- Cullman, Alabama

College Sports

September 14, 2010

ALABAMA FOOTBALL: Duke ‘D’ faces tall challenge from Tide

Unit has struggled against this season

DURHAM, N.C. —  Duke gave up 400 yards to an FCS team and 50 points to Wake Forest.

Now here comes Alabama this week, perhaps with a Heisman Trophy winner back in the lineup.

But the Blue Devils say things aren’t as bad as they appear.

That’s why Duke’s coaches aren’t scrapping the defense that through two games has given up lots of yards and points. The Blue Devils say the problems look more severe to observers than they actually are.

“It’s not really anything deep. With football, you never want to recreate the game or do anything too different,” linebacker Abraham Kromah said Tuesday. “From the outside looking in, it’s really hard to see really specific things that go on. But ... it may be little, really nitpicky things that lead to a touchdown.

“ne person can be out of position, and those types of things can lead to a touchdown or a big play.”

They’ve certainly added up for Duke (1-1), which ranks 105th nationally in total defense and 114th in scoring defense, giving up averages of 453 yards and 40.5 points. In both categories, they’re last in what appears to be a weak Atlantic Coast Conference.

Those aren’t encouraging numbers entering a matchup against the defending national champion Crimson Tide (2-0), who hope regain running back Mark Ingram.

The 2009 Heisman winner has been sidelined so far this season with a knee injury, but they’ve still averaged 500 total yards without him.

Whether Ingram plays or not, Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy doesn’t expect the same Duke defense that allowed the Demon Deacons to gain 500 total yards and match a school record with four touchdowns in one quarter.

“One week you can go out and have a great week and (as a defense) allow very few points, and you go out another week and lay an egg and allow a whole bunch of points and a whole bunch of yards,” McElroy said. “It just kind of depends on the opponent you’re playing, and you never know which opponent we’re going to get.

“We understand we’re probably going to get Duke’s best shot. Regardless of what they did last week, I’m sure they’ll have a plan in place to take away some things we do well, and it should make it difficult for us.”

The Blue Devils can only hope their best shot is good enough to keep things competitive against a defending national champion that’s favored by more than three touchdowns. Duke hasn’t beaten a ranked team since 1994, hasn’t defeated a top-five program since 1960 and is 0-10 against No. 1.

“The main thing this week that we’re focusing on defensively is understanding that it’s not about Alabama. It’s not about what they do,” safety Matt Daniels said. “It’s about what we do as a defense. It wasn’t anything that Wake Forest did. It was what we did.

“We allowed busted assignments and mental errors left and right. And we gave Wake Forest those points. They didn’t earn them.

“So the thing this week that we’re really emphasizing is ‘assignment alignment,’ and understanding what your responsibility is,” he added. “You worry about your what responsibility is, and don’t worry about anyone else. As long as you do what you have to do, everything else will fall into place.”

It also will help if the Blue Devils take a team approach to bringing down the Alabama ball carriers — whether it’s Ingram or talented backup Trent Richardson, who rushed for 144 yards and a touchdown in last week’s win against No. 22 Penn State.

“You’ve heard of the old-fashioned term, ‘gang-tackling?’” coach David Cutcliffe asked rhetorically. “We better see some better gang-tackling out of our football team. That’s where that kind of came from, because you’re playing really good football players.

“We’ve got to get more people to the ball. We’ve got to get off blocks. We have to be consistent in our effort and our assignments to have a chance to stop Alabama’s offense.”

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