Duke-Alabama: Blue Devils Hoping to Survive The Rising Tide

Mike KlineAnalyst ISeptember 17, 2010

David Cutcliffe has his work cut out for him if Duke is to have any shot against Alabama.
David Cutcliffe has his work cut out for him if Duke is to have any shot against Alabama.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Two days out from the game, and Alabama fans are flocking to Durham in RVs.

Durham residents will notice a distinct Red and Hounds Tooth pattern coating the city as Duke takes on the Crimson Tide on Saturday afternoon.

There isn't much question that Bama fans are excited. It doesn't take much. You could line them up against the Durham area Pop Warner team and they'd come out in droves to support their team.

Duke fans haven't had much reason to support the Blue Devils until recently, and with the nation's No. 1 team the excitement has reached a fever pitch.

The question is are fans turning out to see a potential upset of upsets or are they just coming to see the Tide play?

Most experts rightfully see this game as a one-sided affair, and their is plenty of reason why. When the Tide can roll-out players like Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram, and Trent Richardson, it is easy to see why they are No. 1, and that is just on the offensive side of the ball.

Surprisingly, many experts feel Duke can score on Bama despite how good they have been on defense. Penn State only put up three points against the defending champs, and they were ranked at No. 19.

Duke has a high-octane offense that has found a bit of a running attack in sophomore Desmond Scott. The problem is that Duke's offensive line, though a veteran group, has never faced anything the likes of an Alabama defensive front that features Marcell Dareus.

It is one thing to average 40-plus points against the likes of Elon and Wake Forest—it is another to do it against Alabama.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe has a lot of confidence in his young quarterback, Sean Renfree, who has shown a lot of toughness and poise to go along with uncanny accuracy so far this year. But the pressure Renfree will see on Saturday is not something you can easily prepare for.

The Blue Devils defense is also going to have its work cut out as Alabama has a plethora of weapons. Duke's defense has been just plain bad this year giving up an average of 453 yards and 40 points per game.

Alabama quite possibly has already scored a couple of times and the game hasn't even kicked off.

While the Blue Devil faithful are understandably excited, and the coaching staff is preparing the team to win, it may be just a bit more than they can handle come game time.

Still, regardless of the score, Duke gets a high-profile game against the nation's best team at home. It is not an opportunity that comes along for a program of Duke's stature very often.

A good performance will help go a long way in attracting even more attention to the program, and with the talent being assembled and the coaching staff in place, Duke maybe one day will be able to seriously threaten a team like Alabama. It just won't come on Saturday.


Keys for Duke

On offense, the line has to give Renfree time to get the ball to receivers Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon. They also have to try and open up some holes for Scott to keep the defense honest and the offense balanced.

To have any chance, Duke has to score and its defense has to force turnovers. Alabama's running game could win this game alone, but Duke's vulnerable secondary could be abused by McElroy if the Tide choose to go to the air.


Keys for Alabama

The Tide just need to do what they do best: Run the ball. No need to get fancy. Duke's defense is too inexperienced to be able to keep up with what Alabama is going to bring.

Ingram will see his first action, but Nick Saban would be wise to use him sparingly. No need to risk further injury. especially if the game is out of hand early.


Prediction: Alabama, 58, Duke, 13

Duke can score, but how much they can score against a team of Alabama's stature remains to be seen. At this point, if Penn State can't score more than three, how is Duke expected to?

In the end, the Blue Devils' defense will be physically out-matched by the Tide's running game, who should meet the end zone early and often.

Duke will do well to avoid any major injuries if they can.