NEW ORLEANS (AP) — All Duke coach David Cutcliffe has to do is point to a few key stats and some unflattering footage from last season's home date with Tulane to get the Blue Devils' attention.
The 47-13 final shows Duke won easily. But when Cutcliffe saw plenty of evidence of why a season-opening rematch on Thursday night at Tulane could go differently.
The young, inexperienced Green Wave turned the ball over five times, including three interceptions thrown by then-redshirt freshman quarterback Tanner Lee. But Tulane also showcased its potential by rushing for 231 yards, finishing with nearly 400 offensive yards and getting 28 first downs to Duke's 23.
"This will be a great challenge, which is what you want in openers," Cutcliffe said. "This will be an opportunity to find out a lot about our football team down in New Orleans."
Tulane coach Curtis Johnson feels the same way.
Johnson was renowned as a college recruiter before his stint in the NFL as a receivers coach with the New Orleans Saints.
Since returning to the college ranks with Tulane in 2012, he believes he's stocked his roster with plenty of talent, particularly from the fertile recruiting grounds of southeast Louisiana. But there wasn't enough discipline and too many momentum-swinging blunders last season, which Johnson chalked up to a lack of maturity.
He believes that has been addressed this offseason.
"I expect more out of them. I think they know what's going on. They know what to do. They should know where to be," Johnson said. "Now you just have to go out there and make some plays."
Some things to watch when Duke visits the Green Wave:
DUKE'S NEW QBS: Thomas Sirk's first career start comes against Tulane. He spelled two-year starter Anthony Boone in short-yardage situations last year, and now inherits the main job with redshirt sophomore Parker Boehme stepping in as the backup. Duke has only two quarterbacks with any game experience, while the third-stringer entering camp — redshirt freshman Nico Pierre — was moved to running back when three other running backs were injured. Cutcliffe said his QBs have "thrown the ball with extreme accuracy in August. Now they've got to go do it in a game."
LEE'S LESSONS: Curtis Johnson is confident that Lee has learned a lot from his turnover-plagued first season as a starter and that growing pains should have been expected because his receivers were also inexperienced. Lee "didn't know what he was doing half the time, and then the receivers didn't know what they were doing the other half," Johnson said of last season, adding that Lee is doing "so much better."
GROUND GAME: Injuries notwithstanding, the Blue Devils still hope to have a formidable ground game. Shaquille Powell — the only one of the top four running backs not to be sidelined by a notable injury during August camp — will start as he did most of last season. Shaun Wilson is also expected to play after missed some of camp with an unspecified lower body injury. Cutcliffe said Wilson "is so anxious to get back playing football" and added that Pierre, the converted QB, also is ready to play.
THOMPSON'S TIME?: In last year's meeting, Duke had trouble stopping 6-foot, 219-pound Tulane running back Lazedrick Thompson, who carried 19 times for 124 yards and a TD. Now a junior, Thompson looks strong as ever, and Tulane complements his power with explosive sophomore Sherman Badie's breakaway speed out of the backfield. "If I was coaching against us, I'd make us throw it," Johnson said. "I would play down-safety, I'd blitz and I'd make us throw it."
ON THE ROAD: The Blue Devils are playing their opener on the road for the first time under Cutcliffe. Their last opener away from home was at East Carolina in 2005, and they haven't won one since beating Northwestern in 1988. However, Duke has won nine of its last 10 road games during the past two seasons.
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Posted on Wed, September 2, 2015
by BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer