September 6, 2004
DURHAM Every time Ted Roof talks to the public, and usually a couple of times at each meeting he has with the media, he stresses that Duke is trying to build a program. Unless it's in direct response to a question, he rarely focuses on this year's team.
Already, it's easy to see why.
What will be interesting to see is what the fan reaction will be when the Blue Devils return home on Sept. 25. That date will mark their first 2004 game in Wallace Wade Stadium, possibly after two more defeats, at Connecticut and Virginia Tech. Will the good will built up when Duke trounced Georgia Tech to end the long ACC losing streak, and then the long-awaited victory at North Carolina, continue? Or will the fans, who haven't had much to cheer about on the gridiron for the last 40 years, elect to wait for basketball?
Roof's first game as Duke's official head coach was a disappointment, a 27-12 loss at Navy. It also was predictable, because the Blue Devils had been all but unanimously declared a lock for last place in the expanded ACC, and they have more question marks especially on offense than any team in the conference.
Tom Knotts, the quarterbacks coach Roof lured away from his high school dynasty in Charlotte, spoke this summer to the Durham Sports Club. He told the members, "This is going to take a while, but we'll win. Last year was when Duke should have won, when they had everybody back, but they didn't play hard."
Well, they played hard at Navy. What they didn't play was what Roof has said all along was a necessity with efficiency. In the first half, Duke recovered three Navy fumbles in as many possessions and smothered a fake punt at the Middies' 36, in effect, a fourth turnover. Out of all that, they managed just two field goals.
They also missed a field goal when it was 6-0, with less than two minutes to play in the first half. That three-point try was required after a false start on a third-and-one play from the 13. On the opening drive, there was a delay-of-game penalty that negated a pass to the Navy 10. Later, there were other dumb infractions.
The kicking game was a disaster. Former walk-on Matt Brooks, who won the job from redshirt freshman Alex Feinberg during preseason camp, missed the third field goal, from 36 yards. Brooks also missed an extra point, after Duke had cut the lead to 13-12. The biggest problem, however, was that Brooks doesn't have enough leg on kickoffs, and Navy continually got good field position. Veteran punter Trey McDonald also had a mediocre game. A team in Duke's position simply must get good special teams play.
The offense was good for a while but non-productive in the last half. Tailback Cedric Dargan had more than 100 yards by halftime, but he got dinged and wound up with 114. Mike Schneider started at quarterback; Chris Dapolito started the last half. Neither was bad, but there was no deep passing game.
Navy led the nation in rushing last year and wound up with 301 yards, most in the second half. The Duke defenders wore down and couldn't stop QB Aaron Polanco, one of 18 senior starters for the Middies. But it was Polanco's passing that hurt the Blue Devils. He completed eight of nine attempts for 129 yards, almost all in the first half. His 57-yard pass to Jason Tomlinson just before halftime tied it and gave the Mids all the momentum. Cornerback John Talley, beaten by 20 yards on that play, was benched in the second half.
The truth is that the Blue Devils probably will not be favored against any Division I-A foes the rest of the way. They could get embarrassed by the passing games of UConn and Virginia Tech, not to mention Florida State later. They desperately need the kind of wins that got Roof this job in the first place, but they'll be hard to come by. The only prominent seniors are on the defense, and none of them are NFL types.
For Roof to build his program, he'll have to continue the impressive recruiting that Duke has done thus far. Kids will need to be convinced that they will have a chance to win. The team played hard at Navy, but not well. It wasn't the beginning Roof wanted and badly needed. When will the next opportunity come?
Hoops: Another Six-Man Class?
When Duke was hit for the first time by basketball defections, in 1999, the Blue Devils brought in a six-man class the next fall.
Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy, Nick Horvath and Casey Sanders had committed prior to the unexpected announcements that William Avery and Corey Maggette were joining Elton Brand in the leave-early group. Carlos Boozer didn't commit until after Brand made his announcement. Unheralded guard Andre Buckner was given a late grant, essentially as a practice player.
Three years later, Williams and Boozer announced prior to the season that they would be leaving after their junior campaigns. Dunleavy surprised most people with his May decision that he also was going. The Devils signed six players that season, too, all in November.
Lee Melchionni, son of a former Duke player, came as a walk-on because of the since-rescinded five/eight rule the NCAA had in place at the time. The others were J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams, Shavlik Randolph, Sean Dockery and Michael Thompson. A post player who could have helped last year's team as a reserve, Thompson transferred to Northwestern in the middle of his sophomore season, mainly because of playing time concerns. The other four players loom as likely starters this year.
Once again, in 2004, Duke took another hit from the NBA, with the losses of freshman star Luol Deng and high school prospect Shaun Livingston. They were selected seventh and fourth in the draft, respectively. After never having a player leave early, Duke now has had more underclass entries since 1999 than any other school.
So what is Duke doing about it? The answer sounds familiar.
The Devils will sign six players once again "if it's the right six," a staff member said recently. Already, commitments have come from 6-10 Josh McRoberts, who may be the top player in the nation; point guard Greg Paulus, who already has been named No. 1 as a football quarterback by USA Today; 6-10 Eric Boateng, another one-time London resident and a friend of Deng's; and 6-7 forward Jamal Boykin.
Jon Brockman, a 6-7 power forward from the state of Washington, will make his official visit to Durham in mid-September. Although Duke started recruiting him relatively late, it probably is the favorite for a powerful inside player whose stock soared this summer. The Blue Devils also would like to add a wing player.
Duke sources said the only change in recruiting after the surge in defections has been to recruit numbers. If everybody returns next year Williams is considered the most likely to go pro and the Devils sign six, they will have the NCAA maximum of 13 on hand for the 2005-06 season. Coach Mike Krzyzewski never has had a full complement of scholarship players in his 25 years at the school.
"That's the only change," the staff member said. "We're still going to go after the best players. Nobody we recruit has indicated he might leave early, but obviously things change. One of these years, perhaps next year, we'll have 13. But whatever the number of returning players turns out to be, that will determine how many scholarships we offer. I think we'll try to get to 13 and keep it there, although keeping that many (happy) may be impossible.
"It's not that we want 13, but we don't want eight (as is the case now, not counting Patrick Johnson, a senior walk-on who was given a scholarship). It's not a science. Nobody knows what will happen. We're simply going to go after the best players we can get."