5 things to know before Duke football’s season opens against Charlotte


Hello, college football. Happy to see you again.

An offseason removed from the miserable 2-9 show of 2020, this year’s Blue Devils are looking to turn the boat around starting with Friday night’s season opener at 7 p.m. in Charlotte. Duke beat the 49ers 53-19 last October in a true tour de force, building on their strengths in the running game and the passing rush to take an early 24-0 lead that they would not give up not. As the rare road favorites this time around, the Blue Devils will certainly look to repeat themselves in the spotlight.

But the start of a season can be a tricky thing, and neither Duke nor Charlotte are the same team now as they were then. If the Blue Devils are to start things off on the right foot, they’ll need to figure it out and step onto the pitch ready to compete.

“So it’s really an opener, and you have to adjust well as you go,” head coach David Cutcliffe said at a press conference on August 30. “But they will be a good football team. And opening up to the road is always a challenge.

Gunnar’s first departure

Perhaps the Blue Devils’ biggest scenario in their debut contest is quarterback Gunnar Holmberg starting his career debut under center. After years of waiting and preparation, he becomes Duke’s fourth starting quarterback in as many years, replacing Chase Brice, the 2020 starter and now appellant from Appalachian State.

Brice set the bar pretty low in his only season with the Blue Devils, throwing 15 interceptions in 11 starts. Holmberg’s directive – to be better than its predecessor – is in many ways a microcosm of the team’s goal of rebounding in 2021. It all starts with the beginner’s game for the first time, and he would seem to live up to the challenge. challenge.

“Ever since I was in seventh grade, I’ve always dreamed of being Duke’s quarterback,” Holmberg said at a press conference Aug. 31. “So [it’s] pretty surreal, i think just in general, but something i knew i had always worked for and hoped that day would come.

While the Blue Devils managed to pass the 49ers last season with just 127 passing yards, common sense suggests Holmberg will need to provide a bit more on Friday night to come home undefeated. That’s a lot to ask of a player who hasn’t started a game under center since high school, but Holmberg, whose first performance will answer a lot of questions, knows he can use those nerves to his advantage.

“I think you need this [nervous feeling] after a while without having it, ”Holmberg said. “I was talking to [long snapper] John Taylor on that, and he gave me a quote like, “If you’re not nervous, you don’t care.

New year, new adversary

Needless to say, this isn’t the same Charlotte side that Duke beat a year ago: with seven transfers and a healthy Chris Reynolds starting at quarterback – the senior redshirt played from injury in 2020- these 49ers are definitely stronger and better prepared this time around. After canceling half of their games in their last campaign, it’s really not clear what their squad will look like before this one.

On the other hand, the Blue Devils are also very different. The defense has lost three starters to the NFL, the offensive line is set to have two starting tackles for the first time, and key offensive playmakers like Deon Jackson and Noah Gray have both moved on.

Overall, this Duke team is quite different from its most recent iteration. It may initially seem like a terrifying thought, but change is inevitable, and these Blue Devils are more than equipped to take down a different-looking Charlotte team, even as they continue to fit in and mature as a team themselves.

In the trenches

So much is decided in the racing game for the Blue Devils. Not only is this where star running back Mataeo Durant makes his impact, but it’s also a point of importance for Duke’s defense. As good as last year’s duo Chris Rumph II and Victor Dimukeje were to reach the quarterback, the team’s peak defense placed last in the ACC.

This is not acceptable for a team that wants to win football games, and should change from the start here in 2021. Without Rumph, Dimukeje and the supporting cast of the offseason transfers Derrick Tangelo (Penn State) and Drew Jordan (Michigan State), it will be up to defensive captain DeWayne Carter, return starter Ben Frye and the rest of the defensive line to do a better job of establishing the advantage, plugging holes and generally improving a major problem for what was. otherwise one of Duke’s best defensive lines in recent memory.

Special teams sparkle

Duke’s 2020 victory over the 49ers included a special performance from the special teams unit, as it blocked two punts on the night. These two games set up short courts for the Blue Devils, who turned their two opportunities into two scores in just five games in total.

Special teams were a bright spot for the Duke squad last season and although they start without the services of key return man Damond Philyaw-Johnson, the unit sack kicker Charlie Ham, the punter Porter Wilson, long snapper John Taylor and many other major contributors who should help the Blue Devils field a hard-hitting squad once again this season.

The start of a season can get ugly, and the seemingly small things like position on the pitch as well as the constant kicks and kicks can be put under a magnifying glass. Special teams coordinator Kirk Benedict and his group always bring energy to the pitch; special teams could be crucial in this one.

Will the preparations for the offseason pay off?

As 2020 approached, the Blue Devils were flying blind: They were the last Power Five team to arrive on campus and begin summer training, when nearly half of the squad was tested. positive for COVID-19. It was an offseason like no other, filled with uncertainties and sorely lacking the usual preparations for a season opener.

This time around, with a full summer camp and far fewer restrictions in place, the Blue Devils were able to prepare on their own for the fall campaign. Friday’s game will certainly go a long way in indicating whether the full summer has really paid off, but for many, including starting cornerback Josh Blackwell, the change means a world of difference.

“We haven’t really had that much offseason [in 2020] like we did this year, ”said Blackwell. “Being able to actually be in the same locker room and prepare together was useful and very beneficial for us. “


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