Before we begin, I'd like to pass along a message I just received from a high ranking official at Auburn University to Charles Barkley. And I quote, "Keep it down home, cuz." You know what I'm talking about.
I'm not going to do the full pre-game work up for this one. No disrespect to Duke. Just saving up my energy for Arkansas week. I feel like I'm going to need it...Anyway, here's an awkward assortment of thoughts and information for Bama/Duke.
Perhaps the most interesting factoid about this game is that it's the rare, true non-conference away game for the Tide. Of course, that wasn't the idea when Alabama agreed to the deal (the original plan was for Duke to sell the rights to the game to a larger neutral site), but here we are. This is the first such game for the Tide since the 2002 meeting with Oklahoma in Norman. Going on the road out of conference is a unique challenge, especially against a team you overmatch. It can be very difficult to get a bunch of elite talent motivated to play a game like this. Meanwhile, the home team will be treating it like a BCS bowl. Just this week, Duke coach David Cutcliffe has said that the Blue Devils have been practicing 1's vs. 2's (no scout team).
Another intangible factor that may help Duke in this situation is the crowd size. Even with temporary additions to the stadium to accommodate the ticket demand, capacity at Wallace Wade Stadium will still not exceed 40,000 people. The only time Bama ever plays to a crowd that size is the twice a decade interdivisional trip to Vanderbilt, and at least that game has conference stakes. It could be a relavtively quiet environment compared to what Bama is used to playing in and might just lull them to sleep.
I guess it'll be up to the thousands of Bama fans who bought Duke season tickets to get good seats for the game to make a lot of noise. (You're welcome, Duke athletic department.)
All that aside, the worst thing that could have happened for Duke is Marcell Dareus getting suspended for 2 games and Mark Ingram missing 2 with injury. Any chance of the Blue Devils catching the Tide napping is gone. This isn't just another game for those two guys. This is THEIR season opener. You can bet they're going to be hyped to play, and they'll have their teammates hyped to play.
By the way, here's Duke's offensive line by the numbers:
LT: 6'6", 290 lbs
RT: 6'5", 295 lbs
LG: 6'2", 315 lbs
RG: 6'2", 275 lbs
C: 6'3", 260 lbs
So, they're a bit undersized. Specifically, I'm a little concerned about the right guard and center's ability to handle Mr. Dareus (6'4", 306 lbs) when he slides inside on passing downs. Not that it'll be a picnic when they're matched up against Josh Chapman (6'1", 310 lbs) or Kerry Murphy (6'4", 319 lbs) in the base defense.
And they're just as small on the defensive side of the ball. But, I mean, it's Duke. I shouldn't pick.
That's not to say this game is without it's dangers. In his first two games as the starting QB at Duke, Sean Renfree is completing 71% of his passes for 708 yards with 6 TDs and 3 interceptions. Now, we know Elon and Wake Forest aren't comparable competition to what he'll face this Saturday. But this is an illustration of what the Bama defense will be up against. The Dukies are going to throw, throw, throw, and throw some more, with 3, 4, and 5 receiver sets. Aside from screens and the occasional draw, I doubt you see the running backs get many touches. I think highly of David Cutcliffe as a coach, and as an offensive mind in particular. He knows what the weakness of this defense is, and he's going to probe it all afternoon, in hopes of popping some of the same big plays that Penn State did.
And they'll probably hit some. But are they going to have better luck cashing in when they get to the redzone? Doubt it.
Back in No Win Scenario I called this game as a 42-13 Bama win. I think I'm going to stick with that. Thus far, my preseason predictions are at 100%, with the San Jose State score being almost dead on and the Penn State game being an even worse beating than I ever imagined.
The main thing the team needs to do is just continue to polish on offense and continue to develop the young secondary in game situations. The main thing the fans need to do is chill out and enjoy one last respite before Bama dives headfirst into a hellacious 3 game stretch that is sure to test hearts across the state. Fayetteville is on the horizon...