As the Alabama football team left the field last Saturday after the A-Day Game, divided into a Crimson team and a White team, the annual reality of four months without college football set in. There will be some scrimmaging in August as preparations for the 2019 season enter their final phase, but the next time that UA takes the field with fans and bands, cheerleaders and sideline reporters and all the other accoutrements, it will be the final day of August, in Atlanta, against Duke.
That’s when I realized that I knew virtually nothing about Duke, aside from having Alabama alum and former Ole Miss head coach David Cutcliffe on the sidelines. (Many Alabama fans recognize him less for either of those career stops and more for a long tenure at Tennessee, when he was a Phil Fulmer assistant and Peyton Manning’s quarterback coach, or the other team way around if you prefer.) I know that they play in Wallace Wade Stadium. (Kentucky does not play in Bill Curry Stadium and Texas A&M certainly doesn’t play in Dennis Franchione Stadium so Wade certainly has the most success of any coach who expatriated himself out of Tuscaloosa.)
I vaguely recalled that Duke won last year’s Independence Bowl. (They routed Temple 56-27, poor Owls, to finish 8-5.) I know that last year’s Blue Devil quarterback, Daniel Jones, is considered one of the more intriguing prospects for the upcoming NFL Draft.
That’s why Cutcliffe will be rubbing elbows with the Nick Sabans, Dabo Swinneys and Lincoln Rileys at the draft festivities a week from Thursday — because the man can coach quarterbacks.
Duke also played Clemson to a 29-point decision, 35-6. Alabama did better, by a point, so there is no call for snarkiness.
But I couldn’t name a returning Duke player. I didn’t even know if Duke had an A-Day game, or a D-Day game which would probably carry too many military connotations connected with the heroic landing at Normandy Beach.
So I had two choices: Fill up the rest of the column with Duke basketball jokes (“Does Zion play for them?”) or go find out a few things, which I did courtesy of Evan Kollin of the Duke Chronicle.
Duke does have a practice-ending game (played on April 6), which it calls a Spring Showcase, a less ominous name than D-Day. The scrimmage lasted about 65 plays, a good bit shorter than Alabama’s four-quarter A-Day (around 105 plays, give or take the kicking.)
To no one’s surprise, Duke may have a good quarterback again. Quentin Harris rushed for 31 yards on six carries, with two touchdowns, while connecting on seven-of-11 passes, for 69 yards and another score. Without getting into predictions for August, one might think that mobility might be important if not downright life-saving against Alabama. (The offensive line did not earn rave reviews.) The receiving corps is apparently rebuilding around a possession receiver named Jake Bobo. The running backs are good.
The secondary was an issue last year. The Blue Devils were No. 36 in the NCAA in pass defense last year but that’s somewhat deceiving (they are Devils, after all) because teams could run the ball against them fairly successfully. Depth, always a concern in Durham, appears better, according to Cutcliffe, although 12 players sat out of the Spring Showcase.
There is a long wait until Alabama will see for itself what Duke has to offer but Saban has already started preparations so it’s never too early to look ahead.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.