Thursday, September 22, 2005

Is It Really Just a Basketball School?

Last year I was watching a Duke home football game on JP Sports.

Wallace Wade Stadium shocked me. No, not the empty seats. No, not the fact that there were more N.C. State fans than Duke fans. The banners that surround the playing field. 1989 ACC champions....wait a second...did Cameron Indoor run out of room for their banners? I admit I was ignorant, but I quickly learned that Duke wasn't just good at football, they used to be great.

Before Steve Spurrier toted his visor down to Gainsville and the Florida Gators, he was a Blue Devil. No one back then would have seen the dark days on the horizon for the Duke gridiron. The problem is, things have changed and so have attitudes. No one shows up to Duke football games, not the away team (why watch a blowout?) and not the home team (When does basketball season start again?)

This provides a big problem for third year coach Ted Roof. How can he instill a successful program when most people think it's impossible? Roof did the unthinkable his first year, he won 5 games. Last year, Duke beat Clemson in a home shocker 16-13. The problem was 5 wins had shrunk down to 2 (The other a 28-10 over the Citadel). Now after three games this year, Duke is 1-2, their lone win against Division-II school VMI. Going into Charlottesville against the 19th ranked team in the nation certainly is not Duke's idea of a great time, but they refuse to be intimidated.

“We know Virginia is going to be tough and they’re going to be physical and we have to match that", OL Jim Morvacik said. "We know what Virginia brings to the table. Last year, we moved the ball pretty well against them and I don’t see why can’t do that against them this year.”

Run the ball they did, the last time these two teams met, Virginia had just been ripped to shreds in Tallahasse by the Seminoles (aka the game that shall not be mentioned). It certainly looked like UVA was still in a daze to start this contest. The Blue Devils amassed 311 yards of total offense in that game, including 109 by (now senior) running back Cedric Dargan. Virginia however, was able to dominate the line offensively, picking up 511 yards of offense and sealing the game up late for the 37-16 victory.

Duke's success this time around will come down to their quarterback situation. Duke has been alternating between two QB's, Mike Schneider and Curt Dukes (p.s. how cool is it his name fits his school). Schneider has been used extensively, but has been pulled out often when the score has gotten well out of hand. Dukes however, has recently been injured and so according to most officials, its Schneider or bust.

"Mike [Schneider]’s our quarterback and it’s his ball" Roof said.

Now Duke will come in hoping to ride the momentum of their first win of the season, Virginia's mindset is quite different. Now two close but sloppy victories have led them to their ACC opener. Many fans have grown restless, and now with the memories of VT stomping Duke on the road 45-0, there is pressure to live up to the lofty goal mark set by the 4th ranked Hokies. Virginia has been unable to take out its last two opponents early, on homecoming, it is time to do just that.

As for Duke, Time will tell whether the Devils have what it takes to reach the heights of the Spurrier age. The talent is slowly piling in, the experience will be the next crucial step. Perhaps equally important though, it seems that first the attitude in Durham must change before any significant improvement takes place. Fans have to believe in their program, one that does seem to be improving.

Otherwise, it'll continue to look like U-Hall.


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