Could this finally be the week Duke gets a victory? It will take a large improvement on last week's effort to get a win against Navy, but the Blue Devils hope they can finally break through Saturday against the Midshipmen.
Devils Illustrated analyzes the matchup and offers the weekly prediction.
Navy enters its second game without starting quarterback Brian Hampton, who was lost for the season in a 34-0 loss to Rutgers. New starter Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada doesn't have the track record of Hampton, but he can be plenty dangerous in Navy's vaunted triple option. The 5-11 sophomore had a pair of rushing touchdowns in his first start last week against Notre Dame but there's no question Navy is missing a key ingredient without Hampton. Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis had a forgettable day last week against Vanderbilt, which means he's probably due for a bounce back game against the Midshipmen. Navy has surrendered nearly 230 yards passing per game, so there should be opportunities available for Lewis to move the ball through the air. For once this season, Duke will have an edge in quarterback game experience, but Kaheaku-Enhada shouldn't be overlooked. Any QB in Paul Johnson's scheme is capable of big things.
EDGE: Small Duke
You can't really identify one or two main running threats for Navy because in the Midshipmen offense, any of a number of ball carriers could cause trouble. It all starts with fullback Adam Ballard, who has 630 rushing yards on the season. If Duke can't stop him between the tackles, then slowing down slot backs Reggie Campbell and Zerbin Singleton will be even more difficult. Campbell is the bigger threat; the junior only stands 5-6 and weighs 165 pounds, but he's put up 480 yards and four touchdowns on the year. Duke's running game has been much improved lately compared to the beginning of the season. It really came through last week against Vanderbilt as Justin Boyle steamrolled his way to four touchdowns. Even though most of his production came in the second half against a softened Vandy defense, the Blue Devils moved the ball well on the ground early before the large deficit forced them to throw the ball more. Statistically, Navy has much better rushing stats but that is to be expected in their system. Duke's running game should be able to move the ball this week against an undersized Navy defensive front. The Midshipmen will have more yards, but this matchup otherwise has no clear advantage.
Navy's receivers are mainly just extra blockers, but they can sneak up with a big play every now and then. Just ask Duke about that, as the Midshipmen burned Duke with a passing touchdown in last year's game. Navy starts O.J. Washington and Jason Tomlinson at wideout, but the two have combined for just 145 yards receiving on the season. While the numbers don't jump off the stat sheet, Navy receivers do the job they are asked to do with outside blocking in the running game. The leading receiver is actually Campbell from his slot back position so Duke will need to be aware of him in every aspect of the offense. Duke's receivers have had somewhat up and down production, but much of that can be attributed to up and down quarterback play. Jomar Wright is coming off a pair of good outings and he leads an athletic group of Duke receivers. The Blue Devils have more conventional big play ability at wideout, but Navy can strike for big yardage if its offense can succeed in drawing the defense up to the line of scrimmage against the run.
EDGE: Small Duke
Talk to any defensive lineman that has played against Navy and he will tell you that Navy has one of the least enjoyable offensive lines to face. It's not enjoyable to face because of the low blocks that come with the triple option offense. Fun or not, it's a very effective unit. Navy starts three seniors and two juniors up front, and that experience has helped the Midshipmen rack up 5.3 yards per carry on the ground. The starting five averages just 278 pounds, compared to Duke's average of 290 pounds, but the smaller stature certainly doesn't equate to smaller effectiveness. Duke's offensive line has made some strides this year, but there is still a long journey ahead. Over the last four games, Duke has averaged more than 150 rushing yards per game and has at least narrowed the gap between the Devils and the next to last team in the ACC in sacks allowed. The relative good health in the unit has been crucial to establishing continuity, but there's no question that Navy's experience and track record of efficiency is a plus in this game.
EDGE: Medium Navy
Once again, Duke has the size advantage in the trenches. Navy's three man defensive front averages less than 250 pounds while Duke's is in excess of 280 pounds. Navy typically struggles to stop the run because of that lack of size, but it's not like the Midshipmen are helpless up front. Defensive end John Chan leads Navy up front. He has four sacks on the season and 34 tackles overall. Duke's defensive front had its worst day of the year last week, as Vanderbilt marched up and down the field on the strength of quarterback Chris Nickson's running ability. It should help that senior nose guard Eli Nichols' health is continuing to improve. He only played about 15 snaps last week, but if he can raise that number this week then there's a good chance Duke can bounce back after last week's disappointment.
EDGE: Medium Duke
This is the strength of Navy's defense. The 3-4 alignment allows the linebackers to be playmakers. Like most of Navy's team, it's an experienced quartet with three seniors and a junior. Rob Caldwell and David Mahoney lead the group. Caldwell plays on the inside while Mahoney is on the outside, but the tandem leads the team with 127 tackles and 11 tackles for loss between them. Duke's linebackers also had a rough week last Saturday. Some of the numbers looked good, as Codey Lowe and Jeramy Edwards had good tackle totals, but the group will need to improve its tackling fundamentals this week. The lack of speed shouldn't be as big of a handicap this week because Navy's offensive speed is not on the level of most of Duke's opponents. However, Navy's group of linebackers has consistently made more plays on the season.
EDGE: Small Navy
Duke's defensive backfield would love to redeem itself from last week's dismal performance, but to do that the secondary will have to be strong tacklers in the open field against Navy's ground game. The secondary of course needs to aware of Navy's ability to throw the ball over the top on option pass plays, but the Midshipmen aren't going to win the game through the air. Can Duke's defensive backs have their best tackling day? If they do, the Blue Devils will have a significantly increased chance of winning. Navy is experienced on the corners with a pair of senior starters but its two safeties are a freshman and a sophomore. The unit has been short on big plays this year, as cornerback Jeremy McGown and backup safety DuJuan Price are the only players to have interceptions and they only have three between them. Navy covers some of its problems in pass defense by shortening the game on offense, but if Duke can establish a running game that Navy has to respect, then the Devils are going to have opportunities to make some plays through the air.
EDGE: Small Duke
Navy has rotated placekickers this season and lists Joey Bullen and Matt Harmon as co-number ones on the depth chart. The two have combined to connect on 7-of-11 field goal tries, a significant improvement over what Duke's Joe Surgan has so far done this year. Surgan clearly has an advantage in leg strength, but it's his accuracy that has been cause for concern. Duke's biggest kicking game advantage should once again be Jabari Marshall, who has been a real bright spot on special teams with his kick return ability. Reggie Campbell is a decent threat for Navy but Marshall has been more explosive. Duke will have to be aware of Tomlinson on punt returns. He's averaging eight yards per return and Duke has struggled in this area. Expect Alex Feinberg to vary his punts this week, as the rugby kick has been successful in the last couple of games. Whoever wins this part of the game may very well pick up the win.
EDGE: Small Navy
Does Duke genuinely believe it can win a game? If it does, and the Blue Devils play disciplined football, then they should have every opportunity to get a win. It will take a total team effort and the defense's best tackling day of the year. Last year, Navy escaped with a seven point win after Duke had fought back from a 15 point hole to the tie the game. It can be argued Duke's overall talent is a little higher, but Navy has shown over the last few seasons that it knows how to win. Duke hasn't. The Blue Devils will have to prove otherwise.
Prediction: Navy 23-20