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With Franks Squarely On Hot Seat, Veteran Team Targets Bowl

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

By J.P. Giglio, Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer
August 25, 2003 DURHAM — The words leave Terrell Smith's lips, and instantly he knows what you think of him. He's crazy. He must be, right? He doesn't expect you to believe him when he predicts Duke will play in a bowl game in 2003. Smith, a fifth-year senior safety, understands your skepticism and expects the smirks. He's one of nine players who joined Duke with coach Carl Franks in 1999 and has lived through two winless seasons, a 2-10 campaign in 2002 and a 25-game losing streak against the ACC — the longest conference losing streak in America. Yet with a straight face and all the bravado he can muster, Smith says the Blue Devils, with 20 combined starters returning on offense and defense, will at least triple their 2002 win total and play in a bowl game. “It's easy to sit back and say, ‘They only won two games, what's going on?'” said Smith, who ranked second on the team last season with 106 tackles. “But if you look at the scores and the stats or you go look at the game film, you'll say, ‘Wait a minute, they should have won this game.' We're judging our success on a bowl game. We won't accept nothing less.” Bowl is a four-letter word to Duke fans. While the masses worship at the altar of the holy basketball kingdom built by Mike Krzyzewski, the football program has floundered. Coach K has won more national championships (three) in the past 15 years than the gridiron Devils have bowl appearances (two losses) in the past 42 years. The Devils have reached the postseason twice since 1961. Steve Spurrier led the team to a 49-21 loss to Texas Tech in the 1989 All-American Bowl, and Fred Goldsmith directed a 34-20 loss to Wisconsin in the 1994 Hall of Fame Bowl. History, recent or otherwise, matters little to Franks, a former assistant to Spurrier at Duke and Florida before taking over in Durham. Franks has a 5-40 record in four seasons and a 25-game losing streak in the ACC. Despite the poor record, Franks received a three-year contract extension last December, in large part because of the progress made by the Blue Devils last season. Yes, they finished 2-10 overall and 0-8 in the ACC for the third straight season, but five losses came by five points or less. Combine that experience with the return of two of the league's best running backs in Alex Wade and Chris Douglas and an improving defense, and Franks believes his program has taken the first step in becoming winners. “We were in a bunch of close games last year,” Franks said. “That's the first time that happened. Now we know we can play with a lot of teams. Now we have to go out there and expect good things to happen.” Good things did happen to Duke in 2002, just not enough of them. Undeniably, the season peaked with the opener. Twenty-three games had come and gone since Duke's last win under Franks. That ugly streak of futility ended with a 23-16 upset of East Carolina at Wallace Wade Stadium. On a rain-soaked night, Wade, a 6-1, 255-pound wrecking ball, racked up 109 yards, running through and over the ECU defense. As the Devils built a 20-0 first-half lead, more fans piled into Wallace Wade to witness the end of the streak. By the time kicker Brent Garber booted a 41-yard field with 3:04 left to provide the final margin, the goalposts didn't stand a chance against the 23,276 fans who finally had a reason to celebrate. It was the end of the losing streak and the end of Duke's good fortune in 2002. Louisville overwhelmed the Devils 40-3 the next week on the same field. As effective as Wade was against ECU, he was useless against the Cardinals, carrying four times for 13 yards. Even worse, Douglas, a quicksilver tailback and receiving threat out of the backfield, suffered a high ankle sprain, an injury that would bother him for the rest of the season. Both Wade and Douglas are healthy and ready to lead the Devils' offense this season. Wade led the ACC with six 100-yard rushing games in 2002, and he ranked fourth in the league with 979 yards on 201 carries (4.9 per attempt). Despite the nagging ankle injury, Douglas finished seventh in the ACC with 640 rushing yards. He also caught 21 passes for 254 yards. The challenge for Franks and first-year offensive coordinator Jim Pry, who was promoted from quarterbacks coach, is to figure out how to use both players effectively. In his first four seasons, Franks has used a one-back offense. Wade is listed as a fullback, but the Devils haven't employed a fullback in their regular offensive sets. Franks estimates the Devils used a one-back formation 85 percent of the time last season. “We certainly need to make sure those guys are getting on the field and getting the ball in their hands,” said Franks, who still will call the plays despite Pry's change in title. “We need to come up with creative ways to get Chris Douglas the ball and both those guys on the field at the same time. But it's unusual to make it through the year without one running back getting hurt.” Franks said sophomore tailback Cedric Dargan, who missed nine games last season with an ankle injury, also will get significant playing time. Three won't be a crowd, Wade said. He and Douglas were roommates during their first two and half years at Duke, so he doesn't see a problem sharing the offense with him. “There's enough carries,” Wade said. “Me and Chris don't get into a shouting match over who has more carries. We're good friends, and it really doesn't matter to us.” Whoever carries the ball will have the benefit of running behind a massive offensive line that boasts plenty of experience. The backs have more than 1,550 pounds of linemen to pave the way. All five starters — tackles Drew Strojny and Christian Mitchell, guards Rusty Wilson and Daryl Lewis, and center Luke Bayer — return, and all but Mitchell are seniors. Strojny is the most accomplished of the group, which has led an improvement from 2.2 yards per rushing attempt in Franks' first season to 3.9 last year. Also back is quarterback Adam Smith, a junior who has progressed from the infant stages of learning the position last season to a capable part of the offense, Franks said. An unsure Smith threw for 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2002 as a first-time starter. He completed 174 of 308 passes (56 percent) for 2,031 yards. “We didn't want to put the game in his hands,” Franks said. “We're going to have to be able to throw the ball this season.” Franks also will count on a continually improving defense. In 2001, Duke didn't just go 0-11; the Blue Devils allowed the most points in ACC history (491). Five times they allowed more than 50 points in a game. The biggest problem was tackling. The Devils' defenders couldn't wrap a dead cod with a newspaper. They allowed 245.6 rushing yards per game, which ranked a horrendous 113th in the country. Franks replaced defensive coordinator Bob Trott with Ted Roof. Roof was going to be the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame before the fallout from George O'Leary's rÈsumÈ-doctoring scandal left Roof scrambling to find a job for the 2002 season. O'Leary's replacement at Georgia Tech, Chan Gailey, offered Roof a position as a linebackers coach in Atlanta. Franks offered him the coordinator's job in Durham. Roof chose Duke. It might have been Franks' best move in four years. Roof installed a multiple-set defense, mainly a 4-3 scheme but also with elements of the 3-4, 46 zone and nickel packages. Stopping the run became a priority and the Devils' defenders responded, improving by more than 125 yards per game. Duke allowed only 120.5 rushing yards per game in 2002, the leading average in the ACC. “When you can't stop the run,” Roof said, “that's a headache that won't go away. This year, we need to improve our pass defense.” Nine starters return on defense, although the Devils did lose their only All-ACC player. Defensive end Shawn Johnson, who led the ACC with 12 sacks, had a falling out with his teammates during spring practice and later transferred to Division I-AA Delaware. Junior Phillip Alexander, a converted outside linebacker, was impressive during August practices and will replace Johnson. “I don't think we're going to miss (Johnson) at all,” Franks said. “Now we have everybody who plays within the system.” Senior middle linebacker Ryan Fowler, the team's leading tackler for the past three seasons, leads a group that is faster and more experienced. Fowler had 145 tackles last season and needs 154 to become the school's all-time leader. The secondary, led by Smith, needs to make the same kind of improvement the run defense made in 2002. The Devils allowed 254.7 passing yards a game, the worst average in the ACC. Their timing was the worst part about the defensive backs' troubles. They allowed big games to Virginia's Matt Schaub (315 yards), N.C. State's Philip Rivers (364 yards) and Clemson's Charlie Whitehurst (420). Duke lost those three games by a total of 10 points. With a little luck and maybe even some leadership, Duke could have won one of those games and ended the ACC losing streak. Last year, the Devils had only one senior, linebacker Jamyon Small. This year's group includes 13 seniors, including nine of the fifth-year variety. “Small did a great job, but that's one guy,” Franks said. “We have a bunch of seniors who are pushing each other and bringing along the young guys. They're setting a tone for what the culture of Duke football is going to be in the
future.” Whether or not that future will include Franks as the Blue Devils' head coach is likely to remain a matter of debate through most of the 2003 season. If you believe Smith and many other Duke players, more wins — and even a bowl game — are in the program's immediate future. For their coach's sake, they'd better be right. Franks doesn't go out of his way to talk about his job status, but he understands the situation well and answers questions about it directly. He realizes his recent contract extension won't mean a thing if he posts another 2-10 or 0-12 season. He even has stated that he thinks it's fair for fans and administrators to expect “significant improvement in the win column” this fall, but he doesn't focus on the pressure. “I don't walk around going, ‘Gee, if we don't do very well, I'm going to get fired,'” Franks said. “I don't think of it that way. That's not the way I live or coach. This team has an opportunity to have one of the best years we've had in a long time. … The job stuff will take care of itself.”