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October 4, 2006

Around the Blue Devils' schedule

What's going on with Duke's opponents this week? Devils Illustrated's Around the Schedule feature catches you up.

Richmond: The Spiders will put their undefeated season and number seven national ranking in Division 1-AA on the line when they travel north to face top ranked New Hampshire this Saturday. Last week, Richmond ran its record to 4-0 with a hard fought 12-7 win over Northeastern. Running back Tim Hightower put the offense on his shoulders with 149 yards, but the Spiders would have lost if not for a touchdown off a punt block less than two minutes into the game. Winning at New Hampshire will not be easy. The Wildcats waxed Big Ten foe Northwestern earlier this year 34-17 and are averaging more than 50 points per game.

Wake Forest: Spirits are soaring in Winston Salem right now with the Demon Deacons 5-0 following last week's 34-14 victory over Liberty. The biggest challenge of the season awaits Jim Grobe's team this weekend though when Clemson comes to Groves Stadium. "Our fans are pumped up and our players are excited," Grobe said of the looming showdown. "Our players in particular are happy to be 5-0, but not satisfied to be 5-0. That makes me feel good. I think we'll go out there Saturday and play hard." Clemson will be the most talented opponent Wake Forest has faced so far this year, but the Tigers will be missing a key weapon as receiver Chansi Stuckey will be out of action with a broken foot. Wake Forest hopes running back De'Angelo Bryant continues to produce the way he has since Micah Andrews went down with a knee injury. Bryant topped 100 yards two weeks ago against Ole Miss and scored a touchdown against Liberty last week on just 13 carries. Wake Forest is the only undefeated team remaining in the ACC.

Virginia Tech: The Hokies are in need of a rebound after a very disappointing 38-27 loss to Georgia Tech in Blacksburg last weekend. The Yellow Jackets raced out to a 21-0 lead and really never looked back. The loss came despite 339 passing yards from Sean Glennon, as the running attack was virtually nonexistent. The Hokies have a bye week this week before trying to bounce back at Boston College in a Thursday night battle next week.

Virginia: The Cavaliers benefited from Duke's worst performance of the season last week on their way to a 37-0 victory. The win gives Al Groh's team something positive to build on after a very difficult start to the season. Virginia returns to the state of North Carolina this Saturday for a road tilt at East Carolina. The Pirates are 1-3 on the season but their one win was a 35-20 victory over Memphis, so Groh knows his team can't take anything for granted. "When Steve Logan was coach they won an awful lot of games there too," Groh said. "They beat Miami down there, so they have certainly had a history of good teams. A long time ago when I was coaching at North Carolina we played against East Carolina a couple of times and Pat Dye was the coach and they were very good with nine- and 10-win seasons. My familiarity with them either competing against them or as a fan, is that they have had very good teams down there." Virginia's offense against Duke wasn't as impressive as the 37 point total indicates, but freshman quarterback Jameel Sewell appears to have asserted control over the team. He avoided turnovers against the Blue Devils and completed 70 percent of his passes.

Florida State: The Seminoles have a huge national television game Thursday night in Raleigh against NC State. Florida State returns to action following an off week that came on the heels of a 55-7 win over Rice. The offensive outburst was easily the best performance of the season, but on the road at NC State will certainly be a stiffer challenge. The Wolfpack upset Florida State last year in Tallahassee and after a big home win over Boston College, Chuck Amato's team has some real confidence for the first time this season. Florida State's chances hinge on hitting some downfield throws and establishing some form of a running game. Florida State had 287 yards rushing against Rice, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of the Seminoles' entire season total. Quarterback Drew Weatherford could prove even more effective if the running game can open up the downfield passing game for FSU's talented and big wideouts.

Miami: Well, the Hurricanes at least got back in the win column last week with a 14-13 victory Houston. Forgive Miami fans for not being ecstatic though, as Larry Coker's team just can't seem to find a consistent rhythm. A home matchup with North Carolina looms this weekend, and the Tar Heels' so far terrible run defense could provide just what Miami needs to have a breakout offensive day. Running back Javarris James appears to be solidifying himself as a backfield star, as he is already drawing comparisons to older cousin Edgerrin James after racking up 150 yards against Houston to bring his season total to 250 yards. "We did have him scripted for a lot of plays but then we thought if it's good let's go with it," Coker said of James' great day against the Cougars. "He really stepped up. Probably the most impressive thing about the whole day for me about Javarris was his negative yards - zero. No negative yards. That says a lot. Since I've been around, the great backs take a two yard loss and make a four yard gain out of it. I don't know what it is, but I think he has some of those qualities." UNC has surrendered more than 215 rushing yards per game, which should mean a green light for James this Saturday at the Orange Bowl.

Vanderbilt-The Commodores have a modest winning streak going after winning consecutive home games over Tennessee State and Temple, but beating Division 1-AA opponent and arguably the worst team in the history of major college football in Temple doesn't actually impress people nationwide. This week Vanderbilt can show it's for real if the 'Dores can knock off Ole Miss on the road at Oxford. Vanderbilt's offense has started to pick up some steam with the trio of quarterback Chris Nickson, running back Cassen Jackson-Garrison, and wide receiver Earl Bennett all playing at a high level right now. In the two home wins, Nickson in particular played very well, totaling 270 passing yards, 100 rushing yards, and five combined touchdowns. Ole Miss presents a very winnable road game, as the Rebels have lost four straight games since a season opening win over Memphis.

Navy: The Midshipmen returned to their winning ways with a 41-17 thumping of Connecticut last Saturday. The win was particularly impressive considering Navy had suffered a heartbreaking 24-23 overtime loss to Tulsa the week before. The way Navy beat UConn was textbook Paul Johnson football. The Midshipmen rolled to 464 rushing yards and sprinkled 141 passing yards to total a whopping 605 for the game. They controlled the ball for 35 minutes and averaged eight yards per carry. This week Navy travels west to face Air Force in step one to securing the Commander-In-Chief trophy. With any rivalry game comes the expectation of a close battle, and this one is no different. Each of the last three games have been decided by three points, and all three have been Navy wins. Johnson says the key to winning close games is simply believing in yourselves. "You hope the guys just find a way to win," he said. "They expect to win and they make a play. If you knew for sure what causes that you could bottle it and sell it. You have to be confident. If you aren't confident, you're probably not going to win." Air Force is 2-1 on the season but the one loss was a 31-30 barnburner on the road at Tennessee.

Boston College: The Eagles slugged their way to a 22-0 shutout over Maine last week to run their record 4-1. The victory was the first game Boston College has played this year that was decided by more than seven points. Tom O'Brien's team has this week off before hosting Virginia Tech next Thursday night on national television. The head coach hopes having a few extra days to prepare for the Hokies can help his team overcome what is likely to be an angry Virginia Tech team coming off its loss to Georgia Tech. "After having lost their game this weekend, I am sure that they are going to be excited to come and play us," he said. "It's the same team that they have been in the past - hard running game. I think that they have six receivers who have caught a pass for over 40 yards, so they are throwing the ball up the field a lot. They are a great defensive football team that's always had tremendous special teams."

Georgia Tech: One of the biggest wins in Chan Gailey's tenure at Georgia Tech has vaulted the Yellow Jackets into the national limelight and certainly has them thinking about a run at the conference championship. The 38-27 win over the Hokies at Lane Stadium highlighted what many people have known for a long time: Calvin Johnson is nearly unstoppable. The star wideout caught two touchdowns in the first quarter to stake the Jackets to a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Running back Tashard Choice helped a lot also, rushing for 105 yards and two touchdowns. This week, Georgia Tech returns home to face a Maryland team that is 3-1 and coming off a bye week. Though Georgia Tech is a double digit favorite against the Terrapins, Gailey is concerned about facing Maryland after the Terps had an extra week to prepare. "You look at their skill level on tape. They have not put together a whole game yet, you can see where there is potential, it just hasn't happened," Gailey said. "You're nervous that it's going to happen this week. They had a week off, they can fix some things that they were not doing well, and you hope it doesn't all come together this week. They're potentially a very good football team. When you can win against anybody not playing your best game that means you are a pretty good football team."

North Carolina: The road for the Tar Heels gets no easier this weekend with a game against Miami at the Orange Bowl. UNC has been awful against the run and trying to figure out a way to stop Javarris James will not be easy. After reviewing the tape of his team's 52-7 blowout loss to Clemson two weeks ago, coach John Bunting says he has used North Carolina's bye week to go back to basics, particularly on defense. "I think the emphasis on playing better technique and understanding where everybody needs to be at certain times, whether it be an offensive play or a defensive play, is very important for them to understand. And I think we have a better understanding of that (after the bye week)," Bunting said. "We've talked about Clemson. I've talked about it a lot and probably will talk about it some more. What I saw against Clemson was a breakdown of the integrity of the entire defense. As things snowballed, it got worse until about mid-way through the third quarter when Clemson called the dogs off.... It's an execution thing." UNC's problems run deeper than just run defense though. The Heels rank in the bottom half of the league in nearly every major statistical category.


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