can't go, some combination of Norman Gee, who switched back to tight end from defense this week, and Tielor Robinson will handle the tight end duties.

EDGE: Small Miami

OFFENSIVE LINE

Suspensions have robbed Miami of some of its O-Line depth as well as starter Derrick Morse, who was the top right guard. Backup Alex Pou will start for Morse. Four of the starting five are still in place, but anyone who has ever watched football knows it only takes on blown assignment up front to have a breakdown. Duke has been using various blitz packages to put heat on the quarterback, and that scheme will pose challenges to the Hurricanes' slightly retooled offensive line. For the season, Miami has allowed 11 sacks which ranks sixth in the ACC. Duke's offensive line has been a work in progress all season. The good thing is that so far the unit has had good health, and there is no substitute for experience and continuity up front. However, the Blue Devils are firmly planted in the ACC cellar in sacks allowed and the running game has never established consistent momentum. Miami still has some very good foundation pieces, particularly with senior center Anthony Wollschlager, and the Hurricanes have been markedly improved up front from last year.

EDGE: Medium Miami

DEFENSIVE LINE

Miami's defensive front hasn't generated the type of pass rush it had hoped for in preseason, but it has been a brick wall against the run, and considering Duke has struggled in pass protection, there's always a danger that the Hurricanes will have a major breakout afternoon. Sophomore defensive ends Calais Campbell and Eric Moncur present a lot of challenges to Duke's young tackles, and backup Baraka Atkins is explosive as well. Against the run, the most yardage allowed in a game by Miami this year is just 95, which came in the 31-7 loss to Louisville. Duke's defensive front has been the team's most consistent unit. The Blue Devils are shorthanded without the injured Eli Nichols, but Duke showed against Florida State last week that it can still make big plays without Nichols. The key for Duke is to not give up big plays on the groun, like it did on the first play of the second half last week against Florida State. Vince Oghobaase's safety against the Seminoles may be a nice springboard for him to continue making big plays. He has 4.5 tackles for loss on the season.

EDGE: Small Miami

LINEBACKERS

Miami will be without its second leading tackler, Jon Beason, who will miss the Duke game with an injury. The Hurricanes will likely start Romeo Davis in the middle with Glenn Cook and Tavares Gooden rounding out the group. The trio as a whole is slightly undersized, but like all Miami defensive players, they can run. Even without Beason, Miami will rotate several players at linebacker to maintain that team speed throughout the whole game. Duke's linebackers aren't as fast, but they have put together a solid season. The experienced group has helped the Blue Devils improve against the run and the creative blitz schemes of defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro have utilized the linebackers well. Duke's depth isn't quite to the level of Miami, but I have a hunch the Devils will make a few plays in the backfield, especially with Miami's offensive line missing a starter.

EDGE: Even

SECONDARY

Neither team enters the game feeling great about its secondary. Despite three interceptions last week, Duke still got torched by Florida State's passing game, and it may have been worse if Bobby Bowden hadn't removed Drew Weatherford for a few series in the second quarter. Miami's suspensions deeply affect the secondary. Five defensive backs will be out of service, including starters Brandon Meriweather and Bruce Johnson. Miami will have six defensive backs available for this week, and will be starting freshman Chavez Grant at one corner opposite junior Glenn Sharpe. Star safety Kenny Phillips will likely also see some time at cornerback during some nickel situations. Phillips says he has never played cornerback in his life. There's still adequate talent at safety even if Phillips is on a corner; Lovon Ponder and Willie Cooper will be the two deep defenders when Phillips is closer to the line. Duke hopes to have a fully healthy secondary this week after going through some bumps and bruises last week. Even with the three big interceptions last week, Duke will be hungry to atone for the overall rough day against Florida State. Deonto McCormick in particular needs to be healthy and playing well. Having healthy cornerbacks will allow Glenn Williams to return to his more natural role of nickelback and occasional safety. Williams had to play some emergency cornerback last week. Miami has some new faces in new places, but its secondary depth is strong, although Duke will certainly try to work on the freshman Grant. Miami's athletes are a little higher quality, but Duke can match up much better here with Meriweather and Johnson out of the picture.

EDGE: Small Miami

SPECIAL TEAMS

Perhaps the biggest but most overlooked suspension for Miami is punter Brian Monroe. Monroe ranks second in the ACC in punting and he will be replaced by Daren Daly, who has never punted in a college game. Of course, Duke hasn't been very special on special teams this year, so the Devils still may not have an advantage, but Monroe's absence certainly levels the playing field a little bit. Placekicker Jon Peattie is just three of seven on field goals this season, but three of those four misses have come from beyond 40 yards. Duke's Joe Surgan made a step forward last week, but he may have also taken two steps backward. He made a 40-yard field goal against the Seminoles, but his demons returned when he missed an extra point in the third quarter after having a second quarter extra point blocked due to poor protection. The key for Duke in this area will be in the return game. Kick returner Jabari Marshall has emerged as a serious threat and punt returner Leon Wright has the same ability if he can get some returnable kicks to handle. Miami has gamebreakers in the return game in Shields and Rashaun Jones. Duke has to cover punts better. The Blue Devils rank dead last in the ACC in net punting.

EDGE: Medium Miami

OVERALL

Miami is a wounded animal coming into Durham this weekend. Will the Hurricanes play like they are backed into a corner and come out with intensity, or will the media circus and adversity prove to be costly distractions? However Miami responds, one thing is certain: Duke has to take care of its own issues. If the Blue Devils protect the football, play sound in the kicking game, and limit Miami's big plays, they have every chance to be competitive all afternoon. If they don't do those things, even a shorthanded Miami could blow out Duke. The Devils have had a focused week of preparation, but Miami's speed and depth should be enough to get them over the hump on the road.

Prediction: Miami 27-12


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