Football season makes the turn into the final backstretch as Duke embarks on the final third of its schedule against Navy Saturday.
Can the Blue Devils break through in the win column? These 11 players will have a big say in the answer to that question.
They are this week's HOT 11 Blue Devils.
Jabari Marshall-Thanks to Marshall, Duke's season long performance on special teams has been at least a step or two above complete disaster. The speedy sophomore has become one of the most dangerous kick return threats in college football. He is always a threat to break a big return but his best asset has been his consistency. He's only gotten better over the last four weeks, he's averaged nearly 30 yards per return.
Jomar Wright-The junior receiver was one of few bright spots in the passing game last week. He followed up his monster game against Miami with four catches against Vanderbilt for another 56 yards. His efforts over the last two games have put him on pace to approach 700 yards receiving by the end of the season. With his strength and speed against what has been a less than stellar Navy defense, Wright will have some chances for more success against the Midshipmen.
Justin Boyle-Rule number one when preparing the HOT 11 team is that any player coming off a four touchdown performance is automatically included the following week. Therefore, Boyle works his way back on the list. There may not be a happier player on the roster about Duke's improved offensive line play, because when he gets enough space to generate some downhill momentum, he's very difficult to stop. His eight yards per carry average last week proves that. He should get a few more carries this week as well, as Duke will want to be more patient with the running game barring another early deficit.
Eli Nichols-Duke's fifth year senior defensive leader played 15 snaps last week against Vanderbilt and said earlier this week his health continues to improve on a daily basis. He expects to be able to play more this week, although it's tough returning from a leg injury against Navy's blocking schemes. There's no question his presence helps the defensive front, and if he can be on the field for a closer to normal amount of snaps this week, the Devils will have a good chance of containing Navy's ground attack.
Ronnie Drummer-Drummer struck for a big play last week on a 48-yard run, but he only touched the ball four times for the entire game. The coaching staff continues to have the goal of getting Drummer at least 10-12 touches per game, and his speed could be an even bigger weapon than normal against Navy's defense, which lacks the speed of elite ACC defenses. Drummer has been quiet in the passing game for the last two weeks, so it wouldn't be surprising to see offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien try to get Drummer early touches in a variety of ways.
Jeramy Edwards-Vanderbilt abused Duke's entire front seven last week but Edwards put up his second straight 10 tackle performance and third in the last four games. Those numbers merit attention. Edwards will be a key player to watch against Navy, as he will likely be forced to make some tackles in open space at least a couple of times to prevent the Midshipmen from getting past the second level of Duke's defense.
Thaddeus Lewis-Generally speaking, Lewis has not had consecutive bad games, which is a good sign for how he might play this week. While the Blue Devils will probably want to lean on the running game early, Lewis needs to make better decisions and be more accurate when Duke does go to the air. The potential is there for Lewis to have a productive day in scrambling situations as well because he has enough speed to outrun Navy's defense if he escapes the pocket against a pass rush.
Patrick Bailey-Bailey will be a key player to watch Saturday. As a defensive end, it might be easy to get sucked in toward the middle, especially if Navy is successful with the fullback dive early on. Bailey will be a key playmaker against the option but he has to be a playmaker within his assignments. He made two tackles for loss last week against Vanderbilt, but like the rest of the defense, he did not tackle consistently well. That has to be better this week.
John Talley-Talley got burned on Earl Bennett's long catch-and-run touchdown last week, but he's still a guy that has made four interceptions over the last four games. Despite his poor missed tackle on Bennett, Talley has been a good tackler most of the year on the perimeter. He can certainly expect to be in position to make more tackles this week when Navy runs wide. He'll have to shed blocks and wrap up in open space.
Codey Lowe-Like Edwards, Lowe tallied double digit tackles against Vanderbilt. Lowe is a true aggressor on defense and sometimes he pays for his gambles, like last week he overpursued a couple of times and missed tackles. Lowe will probably make a couple of more stops in the backfield against Navy, but he needs an overall more consistent afternoon to prevent any big gainers on the ground.
Vince Oghobaase-Ted Roof said this week that stopping Navy begins with stopping the fullback dive. A big part of that job falls to Oghobaase, who has to use his size along with Nichols and Ayanga Okpokowuruk to help plug the middle of the line. Navy fullback Adam Ballard averages 80 yards per game on the ground. If Duke can keep him in the 50 to 60 yard range, the defense has a great chance to be successful.
Moved In: Nichols, Boyle, Oghobaase, Drummer, Bailey