Duke hosts Army in opener looking to avenge ’17 loss
The Black Knights visit Duke on Friday night in their season opener, nine months after Army’s 21-16 victory in West Point. The Blue Devils then won their final two games of 2017 to qualify for the postseason before beating Northern Illinois in the Quick Lane Bowl.
Linebacker Joe Giles-Harris said the preparations for Army started “whenever the bowl game ended” and he hopes all of that extended preparation time works to Duke’s advantage.
“We’ve (had) the whole summer, and there’s nothing you want more than that,” Giles-Harris said. “The more time you have, the better. We’ve got young guys trying to learn the system and learn how to defend it, and the more time we’ve had, it’s helped them get a better grasp on it.”
With its triple-option, Army led the nation in rushing last season, averaging 362.3 yards on the ground while winning 10 games for just the second time in program history. Duke held the Black Knights to 226 yards rushing — their second-lowest output of the season — but the Blue Devils couldn’t get much going on offense , either.
“Having played them the last three seasons, this almost feels like we’re in a conference with them and it makes it really difficult,” Army coach Jeff Monken said. “With our offense, they play Georgia Tech every year. They have a plan. They do a really good job defending the option.”
Duke is breaking in three new starters on the offensive line — the first time that’s happened since 2009. Zach Harmon, who has made 23 career starts at right guard, shifts to center while left guard Julian Santos has 13 starts. The other three projected starters have combined to make one start.
Army’s most pressing priority is figuring out how to fill the void left by quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw, who averaged 7.2 yards per carry and rushed for an academy single-season record 1,746 yards last season. Junior Kelvin Hopkins Jr., who has never played a full game at the academy, is the starter . In what seems like an anomaly at a program so rush-dependent, Hopkins completed 6 of 18 passes last season but attempted only three rushes, gaining seven net yards.
“There’s not going to be great philosophical differences in our offense this year and what we did a year ago,” Monken said.
Army returns eight starters from a defense that held Duke to 89 yards rushing and 253 total yards; Virginia Tech was the only team to allow fewer of both to the Blue Devils. Quarterback Daniel Jones figures the Black Knights will mostly follow the similar script.
“We certainly expect them to be pretty similar to what they were last year,” Jones said. “I’m not sure … if it’s really worth spending the time on guessing much of different things they can do. … They were certainly successful with it last year.”
NO TURNOVERS, PLEASE
Ball possession has become the formula for success for the Black Knights under Monken. The offense lost only four fumbles in 785 rushing plays last season during that 10-win season.
“Hopefully Kelvin is going to be able to do the same thing for us,” Monken said. “Kelvin is a really strong leader. He won a lot of games in high school. If he’ll make good decisions and take care of the ball, I think he’ll help our team be successful.”
Duke had won nine of 11 meetings before last year’s loss, and the Blue Devils lead the overall series 13-11-1.