September 30, 2002 DURHAM — Duke athletic director Joe Alleva was perfectly clear this summer, when asked what football coach Carl Franks would need to do this season, his fourth, to earn a fifth year in Durham. The Blue Devils need to show improvement, Alleva said. Win a few games after two 0-11 seasons? Yes, but more than that, look like a football program on the rise. That means good wins and even good, competitive losses.
What Alleva absolutely didn’t want, as Franks was nearing the midpoint of his fourth season at the helm, was to hear quotes like the following, which came from the losing coach after a recent Duke game: “We’re not very good right now,” the losing coach said. “I know we want to win. Do we know how? No. Our guys are trying hard, but they just can’t do some things.”
Don’t worry, Franks fans. He wasn’t the coach who said that. He was the coach who caused it to be said.
The frustrated speaker was Navy coach Paul Johnson, after his Midshipmen were throttled 43-17 by Duke. It was exactly the kind of result Alleva wanted to see from the Blue Devils, and from Franks, this season. It was a win, yes, but more than that. It was an overpowering win, exactly the kind of win a program on the rise should administer to a downtrodden team.
So has Franks, with a victory against East Carolina already on the ledger this season, done enough to earn a fifth season? Even if the Blue Devils don’t win again and finish 2-10?
Alleva doesn’t answer questions like that at midseason, so it’s impossible to know for sure. But the feeling around the football program is that Franks has done enough with his young team (one senior, linebacker Jamyon Small, and he didn’t even start against Navy) to return in 2003, assuming the Blue Devils don’t fall apart down the stretch and get blown out every week. And that doesn’t look likely.
“This isn’t last year,” quarterback Adam Smith said. “We’ve got more confidence in ourselves, and we’re learning how to win.”
The victory against Navy was a clinic in perseverance. Duke was playing on the road one week after a discouraging 48-17 loss at Florida State. That game was close in the second quarter, until Seminoles quarterback Chris Rix began playing catch with his receivers as if the Duke secondary wasn’t even there. Navy jumped Duke early for a 7-0 lead, and even when the Blue Devils were poised to pull into a 10-10 tie, something went wrong. Brent Garber’s extra point was blocked, leaving Navy with a 10-9 lead. Discouraged? Duke? Not this season.
“It was great to see our guys regroup,” Franks said. “Being down early, it’s a testament to the character of this team to be able to come back and put that many points on the board.”
Duke proceeded to take three years of frustration out on Navy, scoring at will — long drive after long drive, including a 99-yard clinic in the final two minutes of the half — to open a 43-10 lead.
How far has Duke come this season? After the game, there was little celebration. In the locker room, there was even a little sadness over a missed opportunity two weeks earlier against Northwestern, when Duke blew an eight-point lead in the third quarter of a 26-21 loss.
“It feels great, but we’re a little disappointed,” defensive end Micah Harris said. “We should have three wins right now.”
Fowler, Scharrer Back In Business
In Ted Roof, Duke has a defensive coordinator daring enough to make big changes not only from game to game, but series to series.
He made a big one in the days leading up to the Navy game, returning Ryan Fowler to outside linebacker and plugging Jim Scharrer into the middle, where he started last season before a brief preseason switch to defensive end.
Since the spring, Roof had wanted to get the playmaking Fowler into the middle spot to allow him to make even more plays than the past two seasons, when he averaged more than 100 tackles. That was a good plan, but for the fact that it left Scharrer — one of the team’s best three linebackers, but not fast enough to play outside — on the bench as a reserve. Roof rectified that against Navy.
Roof then made an in-game switch, dumping the team’s 4-3 defensive front for a 3-4 look that got an additional linebacker on the field to combat the Navy spread option. With a linebacker core often featuring Fowler, Scharrer, converted defensive back DeAndre White and Giuseppe Aguanno, Duke held Navy to 349 yards of offense one week after the Midshipmen rolled up 678 yards in a 49-40 loss to Northwestern.
Navy’s Johnson wasn’t exactly gracious. “It wasn’t rocket science,” he said of Duke’s defensive schemes.
You’re the coach, Coach.
Wade: 265 Pounds Of Production
Duke has had just four 1,000-yard rushers in its 114-year history, but junior Alex Wade is making a strong push to become No. 5 — and perhaps even No. 1.
With 493 yards (5.0-yard average per carry) through five games, Wade was on a 12-game pace that would approach the Duke record of 1,236 yards gained by Steve Jones in 1972. Any question that Wade is for real should have been answered in the loss to Florida State, when he punctured that defense — while not a typically great FSU defense, still one of the better defenses Duke will see this season — for 114 yards on 25 carries.
“I think we underestimated them,” FSU linebacker Kendyll Pope said. “That (No.) 37, he’s strong.”
Wade always has been strong. What he hasn’t always been is healthy. For more than two years, Franks has talked up Wade during game weeks, causing eyes to roll in the media when Wade would give five or six carries for 20-something yards on Saturday. A series of nagging lower- and upper-body injuries slowed Wade in 2000 and 2001, but they’re gone now.
“I don’t know what improvement he’s made other than staying healthy. Alex has been this good since the end of his freshman year,” Franks said. “That’s when he learned to run low with his pads. He’s got a little wiggle to him. He’s not the fastest guy in the world, but he’s pretty shifty. He’s got a little speed for a big back.”
Just how big had been a secret until recently. Duke has listed Wade at 250 pounds, but now Wade says he’s closer to 265.
“It’s like hitting a lineman,” Duke defensive tackle Matt Zielinski said.
Wade gained 100 yards or more in four of the first five games, the exception being the 40-3 loss to Louisville, when game circumstances limited him to four carries for 14 yards. His other four games produced an average of 120 yards on 24 carries, the kind of production that should help Duke compete for a few more victories, and further job security for Franks, as the season progresses.