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November 10, 2006

Duke at Boston College scouting report

Duke travels to Boston College Saturday to face the 7-2 and 22nd ranked Eagles.

The Blue Devils might benefit from a change of scenery as they hit the road for the first time after a discouraging four game homestand.

Devils Illustrated breaks down the game and gives the weekly prediction.

QUARTERBACK

Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan has put together a very steady season despite dealing with nagging injuries on a weekly basis. He's the catalyst for a passing offense that ranks second in the ACC and his efficiency rating is 25 points higher than Duke's Thaddeus Lewis. Lewis has fallen on hard times in recent weeks. He's had some good moments, such as the fourth quarter rally against Miami and the quick strike last week against Navy, but he's been inconsistent with his reads and erratic with many of his throws. Ryan, a season junior, clearly has the advantage at home against Duke's true freshman.

EDGE: Large Boston College

RUNNING BACK

Though the bulk of the Eagles' offense has come through the air so far, they do have viable options running the football. L.V. Whitworth and Andre Callender form a good tandem to pick up a bulk of the yard, but BC has developed a terrific short yardage option with linebacker Brian Toal, who over the last two seasons has been money in the bank around the goal line. In fact, Eagles fans refer to goal-to-go situations as 1st and Toal. He has scored five touchdowns this season. Duke has had some success running the football in recent weeks. The problem has been that the Blue Devils haven't been able to continually pound the ball on the ground because the defense has put them in large deficits the last two games. Boston College is pretty stingy against the run, and Duke has not shown an ability to run the ball in short yardage situations the way the Eagles have. If the game stays competitive, Duke will try to carve out some consistent running room, but BC is the superior running team

EDGE: Medium Boston College

RECEIVER

The aforementioned dangerous Boston College passing game wouldn't be potent without some solid receivers. The Eagles certainly have a pair in Tony Gonzalez and Kevin Challenger, but the true strength of the unit is its depth. Boston College has nine different players who have caught nine or more passes on the season. To put that in context, Duke has just four players with that many catches. The Blue Devils have legitimate threats at receiver, but they most certainly don't have the consistent production and the depth available to Boston College.

EDGE: Medium Boston College

OFFENSIVE LINE

The injury bug has been kind to Duke at this position, allowing its five starters to have nine starts together. Getting that much experience has been a plus, but it still can't match what Boston College has on the other side. The Eagles have three players who have made 33 or more consecutive starts on the offensive line, and the talent combined with that continuity has made them a very good group. The Eagles specialize in pass protection and the run blocking is good when it needs to be. Duke's offensive line is better than it was in preseason, but the Eagles have the unit that the Blue Devils aspire to be in another two or three seasons. It's just not there this year.

EDGE: Large Boston College

DEFENSIVE LINE

Boston College ranks fourth in the ACC against the run and it's in large part thanks to the front four. The two deep defensive line has combined for nearly 30 tackles for loss on the season and it has been bolstered by the return defensive tackle Ron Brace from injury. Tackle B.J. Raji teams with Brace to form a very tough tandem to move inside. Duke's defensive line has pulled a disappearing act over the last two weeks. Both Vanderbilt and Navy made it look very easy to move the ball on the ground. The good news is that Matt Ryan is not nearly as mobile as Vanderbilt quarterback Chris Nickson and BC's offense certainly isn't at all similar to the triple option Navy used to dissect the Devils last week. Still though, recent performances have dampened the enthusiasm generated for a unit that played very well in the first half of the season.

EDGE: Medium Boston College

LINEBACKER

Experience, toughness, and playmaking is the name of the game for BC's linebackers. Brian Toal is the unit's emotional leader and he has bounced back very nicely from a shoulder injury suffered against Clemson. Toal is a real threat to make plays in the backfield while Jolonn Dunbar is the steadying presence in the middle. Dunbar leads the team in tackles by a wide margin despite missing one game this season. The trio of linebackers is a big reason why opponents are only averaging three yards a carry against the Eagles. Duke counters with a linebacking corps that needs to prove itself. Its lack of speed has haunted the Blue Devils in the last two games and just like the defensive line, the results have been embarrassing. The Blue Devils have some playmakers in the starting unit, but there have been too many missed tackles recently for the group to live up to its potential. Jeramy Edwards will be looking for his fourth straight double digit tackle performance.

EDGE: Medium Boston College

SECONDARY

If there is a soft spot on this BC team, it is the defensive backfield which has surrendered 221 passing yards per game this year to rank next to last in the conference. The secondary is not void of talent though. Cornerback DeJuan Tribble is the guy Duke has to be worried about. He has three interceptions on the season and he has the ability to turn interceptions into six points pretty quickly. The depth behind Tribble and other starting cornerback Larry Anam consists of two redshirt freshmen, so the Eagles need their corners to avoid injury. Keep an eye out for safety Jamie Silva, who has three interceptions and five tackles for loss in run support. Duke's secondary hasn't escaped blame for the recent struggles of the defense. It has been guilty of missing tackles as well as giving up the big play through the air. They will likely be a little more on their toes this week against the Eagles, who likely throw it more times in one possession than Navy did all of last week's game. The coverage has to get better though, particularly if Duke continues to utlizice aggressive blitzes.

EDGE: Small Boston College

SPECIAL TEAMS

Walkon BC kicker Steve Aponavicius has been one of the best stories of the year. He made his debut on national television against Virginia Tech and has not looked back, nailing five of his six field goal tries and all 12 extra points. Duke would settle for a guy right now who could just make all of his extra points. Joe Surgan's nightmare season just seems to get worse each week. Duke's placekicking woes are statistically nearly twice as bad as the 11th ranked team in the ACC. The Eagles certainly have the advantage in punting the football as well. Johnny Ayers hasn't been superb, but he at least has done a good job kicking to his coverage as the Eagles surrender just three yards per return and rank sixth in net punting. Alex Feinberg's problems have led to not only short punts but also long punt returns. Duke doesn't even have its normal edge in kick returns this week. Jabari Marshall has been very good, but BC's Jeff Smith has been better, averaging more than 30 yards per return, including a touchdown in 14 runbacks.

EDGE: Large Boston College

OVERALL

On paper, this is most definitely a mismatch and it will be a blowout unless Duke is sound in the kicking game and has a much better tackling day. Playing against a stationary quarterback should help cure some of the defense's problems, but it's pretty well impossible to imagine the Blue Devils having enough in the tank to pull of an upset on the road at Chestnut Hill. BC's offense will strike some through the air and Duke's offense just hasn't shown enough consistency for anyone to feel confident in the Blue Devils being able to string drives together against the Eagles' defense.

Prediction: BC 36 Duke 12


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