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September 14, 2012The Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Central Eagles renew what is now set to be an annual event for years to come Saturday, when the teams kickoff the 2nd Bull City Gridiron Classic at Wallace Wade Stadium.
The universities will meet for the first time since 2009 when the Blue Devils held off their crosstown opponents 49-14.
Though several members of the NCCU team return from that season's game, as well as the presence of former Duke defensive tackle John Drew, there are plenty of new faces to get up to date on within the Eagles' roster.
In order to get a better look at the Eagles, we turned to NCCU assistant sports information director and broadcast media coordinator Chris Hooks for his thoughts.
Devils Illustrated: When you look at this NCCU team, how have you seen this team progress from the opening week to now despite the recent loss to Elon?
Chris Hooks: Well to be honest, we took some steps back last week against Elon, but not to be too hard on Matt Goggans, it was his second Division I football game, so even though he may be a junior transfer he is a rookie in many ways and he didn't look as sharp as he did against Fayetteville State.?The running game has looked pretty good in the early portion of the season with our three-headed monster that I will discuss further in the next question, but on the other side of the ball I was impressed at how NCCU defended Aaron Mellette last week.?Granted, he didn't play the second half but we had defensive backs all over him. The defensive front has been very strong against the run, and we've forced a number of turnovers. The signs are there for us to be a good football team, we just have to keep working and following the direction of Coach Frazier.
DI: Offensively, what are the strengths of this team? Who are the key players?
CH: I would like to think our strength is our balance, and in game one you saw it, but not game two. I think anyone that knows coach Frazier and offensive coordinator Michael Bryant's offense is they like to throw the ball. Last season, we broke a school record for completions and weren't nearly as good as we could have been. This year in the backfield we have a three-headed monster in Arthur Goforth (speed), Andre Clarke (strength), and Gary Douglas (vision) and they all complement one another very well. If they get going, everything else opens up. It's no secret that Geovonie Irvine is our go-to guy. He will return kicks, punts, get a handoff or two; we're trying to get him the ball. If you focus on him too much then we have redshirt senior Jonathan Nicely (6-4) and Marvin Poole (6-4) who can beat you downfield as well. Our offensive line is continuing to get better under Dwayne Foster and again we have the ability to be very potent, we just have to keep working as the season progresses.
DI: What areas do you feel the offense needs to improve upon?
CH: Being consistent, from week one to week two you saw a different group. They came out flat last week against Elon and went three-and-out on like the first four drives and the next thing you know it's 24-0.
DI: Defensively, what are the strengths of this team? Who are the key players?
CH: Defensively, our front line is our strength and we are relatively deep there. Preseason 2nd team All-MEAC defensive lineman Xavier Proctor, John Drew, Stephen Young, Chase Tripp, and Tyrone Jackson all have great size and strength and it has shown with teams inability to run the football against us in the first two games. At linebacker, Demontray Ryland has impressed me the most early on along with Ty Brown, and in the secondary C.J. Moore leads the team in tackles through the first two games with 17. Marc Lewis, Malik Cromartie, and Rickie Hubbard are also strong in the defensive backfield.
DI: What areas do you feel the defense needs to improve upon?
CH: If we can get off the field on third downs, last week's game against Elon would have been a dog fight.? We missed a few assignments on third down and Elon's Kierre Brown or Jeremy Peterson would get a first down because they were wide open. Again, if we just get off the field on third downs, it could really change the momentum of this unit.
DI: How is the Bull City Gridiron Classic viewed by the NCCU community?
CH: With the history of NCCU/Duke this is a HUGE event for the Eagle nation. From the Secret game to the relationship between Coach Buehler and Dr. Walker, there has always been ties between the schools and now that NCCU is Division I, we can now play in more than just an exhibition game and I think it's great and the Eagle Nation is really excited to play not only this game but the games in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017!
DI: Finally, how do you see this game playing out?
CH: I'll say this, if the Eagles can keep it close early and not let Duke get up 21-0 in the first quarter it could be interesting. I just want to see us come out sharp early and see where the chips fall. We cut the game in 2009 to 21-14 and had Duke in a 3rd and long late in the second quarter and the Blue Devils converted. If we can make something happen early I think it could be a competitive ballgame. If the Eagles come out flat like they did last week against Elon it might be a one-sided affair.