Last season the Duke Blue Devils allowed 5.67 yards per play, which was 77th nationally. According to Football Outsiders' S&P defensive ratings, Duke was the 53rd best defense in the country. Will Duke be able to match last year's defense? Let's take a look at who they return.
Duke's defensive line really struggled to defend the run last season. They finished 117th in stuff rate (runs stopped behind the line of scrimmage) and 108th in adjusted line yards. To make matters worse for Duke, the Blue Devils lost their three leading defensive linemen in terms of sacks. You could argue that losing players that bad isn't a significant loss, but it's problematic for Duke that they don't have anyone obvious to replace the production.
Duke's 4-2-5 defense was set to have a very strong linebacker unit this season. Unfortunately, Kelby Brown is out for the season with a torn ACL. Brown had 85.5 tackles last season, including 11 tackles for loss and was named an all-ACC selection. David Helton is still a very good linebacker, but now either C.J. France or Deion Williams will have to expand his role.
The secondary is certainly the strength of this defense. They are led by safety Jeremy Cash, who had four interceptions last season and was a first team all-ACC selection. Cash is a "do everything" player who had 92.5 tackles, including 9.5 tackles for loss. They lost Ross Cockrell to graduation/NFL, but they still return Deondre Singleton, DeVon Edwards, Dwayne Norman and Bryon Fields. Their starting secondary should include three sophomores and two juniors; they are set up for sustained success in the secondary.
Duke's special teams was ranked 40th by Football Outsiders' F/+ ratings. Kicker Ross Martin did not miss an extra point all season, but was just 3-7 on field goals of 40+ yards. In the return game, however, they were excellent. Kick returner DeVon Edwards averaged more than 30 yards per return, and took two to the house last season. Punt returner Jamison Crowder averaged 16 yards per return, and made reservations for six twice in 2013.
I don't know if my BSD colleagues agree with me, but I have a good feeling about Wake's chance in this game. Yes the Deacs have lost at home to Duke in each of the past two seasons, but I believe Wake will be a much better team by the time they take on Duke in November.
Wake Forest 21
This concludes our summer opponent previews. It's now ULM week!