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Duke-Maryland Preview: Holy God, We're An Underdog to Duke

Yes, it's time to come to terms with it, folks. Duke, more commonly known as Dook, is a better football program than Maryland is, at least for the moment, and in the eyes of Las Vegas oddsmakers. I think being expected to lose to Duke is actually worse than losing to Duke, actually.

Now, with the depression out of the way, here's what the Dukies bring to the table:

Duke Offense vs. Maryland Defense - Luckily, Maryland's defense has seen a revival the past few games with solid performances against UVA and Clemson (not Wake Forest). They'll have to come up with one of those type of performances if they expect to beat Duke, who has a surprisingly effective offense.

They're led by senior QB Thaddeus Lewis, who has captained the Blue Devils to the 8th ranked passing attack in the country and is 29th in the nation in passing efficiency and 13th in completions per game. He's athletic, has a strong arm, and rarely makes mistakes - he's only thrown interceptions on the year, tied for 11th best. Blitzing him could prove problematic, as he has the ability to see a collapsing defense and hurt it on the ground, much like Dwight Dasher did for an entire game and Drew Dudzik did for two quarters.

Lewis has four main targets: Austin Kelly (the possession receiver of the bunch), Donovan Varner (the big-play threat), Conner Vernon, and Johnny Williams. He tends to go them a somewhat equal amount - there is only an eight reception difference between Kelly and Williams, whereas there's a 20 reception difference between Torrey Smith and Tommy Galt. All but Williams are in the top 100 in receptions and receiving yards per game, but it's more Lewis' doing than their own. The point is that Lewis is good enough to get them the ball, and they're good enough to hold onto it and occasionally do something with it.

Of course, they do have a major weakness, and that's the running game. They're a terrible 114th in the nation, almost as bad as Maryland is in turnover margin, and it'd be worse if they hadn't played NC Central, whom they put up 255 yards on. Indeed, if they didn't play the...whatever NCC's mascot is, they'd have zero games with over 100 yards on the ground. Combine that with the absence of starting running back Re'quan Boyette due to injury, and methinks selling out against the pass would be the smart thing to do here. Boyette is backed up by Desmond Scott, Patrick Kurunwune, and Jay Hollingsworth; actually, Scott and Kurunwune both have more yardage than Boyette did, despite having fewer carries, but losing the workhorse and starter is never a good thing.

The offensive line isn't great, but they aren't awful; let's just say they can't be taken advantage of to the extent Virginia's was, but they probably aren't good enough to dominate Maryland's DL, either.

Maryland Offense vs. Duke Defense - Like I said a few days ago, Duke's defense is pretty much what you would expect from any average team bolstered by a hugely successful passing attack: pretty bad. Maybe that's too rough, as they're a moderately respectable 61st in total defense, but they're 82nd in scoring defense, letting their opponent put up an average of nearly four TDs. Of course, Maryland's defense is still worse, but that's beside the point, which is that Duke's defense is below average and can be exploited if Maryland is clicking.

The place to attack Duke is on the ground, where they rank 82nd in the country. The Blue Devils have only held one team - the aforementioned North Carolina Central - under 100 yards on the ground, and they've allowed three teams to put up 150 yards or more on the ground.

They should be better against the rush, with all-American DT Vince Oghobaase anchoring the line, but they're still missing last year's middle linebacker, all-ACC first team, and ACC tackles leader Mike Tauiliili. For whatever reason, they aren't solid in that facet, and that's an area Maryland should look to attack. Let Morgan Green see the playing field and muscle past some guys; let Caleb Porzel get out there - I have no doubt he'll be the fastest guy on the field and will have a chance to break one.

As for passing, Duke's not exactly great there either - their numbers just look good because they've only played one team that bothered to pass against them at all (Kansas). They're 81st in passing efficiency defense despite suiting up Leon Wright at corner, who is 12th in the nation in passes defended and has three interceptions (two of which came against Army and were returned for TDs). While Maryland might want to look away from Wright, it's not like Duke has the greatest of passing defenses; if the rushing attack doesn't work, then the pass is the next point of attack. That said, rushing should be first, unless Oghobaase is able to blow through a weak middle consistently.

Players to Watch:

  • Thaddeus Lewis, QB, Duke - With a strong arm and a smart head, the guy can light it up. Might be a long day for Anthony Wiseman.
  • Donovan Varner, WR, Duke - He's averaging more than fifteen yards a reception and has four TDs. Lewis knows how to get him the ball, too.
  • Vince Oghobaase, DT, Duke - Could definitely be a problem causer. Even though he's been relatively quiet (just .5 sacks), his talent is undeniable.
  • Leon Wright, CB, Duke - He breaks up a lot of passes, but when he gets his hand firmly around one, he's a threat to score: two of his three interceptions have gone for TDs the other way.
  • Caleb Porzel, RB, Maryland - A lightning-quick back against a team with troubles against the rush spells goodness for Maryland, provided he gets a chance to play.
  • Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland - Until Maryland treats him like they should, he's here every week. It's no coincidence Maryland lost after all but ignoring him for three quarters.
  • Cameron Chism, CB, Maryland - This could be Chism's breakout game. Duke will pass a lot, and it'll be up to Chism to be the #1 corner, because we know Wiseman will have trouble with it at this point.
  • Kenny Tate, S, Maryland - Duke loves to pass, so Tate's often reckless play will have to be toned down a bit this week. He can't get beat and make a mistake; Maryland might not recover. He has the talent to be elite, he just has to show it.

Prediction: Duke 34, Maryland 24. Thaddeus Lewis is too much, and Maryland will fumble at least twice in rainy conditions.