September 27, 2005
DURHAM -- Is Ted Roof ready to make a change at quarterback?
Mike Schneider, a junior from Sharon, Pa., has been Duke's QB for more than two years. He started 18 of 22 games over the last two seasons, plus the first four games this fall. As recently as Sept. 19, Roof emphatically stated that Schneider was the quarterback the Blue Devils would live or die with this season.
That commitment didn't survive the first half of Duke's Sept. 24 game at Virginia. Frustrated by Schneider's continued inability to move the Blue Devils, and by his repetition of familiar mistakes, Roof turned to Zack Asack and allowed the true freshman to take every second-half snap in Duke's 38-7 loss to the Cavaliers.
While the young quarterback was far from dazzling, he did make more positive plays in one half than Schneider made in three and a half games this season. After the game, Roof refused to designate a starting QB for Duke's upcoming game with Navy.
"Zack Asack made some plays," Roof said, "but there's some growing up to do when you get thrown in there as a true freshman."
Asack is a 6-4, 190-pounder from Newton, Mass., who threw for 2,100 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior at Xaverian Brothers Academy. He was recruited by Notre Dame and Boston College but picked Duke, where his father lettered as a fullback and linebacker for coaches Tom Harp and Mike McGee.
Asack was battling another highly touted QB recruit in the preseason -- Gene Delle Donne of Delaware -- and, according to one source, was below Della Donne on the depth chart. However, Asack's competitor made an off-the-field mistake that opened an opportunity that Asack seized. Delle Donne was one of three freshmen (kicker Joe Surgan and receiver Eron Riley were the others) who were suspended for one game for an unspecified violation of team rules.
That one game turned out to be VMI, the one opponent in the Roof era that Duke beat so badly that the Blue Devils were able to clear their bench. That gave Asack a chance to make his collegiate debut, and he made the most of it. He directed two touchdown drives and threw a perfect fade pass for a score to fellow freshman Marcus Jones. Of course, that was against one of the nation's worst Division I-AA programs, so Asack's excellent stats -- four-of-four passing for 35 yards and a TD -- have to be considered in context.
On the other hand, just about the only Duke player who didn't play well against the Keydets was Schneider, who was a mere eight-of-17 for 69 yards in the air. Worse, he lost a fumble against VMI. When he made the same mistake against Virginia, that's when Roof turned to Asack.
"Mike has fumbled a couple of weeks in a row, and he's got to get better at that," Roof said. "I'm not down on Mike Schneider, but he has got to take care of the football."
Ironically, both Schneider and Asack made almost exactly the same mistake against Virginia, lofting a back-foot pass over the middle that was intercepted by UVa cornerback Marcus Hamilton. But although the mistake was the same, the perception was different. It's a good deal more understandable that a true freshman playing in his second game (his first against strong opposition) would make such an error than a fourth-year junior starting in his 22nd college game.
Balanced against Schneider's mistakes were two completions for 21 yards. Balanced against Asack's mistakes were a solid seven-of-13 passing performance for 87 yards and a touchdown. He directed a 78-yard scoring drive late in the third quarter that was a capped by a 30-yard pass to wideout Jomar Wright.
It's even more instructive to compare the combined stats in the two games in which both Schneider and Asack played. Against VMI and Virginia, the veteran was 10-of-22 for 90 yards passing with one interception, two fumbles and no touchdowns. The rookie was 11-of-17 for 115 yards, two interceptions and two touchdowns. Asack also brings more of a running dimension to the position. He is fast enough that he was recruited as a safety by several major powers. He carried five times against Virginia for 32 yards.
Roof and first-year coordinator Bill O'Brien entered the season with high hopes for Schneider, thinking that maturity would polish the rough edges of his game. So far, that hasn't happened. His inability to deliver in the passing game has allowed opponents to load up against the run -- Virginia played eight men in the box to open the game -- and Duke's rebuilding line simply isn't strong enough to overpower anybody better than VMI.
Of course, it would be foolish for Roof and O'Brien to expect Asack to step in and immediately invigorate Duke's passing game. He is, after all, a true freshman.
But if the Blue Devils are going to struggle at quarterback, wouldn't it be better to struggle with a freshman who might get better, rather than with a fourth-year player who has not shown signs of progress? Asack may be the future of the Duke offense, along with Delle Donne and maybe even Jones, a quarterback recruit who is such a good athlete that he's currently starting at wide receiver.
It would have been nice if Schneider or sore-kneed junior Curt Dukes could have provided a cushion that would have allowed Roof to ease Asack and company into the lineup. That doesn't appear to be happening.
Alabama Deal May Include Atlanta
Duke and Alabama finally agreed to a two-game series that had been in negotiations for more than a month. The two teams, linked by Hall of Fame coach Wallace Wade, who guided both schools to a pair of Rose Bowl trips, will meet Oct. 7, 2006, in Tuscaloosa and sometime in 2010 at a site to be determined.
Right now, Duke would like to play the 2010 game in Atlanta. It would count as a home game for the Blue Devils, even though Atlanta is a good deal closer to Tuscaloosa than to Durham. Charlotte is another possible site.
Signing the deal with the Crimson Tide firmed up a difficult 2006 schedule for the Devils. The four non-conference opponents (teams will be allowed to play 12 regular-season games next year) will be Alabama, Vanderbilt, Navy and Division I-AA Richmond.
Duke is likely to be an underdog in three of those four games. Even worse, Duke will get all of the ACC's powers next fall, with games against Miami, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Boston College and Georgia Tech.