Playoff Game Preview: Duquesne

Well this is an unexpected blog post to be writing.  As I shared on twitter, I had a preview written for Towson and the Fighting Tom Flacco's.  However, they went out with a whimper on Saturday in the  rain.  Their air assault was grounded and their defense wilted under the punishing runs of AJ Hines.

So now the Dukes of Duquesne (9-3) return to Brookings for the second year in a row.  The Jacks won their season opener in 2017 against the Dukes 51-13.  In that game the Jacks scored the first 34 points of the game and walked into the locker room at halftime with a 34-7 advantage.  However, the players who scored every touchdown of that game are now gone.

My preview for the last game highlighted a tough team that liked to run the ball and had the ability to play tough hard nosed football.  The 2018 version is much the same.  They rely on the run to setup the pass and then milk the clock.  Rinse and repeat.

The Dukes offense favors the run (186 ypg) but is capable of moving the ball through the air (197 ypg).  I was able to watch the second half of the Towson game live and watched the replay of the entire game later.  I also watched the first two quarters of their game against Central Connecticut two weeks ago (Thank you ESPN+).  The play action pass is their bread and butter.  They control the ball to the tune of 31 minutes per game but have turned the ball over 21 times on the season.  There are a number of familiar faces who played last year in Brookings but also a couple new starters who have been key to Duquesne's success in 2018. 

The offense is powered by junior running back and ALL-NEC selection #32 A.J. Hines.  On the season he has rushed for 1500 yards, 15 TDs and has added the ability to catch the ball to his game having hauled in 13 receptions for 236 yards and 2 TD.  Against Towson he controlled the game with 28 attempts for 175 yards and 1 TD and also added a screen pass that he took to the house from 71 yards out.  Hines is a workhorse and has had more than 27 carries SEVEN times this year!  If the weather is bad in Brookings on Saturday, Hines will not be affected.  In 2017, Hines rushed 13 times for 34 yards.  Because the Jacks jumped out to an early lead, Hines role in the offense was eliminated.  The lightning to Hines' thunder is #4 Daquan Worley, a converted defensive back.  Against Towson, Worley scampered for 73 yards and a TD on just 8 attempts. #3 P.J. Fulmore will also see some action and is a small but powerful runner for the Dukes. The Dukes use a "H-Back" in lieu of a traditional fullback.  #84 Bill O'Malley is a big man standing 6'4, 250 lbs.  He doesn't run the ball and doesn't catch the ball but he is a good lead blocker.   

The quarterback for Duquese is Florida Atlantic transfer #13 Daniel Parr.  The junior is a capable passer with 2,287 yards, 20 TDs, and a 60% completion rate.  He has only tossed 9 interceptions and is mobile enough having rushed for 108 yards and 6 TDs. Parr's best game of the season came against NEC rival Central Connecticut two weeks ago when he completed 70% of his passes for 277 yards and 2 TD.

Parr has a quality trio of junior wide receivers at his disposal.  #1 Nehari Crawford is a very gifted athlete having made 67 receptions for 1,017 yards and 10 TDs this has been a great followup season after a sophomore season where he caught 65 passes for 1,026 yards and 15 TDs and was named to the 2017 All-NEC first team.  Crawford has flanked by #5 Kellon Taylor (39 rec, 479 yards, 2 TD) and #15 Kareem Coles Jr. (28 rec, 275 yards).  Taylor is 6'5 and Coles is appears to be a reliable third option for the Dukes. The tight end position is manned by #89 Stew Allen.  Allen is 6'2, 270 and functions as an extra offensive linemen.  He has just 6 receptions on the season with FIVE going for touchdowns.  He has one 37 yard catch but the others have been for 1, 5, 9, 9, and 6 yards.  The Jacks will need to be ready for play action in the redzone.

The Dukes return the left side of their offensive line from their last trip to Brookings and lots of experience overall.  From left to right they stand #72 Alex Conley (6-4, 305) senior, #57 Matt Fitzpatrick (6-3, 300) senior, #75 Gabe Spurlock (6-4, 290) junior, #70 Collin Wittig (6-5, 275) senior, and #73 Nick Jordan (6-6, 300) senior.  Conley and Fitzpatrick were recognized as All-NEC performers in 2017. Obviously, this is a solid group having grinded the way for 2,236 yards rushing and 27 TD.  However, they struggle in pass protection having allowed 27 sacks.

The Duke defense is good but not great.  Opponents have scored 26 ppg and rush for 171ypg.  They are more susceptible to the pass allowing 203.5 ypg through the air.  They have forced 18 turnovers (9 fumbles, 9 INTs) and have sacked the quarterback 19 times.  They are very good on 3rd down allowing just a 33.54% conversion rate and seem to stiffen up in the red zone with just a 58% touchdown rate.  The Dukes have a lot of new faces on their defense from their last trip to Brookings but still have a couple playmakers the Jacks will have to account for. 

 The Dukes started against Towson with 7 defensive backs on the field.  I would not expect them in this formation against the Jacks.  If the do indeed open the game in a 3-1-7 alignment then they will get crushed by Mikey and/or Pierre.  I would expect them to open up in a 3-4 or a 3-3-5 hybrid type of defense.  They have a lot of players who are about the same size in their linebacker and safety corp.

The defense is lead by middle linebacker #18 Brett Zanotto who has 86 total tackles, 6 for loss, 1 sack, and 2 PBUs.  He is a good player who moves well.  #28 Spender DeMedal is listed as a defensive back but spends alot of time playing in the box and has added 59 tackles, 5 PBU. #52 Jalen Booker plays an edge rush position and may play with his hand in the ground or standing up depending on the defensive alignment.  He has 34 tackles and 4.5 sacks on the season. #35 Tom Jurkovec also has chipped in with 29 tackles and 2 PBU.  #44 Chris Favoroso has dealt with some injuries but has still chipped in with 29 tackles and 2.5 sacks.         

#2 Brandon Stanback is an experienced safety who has 60 tackles, 6 TFL, 1 sack, and 4 PBU.  Against Towson he failed to get over the top and prevent the deep ball on Towson's first quarter touchdown pass but also got home on a safety blitz in the first quarter too. #7 Leandro DeBrito and #14 Jonathan Istache, #27 Reid Harrison-Ducros are the corners who travel all over the field.  They have 51, 41, and 26 tackles respectively.  Istache is a ballhawk with 4 INT and 3 forced fumbles. #11 Abner Roberts is maybe the Dukes best defensive player but he missed most of the season due to injury and made his return four weeks ago and has already added 28 tackles and 1 sack.                 

When the Dukes line up in a 3-4, #93 Kam Carter (6-4, 295) is a player to watch.  Carter appeared on season two of the Netflix series "Last Chance U" and spent most of the season fighting with the coach and complaining about his playing time.  The former Penn St. player has certainly had an interesting journey but he can still play.  On the season he has 20 tackles, 5.5 TFL, and 5 PBUs. Carter is flanked by #47 Mike O'Malley (6-1, 250) and #55 Rob Marra (6-2, 275).  Marra and O'Mally have chipped in with 4 sacks and 44 tackles combined.  #92 Roman Macek and #94 Maxi Hradecny provide some additional beef on the defensive line.   
Special Teams
The Dukes have an experienced group of specialists.  #98 Mitch MacZura handles both the punting and place kicking duties while #91 Jacob Gill is the kickoff specialist.  MacZura has gone 9-10 on the season on his field goals with a long of 39 yards.  On his 58 punts, he has a 40 yard average with 4 touchbaks, 14 fair catches and 16 inside the 20.  He uses the rugby style of kicking so opportunities to catch and run may be few and far between.   Gill has 62 kickoffs with 9 touchbacks and has kicked 5 out of bounds.

Duquese uses a unique return game with 3 guys deep. #16 Jassir Jordan (30 yard return avg), Nehari Crawford (21.56 avg), and Daquan Worley (19.56 avg) handle the duties.  It's a unique formation as it takes away an extra blocker but it must work okay for the Dukes.  Crawford is the punt returner and has only had 4 returns but 1 has gone for a TD.

The Dukes shocked the FCS community with their first FCS playoff win over a strong Towson team.  They are capable of playing in bad weather and have a ton of positive momentum on their side.  However, I just don't think their defense can play with the multidimensional Jackrabbit offense.  The Jacks can run the ball unlike Towson.  I expect a repeat of the Dukes last trip to Brookings with the Jacks jumping out to an early lead limiting the impact that A.J. Hines can have on the game.  Jacks win 58-17.

Go Jacks!


  1. I love a high scoring thumping by the Jacks. I hope you're right.


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