This is going to be an exciting game to watch and even to be a part of. It will be great to see two teams from Durham to come together for the better of the community. Both Duke and North Carolina Central will be looking to establish an identity in this game as they are looking to fill holes in their respective personnel.
Duke is coming off of a disappointing 4-8 season, especially after a 1-7 record in Atlantic Coast Conference play. Consistency was a factor in that roller coaster ride of a season, but expect Head Coach David Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils to bounce back this season. They expect nothing less than to compete for the ACC Championship. With the talent and experience on this roster, I would expect nothing less from this team either.
Head Coach Jerry Mack has his Eagles over at North Carolina Central University buzzing! Three straight Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championships and a trip last season to the Historically Black College-University National Championship, known as the Celebration Bowl, before losing a 10-9 heart-breaker to Grambling State down in the Georgia Dome. Failure has been the motivation for the Eagles, look for a fourth straight MEAC championship coming back to Durham.
Here is a quick guide to each team and some players to watch for.
Replacing a four-year quarterback is never an easy task. This is the job that Head Coach Jerry Mack has been presented after Malcolm Bell graduated. There have been some amazing younger guys to come in and compete along with some transfers and last year’s back up, Naiil Ramadan.
After a tough competition, Micah Zanders, a 6-foot, 185 pound Jacksonville, Florida native, emerged from the pack in dominant fashion after only arriving in the summer. Quickly coming in and winning the locker room by his lead-by example style, he could look to do a great job of keeping the Eagles moving in the right direction.
Coach Mack mentioned that as far as the intangible go, Zanders does have “similar traits” as to Malcolm Bell. Only time will tell if he can replace his productivity on the field.
Head Coach David Cutcliffe will be looking to find consistent receivers to be the top receiving options to be relied on when it comes to their offensive focus. This steady receiving option would take some pressure off of the young-but-talented red-shirt Sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones and the young running back core led by the veteran Shaun Wilson.
If receivers like Junior TJ Rahming (5-foot-10, 165 pounds) and red-shirt Junior Johnathan Lloyd (6-foot, 190 pounds) can step up, then this could be a very successful season for Jone and the Blue Devil offense.
NCCU will return some key guys on defense like defensive lineman Antonio Brown and linebacker Reggie Hunter. The Eagles will look to replace All-American defensive back Mike Jones in the secondary. Coach Mack is excited about some of his younger guys who can fly around and make plays when possible. Alden McClellon will be the driving force of that NCCU secondary.
Defensively for the Blue Devils, they have had a lot of success in pressuring the quarterback in the past, but last season was not one of them. With stud defensive lineman AJ Wolf graduating, who will be the next big defensive line threat for Duke? Last season, linebackers Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris flew around the field and made tackles everywhere.
The frequent blitzes that Defensive Coordinator Jim Knowles and the Blue Devils drew up were on account of a lack of pressure from the front four. This led the Duke secondary susceptible to giving up explosive plays in critical situations. Look for the defensive line to be more productive this season and for members of the Duke secondary to not being left on an island.
The Eagles will be replacing place kicker Branden McLaren, who pretty much did it all. Kickers Adam Lippy, a Freshman from Tucker, GA and Aedan Johnson, a Junior from Chula Vista, California. Johnson, the transfer from Southwestern College, will probably be the guy moving down the stretch.
Punter Nathaniel Tilque returns for his senior season. He has been a consistent asset for the Maroon and Gray, putting opponents in bad field position more often than not. There will also be a slew of options in the kick/punt return game. Special teams should not be an area where the Eagles miss a beat.
Shaun Wilson can do more than return the ball, he has shown on several occasions that he can be a game changer in the kick return game. The biggest issue for the Blue Devils is their kicking game.
Bringing in a transfer kicker Willie Holmquist from Tufts University to back up Austin Parker. Parker will start the season as the number one kicker but Holmquist will also see time. Back up quarterback Parker Boehme will be the holder in that equation and Jack Driggers will hold the kickoff responsibilities.
Duke vs. North Carolina Central University will take the long, five-mile road trip to play Duke this Saturday, September 2nd at Wallace Wade Stadium