September 13, 2005
DURHAM -- If the first two weeks of the season proved anything in Durham, it was that there will be no shortcuts in coach Ted Roof's rebuilding efforts at Duke.
Roof's recruiting success over the last two seasons -- on paper, at least, they're the program's best hauls in over a decade -- had generated a hint of optimism around the ACC's least-successful program. Duke hasn't had a winning season since 1994 (or even five wins in a season since 1994!), but during preseason interviews, some players suggested that the Blue Devils might win six and sneak into a bowl.
Reality came crashing down on this team's dreams in the opener at East Carolina. The Blue Devils actually appeared to be physically superior to the rebuilding Pirates, but two turnovers in the red zone and an inability to cover juco wide receiver Aundrae Allison doomed Duke in a 24-21 loss.
The second week's 45-0 thrashing at the hands of ACC favorite Virginia Tech served to illustrate just how far Roof's rebuilding efforts still have to go. The Blue Devils simply couldn't play with the Hokies, managing what is believed to be a school-record low of 35 yards in total offense. The records aren't complete enough to verify that statement, but suffice it to say that Duke's offense hasn't been that futile in many, many years.
That's not to say that Duke's young coach is not taking the program in the right direction, but there are plenty of signs -- beyond the humiliation at the hands of Tech -- that it's not moving nearly as quickly as the school's few remaining fanatic fans would like.
p Defensive line: One of the strengths of last year's recruiting class was on the defensive front, an area that long has been hard for Duke to recruit. Roof beat Miami and Oklahoma for Texas prep All-American tackle Vince Oghobaase, who enrolled last spring and was supposed to make an immediate impact.
But Oghobaase suffered a knee injury and missed almost all of spring practice. The injury obviously was more serious than was reported. Oghobaase still has not been cleared to play, although Roof said his prize recruit is very close to getting clearance.
However, Roof's second most highly touted recruit -- end Ayanga Okpokoworuk, who picked Duke over Notre Dame, Tennessee and a host of other top schools -- won't be playing at all this season. The Charlotte native was listed as a second-teamer on the preseason depth chart, but just days before the ECU game he slipped in a non-contact drill and suffered what Roof described as a "lower-body" injury.
Both Oghobaase and Okpokoworuk still are likely to be major contributors in the long run. Meanwhile, less-touted freshmen such as giant Joe Suder and Cliff Respress are playing as true freshmen up front, and both appear to be learning on the job. It no longer looks as if Duke will get much immediate-impact help for the defensive line.
p Quarterback: The second major component of Roof's recruiting success was his ability to land two solid quarterback prospects in Gene Delle Donne of Delaware and Zack Asack from Massachusetts.
But it's now likely that, barring a string of catastrophic injuries, neither will see action this season. One or the other -- Delle Donne especially -- still could be the answer Roof is looking for at quarterback, but that's a long-term, not a short-term, solution.
Ironically, another true freshman quarterback already has found his way to the field. Marcus Jones, a gifted all-around athlete from Georgia, actually lined up as a starter at wide receiver against ECU. He's caught a pass in each game.
The question is whether Jones, who's also listed as Duke's third-team QB, will get a chance to play that position at some point this season? It appears that Roof will go for now with the uninspiring tandem of redshirt juniors Mike Schneider and Curt Dukes. But if the season gets away from the Devils -- and that could happen, with a mid-October lineup of Miami, Georgia Tech and Florida State looming -- it might be time for Roof to give the talented Jones a shot. It could help him decide if Jones has a future at QB or should become a full-time receiver.
There is hope for the future, but expectations for the present must be tempered for a team that played 15 true freshmen against a top-10 opponent (as Duke did against Tech). As good as Roof's recruiting has been, it has not been Miami- or FSU-type success. Most of the kids he's bringing in aren't nearly as capable of making an immediate impact.
That's especially true up front, where it takes time for normal programs to develop their strength and experience. Sophomore offensive linemen Matt Rumsey and Zack Maurides might be good players some day, as their play against ECU indicated. But they still need to get a lot stronger and more experienced to handle the top-level ACC defensive fronts, as Tech's domination at the line of scrimmage proved.
"We all want it done yesterday, and nobody wants it done any faster than I do," Roof said. "Some of our younger players are very talented. It is tough to be a great player early in your career. You have to learn the game. I expect those guys to get better, I expect our older players to get better, and I expect all of us coaches to get better as well. So we are just going to go back to work and keep working because there is no magic pill, magic dust or you snap your fingers and the light comes on. It's a process."
It's a process that's going to take at least another year, and very likely two. The Blue Devils have 22 freshmen and sophomores on their two-deep at the moment. When those players are juniors and seniors, perhaps Duke fans can realistically dream of winning enough games to sneak into a bowl.
Even Talented Tight Ends Missing
If there is any position where Duke is ready to compete, it's at tight end, where senior Andy Roland and junior Ben Patrick have proven themselves to be quality ACC players. Together, they came into this season with 105 career catches for 1,385 yards and eight touchdowns.
But in Duke's first two games, the 270-pound Patrick (who may be the best NFL prospect among the team's upperclassmen) had only four catches for 13 yards. Roland, the team's top receiver last year, didn't catch a pass.
"We've thrown to them," Roof said, "but we're not getting it done."
Obviously, opposing defensive coordinators know that Patrick and Roland are Duke's two most dangerous offensive threats. Nevertheless, new Duke coordinator Bill O'Brien needs to figure out a way to get the ball to his tight end tandem.
Hokies Charged Up Wallace Wade
When Virginia Tech was politicking to get into the ACC, coach Frank Beamer promised, "We'll sell our place out and help fill yours."
That promise certainly was fulfilled when the Hokes played in Durham, as Tech had a lot to do with putting a crowd of 25,014 into normally empty Wallace Wade Stadium. Observers were split on how many of the fans were wearing Virginia Tech orange. One Tech-oriented website estimated 18,000 visiting fans. A Duke-centric site suggested 10,000.
A more realistic guess would be that Tech furnished about two-thirds of the crowd. Duke's supporters clearly were outnumbered by the visitors, who at one point taunted the home fans with the chant, "Just like basketball."