I had a chance to send over some questions to Ryan Hoerger, a writer with Duke's student newspaper The Chronicle. I want to thank Ryan for taking the time to answer my questions.
1) How will Duke's secondary fare without the leadership of Cash?
Cash was the heart and soul of this Duke defense, and his absence will loom large Saturday in the Bronx. He has a nose for the football that is hard to replace, and his ability to get into the backfield, where he had 18 tackles for loss this season, is going to be tough to replace.
2) Who should IU's defense be worried about beyond Sirk?
It seems as though Duke does everything by committee—there's not one guy that you absolutely have to shut down, because everyone can beat you if you're not careful. At receiver, senior Max McCaffrey—older brother of Heisman finalist Christian McCaffrey of Stanford—is probably the most sure-handed, but look for redshirt junior Anthony Nash and true freshman T.J. Rahming as explosive play threats. At 5-foot-10, Rahming has drawn comparisons to the previous Blue Devil to wear No. 3—that would be Jamison Crowder, who is now catching passes on Sundays. Tight end Braxton Deaver is also a reliable option, though his targets are down this year.
In the running game, Sirk is a weapon with his legs, but Duke has three capable running backs, all of them with different skill-sets. Shaquille Powell is the most consistent, Jela Duncan brings powerful, physical running and Shaun Wilson provides explosive speed on the outside.
3.How important is it for the Duke program to win a bowl game, instead of just get to another one?
This is Duke's fourth straight bowl appearance after a long drought, but the Blue Devils haven't won a postseason game since 1961. I think a bowl win is the next big step for the program in terms of continuing to build a national reputation, as well as generating more excitement on campus. The Blue Devils realistically could have won all three games in the past three years, so there's a definite feeling that they need to break through and close out a win soon.
4. How is the Duke defense equipped to handle this physical IU offense?
This game could be won or lost at the line of scrimmage, where Duke's defensive front is undersized. This wasn't a problem for most of the year when it came to stopping the run, but the Blue Devils sometimes had trouble getting to the quarterback, and giving Nate Sudfeld ample time in the pocket could prove disastrous. Duke's secondary did not play well in the back half of the regular season and will be without Cash, so avoiding explosive plays will be critical.
5. Was there a Miami hangover?
Players and coaches would say there was no hangover from that crushing loss; I think Duke just had to play better teams in the back half of its schedule, and that's why you saw the four-game losing streak. In addition, the Blue Devils committed 10 turnovers in those four games and forced just five, which is no recipe for success. When the skid finally came to an end in the regular season finale at Wake Forest, the script flipped—Duke was turnover-free and created three takeaways on defense.
6. These two programs are so similar in terms of where they stand in respect to basketball at their schools, is Duke a good model for IU to follow?
I think Duke's model is a good one for anyone to follow. Coach Cutcliffe has been remarkably successful on the recruiting trail, and he's definitely changed the culture around the program. Duke once won a lawsuit by arguing that its on-field product was so bad that any team would have been a serviceable replacement for Louisville; now, Wallace Wade Stadium is in the midst of a massive two-year renovation. It's always going to be tough to compete with basketball at a place like Duke, but I think Cutcliffe and the athletic department have made all the necessary investments in the program to create long-term success, and we're starting to see the dividends of that.
7. From Duke's perspective what worries you the most about IU?
Indiana's offense presents the biggest challenge for Duke, particularly if the Hoosier receivers can slip behind the Blue Devil secondary. If Jordan Howard is healthy and can return to the Indiana backfield, that's another big cause for concern, especially with Cash out of the lineup.
8. I believe this matchup is fairly even, and expect a great game. Do you agree?
Each of Duke's past three bowl games have been dramatic, down-to-the-wire contests, and I expect the same thing on Saturday. Plenty of points should be scored, and I'm interested to see how the Blue Devil defense fares against such a relentless Indiana attack.