While starting running back Bill Belton (ankle) and backup Derek Day (shoulder) returned to practice on Wednesday, it’s unclear what their availability will be on this weekend. Curtis Dukes could be in line for a heavy workload on Saturday when the Naval Academy comes to town. According to quarterback Matt McGloin, “He’s the man right now.”
I have been critical of Dukes, as I am concerned that he is one dimensional as a running back and serves as a liability in all aspects of the passing game. However, this is a matchup where I can see his strengths serving the team in a big way.
Navy will most likely run the ball on 75% of their plays this weekend. They are content to chip away at a defense with gains of three and four yards, hoping to eventually catch a defense out of position and capitalize with a big play. This can wear down a defense without much effort. While run-blocking is easier for offensive linemen, having those 275 pound sailors leaning on the defense play in and play out is a good way to tire a defensive front.
Penn State will have to counter with a bit of ball control on their own end. They will need to sustain long drives in order to give the defense adequate rest between drives. Navy runs a 3-4 defense with a nose tackle who is nearly 300 pounds. Their defensive ends, however, only average 6’2″ 250. Their linebackers are much more undersized with the starters averaging about 6’2″ 220 pounds.
Curtis Dukes is listed as 6’1″ and 245 pounds. That’s just about as big or bigger than 10 of the starters on Navy’s defense.
While Penn State isn’t going to break out the triple option, they may still be able to beat Navy at their own game. While the Midshipmen aren’t likely to get easily winded, a heavy dose of Penn State’s line, who average just under 300 pounds, combined with an afternoon full of tackling a running back like Dukes, could provide Penn State with a fatigued opponent.
Who knows, it could even lead to a strong second half performance by the offense.
For all of the latest on the Penn State Nittany Lions, follow VBR Lead Editor Tim Tolley on Twitter.