To help us preview this Saturday’s prime time showdown with Duke, we connect with Donald Wine II, co-host of the Duke Basketball Report Podcast. We discuss Duke football, and of course ask about Zion Williamson’s recruitment.
STS: Duke sits at 7-3 with three quality road wins coming at Big 10 West champ Northwestern, reigning Coastal champ Miami, and the always tricky Georgia Tech. They’ve also lost at home to a very mediocre Virginia Tech team and against Virginia.
The Blue Devils are ranked 51st in S&P+ with fairly even rankings for their offense and their defense. Over the last two weeks, they’ve beaten Miami by holding them to a mere 12 points and then won the Victory Bell by outscoring UNC 42-35. This team is hard to get a grasp on, so for Clemson fans just now turning their attention to the Blue Devils, can you give us an overview of who this team is?
Donald: This Duke Football team has been decimated by injuries all year long, especially on the defense. In some positions we have true freshmen who were supposed to redshirt playing considerable minutes each week. Because of that, our defense that was incredibly menacing in the earlier part of the year has had some bad weeks lately. They’re most susceptible to runs around the end, as the secondary has just been gutted due to the massive numbers of injuries. The guys that are in there find themselves out of position, and a lot of first downs and big gains are earned by opposing offenses out wide.
On the offensive side, Daniel Jones returning from his clavicle injury after a couple weeks was a boost to the offense. He has NFL scouts eager to evaluate him, but he’s been inconsistent in the air the past few weeks. Part of that is due to receivers not catching the ball, but he has had some games—like against Virginia—where he didn’t make good decisions with his throws and it led to interceptions. Where he can really dominate is on the ground, where he has excelled lately. The running game with him and Deon Jackson has really been working lately, and it has allowed us to move down the field and get points.
STS: There was a lot of hype around Daniel Jones following a good freshman year. Last year – his sophomore campaign – he posted just a 14-11 TD-INT ratio and struggled during a six game losing streak. Despite missing two games this season, he’s really bouncing back. He’s averaging 243 yards per game with a 61% completion percentage and has a 16-6 TD-INT ratio. He’s gone over 350 passing yards in two of Duke’s last three games and showed off some wheels running for 186 and a score against UNC. Can you tell us about his game? How will he test Clemson’s defense as potential matchups against QBs like Ian Book, Kyler Murray, and Tua Tagovailoa loom for the Tigers?
Donald: As mentioned before, Daniel Jones had NFL pundits calling him as possibly the first quarterback taken in the 2019 NFL Draft as late as a few weeks ago. Despite that, he’s been inconsistent with execution, particularly on his throws. On the ground, he has been terrific all season, knowing when to hand off to one of his running backs or when to take it on the ground, like he did against UNC. When he’s on his game, he can make some incredible throws, finding guys in tight spots and consistently moving the chains and getting into positions where Duke can put points on the board. What we’re looking for him to do against Clemson is to limit the inconsistent throws. If he finds a window but doesn’t offer a good ball, Clemson’s DBs will take advantage of that all game long. He needs to show why some think he has a chance to be a feature quarterback at the next level, because getting points is how Duke will have a chance against the Tigers.
STS: Briefly changing gears, there was a lot of hand wringing in Clemson about Zion Williamson’s commitment to Duke basketball. There was subsequently more hand wringing when it came out that the FBI had tape that Zion’s family wanted several impermissible benefits and Kansas was willing to give these to them. Finally, there was even more consternation when he and Duke looked amazing in their opening win against Kentucky. What is the prevailing opinion from Duke faithful on the whole situation? Also, how confident are you this Duke team captures a #1 seed in the ACC and NCAA tournaments?
Donald: To be honest, there was not a lot of hand wringing at all. People took what was discussed about being offered at school A and extrapolated it to school B. As we’ve seen since then, it was much ado about nothing and we haven’t dwelled on it at all. What do we think about Zion on the court? I don’t think there’s enough words in the English to describe the WOW factor he provides. He’s unlike any player that has ever played in Cameron Indoor Stadium, and he’s incredibly fun to watch. He’s emphatic in everything he does, and he has the best motor of any player I’ve ever seen live—high school, college or the NBA.
As for our chances this year, I think our team will hit some stumbles along the way. There was a lot of talk this week about Duke going undefeated, but that was coming mostly from people outside the Duke bubble. Inside the bubble, we’ll tell you that winning the last game of the season is what we’re working towards, and while I’m confident that this team can win the ACC and be a 1 seed in the tourney, there’s still plenty of basketball to be played between now and then, and our true goal is winning on that first Monday in April. I think this team is capable of doing just that.
STS: Back to football... when these teams face off in Saturday’s 7pm ESPN game, what one player on each side of the ball (excluding QB Daniel Jones, who we discussed) has an opportunity to make a major impact for the Blue Devils?
Donald: On the offensive side, RB Deon Jackson has been incredible for us this season and has logged some terrific performances. He’s going to be the key for moving the chains and helping DJ17 get the team into position to strike. He’s someone for Clemson to watch because if he can get over 100 yards rushing (he can also receive out of the backfield and the slot as well), that means Duke can do very well. On defense, if Joe Giles-Harris returns from injury, he’s the monster in the middle. We missed his playmaking ability against UNC, so if we can get him back to plug up some holes, that will settle the defense down and maybe hold Clemson under 45.
STS: We’ve seen some opponents load up against the run to try to challenge freshman QB Trevor Lawrence to beat them and others play it more straight up and get shredded on the ground. Given that Duke ranks 83rd in preventing explosive plays, how do you think Duke will approach this Clemson offense? Can they avoid chunk plays and keep this offense below their 45+ points per game average?
Donald: The big play has been what has really killed us this season on defense. It’s not just the big play, but the timing of them. 3rd downs, when we need a stop or need to keep them off the scoreboard, a big play occurs. This is due to lack of execution and injuries just really not allowing our guys any continuity with end-game situations or closing out defensive stands. Obviously, this game for Duke is about momentum and confidence, and by limiting Clemson from having backbreaking, momentum killing plays, they will give themselves the confidence that they can pull an upset in Death Valley. They will undoubtedly give up one, because I think Clemson is that good that you have to expect that to happen. But, confidence will be key, and if a couple of good plays go our way, maybe the boys can turn that into points on the scoreboard.
STS: Lastly I’d like to look long-term. Duke has taken major strides over the last decade from being the doormat of the ACC. They’ve made great stadium renovations and made an annual bowl trip an expectation. Coach Cutcliffe is a major reason for this success and he’s 64 years old. He certainly could stick around for 4+ more years, but my question is what happens when he leaves. Has there been enough cultural and structural change to keep Duke as the solid program they are now, or do you believe they’re likely to fall back behind Wake Forest and others in the conference?
Donald: I hope Coach Cut never leaves. He has instilled a vigor in the program unlike anything most of us have seen from the Duke Football program. I worked video for the team back when I was in school and I only saw 6 wins in my 4 years (all 6 coming my junior and senior years). One thing that Coach Cut keeps stressing to us fans is the one thing I hope continues after he decides to retire 15 years from now: never take this success for granted. Getting to bowl games is becoming routine for us, but I celebrate each one like I celebrated going to the Belk Bowl back in 2012. We’re still not that far removed from the 0-12 seasons, the consistent 40-point blowouts, and the musical chairs of coaches.
The structure and culture he’s created at Duke will endure, and having the entire community buy into it is the legacy that will never die. We’re excited to once again be heading to a bowl game and really getting the better players that will help us start challenging for division and conference titles on a consistent basis. Coach Cut made us that program, and he’ll forever be a football legend here for it.
STS: A big thank you to Donald Wine over at the Duke Basketball Report for helping us preview this weekends contest with this (one-part) Q&A. You can follow their site’s twitter account here.