Bowl preview: Duke looking to complete season turnaround
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 28, 2022
By Noah Trister
AP Sports Writer
Whether passing or running, the UCF offense has revolved heavily around John Rhys Plumlee this season.
So it was a big problem when the standout quarterback was limited by hamstring problems in the American Athletic Conference title game — and he enjoyed some valuable time off after that.
“Feeling a lot better,” Plumlee said recently. “Still taking it day by day, but I’m definitely getting better.”
Plumlee and the Knights (9-4) will hope the break in their schedule was beneficial when they face Duke in the Military Bowl on Wednesday in Annapolis, Maryland. UCF is making its seventh consecutive bowl appearance — a streak befitting a program that’s about to move to the Big 12.
The Blue Devils (8-4) are wrapping up an encouraging season under Mike Elko, who was the Atlantic Coast Conference coach of the year in his first season at the helm.
After going winless in league play in 2021, Duke rebounded in a big way this year. The Blue Devils have not lost a game by more than eight points this season, the first time since 1953 they’ve made it through the regular season without losing by double digits.
“We didn’t sell ourselves short in any way coming into this season. I think we set the bar high, and we wanted to achieve everything that we possibly could this year,” Elko said. “There’s going to be a big emphasis this offseason on continuing to build.”
Elko is the second coach to have his team bowl eligible in his debut season at Duke. The other was Fred Goldsmith in 1994.
UCF nearly won the AAC in its final season in the league. The Knights fell to Tulane 45-28 in the conference championship game. Plumlee split time with Thomas Castellanos in that game, but Elko figures he’ll be healthier now.
“When you get into bowl games, a lot of those nagging injuries towards the end of the season tend to go away,” Elko said. “So we expect him to be very dangerous. He’s obviously a very athletic player.”
Bowl season often involves teams from around the country traveling to Florida and playing postseason games in reasonably warm weather. For UCF this year, it’s the opposite: It’ll be sunny and 48 degrees for a high.
“That’ll definitely be a factor,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “It’s part of football. Our approach is — we’re going to be excited to play in that environment and everything that goes with it.”
The Blue Devils lead the ACC in time of possession, which could make for an interesting contrast against Malzahn, who is known for his desire to push the tempo when his team has the ball.
After losing defensive coordinator Travis Williams to the Arkansas staff, UCF picked Addison Williams to fill that role. He’s been the defensive backs coach for the Knights.
“Addison, he is one of the bright up-and-coming coaches really in college football,” Malzahn said. “He’s a rising star. He’s a real football coach. Not just relationships, but he’s great with Xs and Os and everything that goes with it.”
Duke is playing in a bowl for the first time since 2018, but the Blue Devils have won three in a row. They haven’t lost in a bowl since the 2014 Sun Bowl against Arizona State.
UCF beat Georgia Tech 27-10 this year and defeated Temple 70-13. Duke lost to Georgia Tech 23-20 in overtime and beat Temple 30-0.
FACTS & FIGURES
Elko took over a program that went winless in conference play last year. He is the second coach in school history to have his team bowl eligible in his first season. … UCF is making a school-record seventh consecutive bowl appearance. … Duke and UCF have two common opponents this season. The Knights beat Georgia Tech and Temple while Duke split its two games against those teams. … Plumlee has 11 rushing touchdowns, one shy of the program’s single-season record for a QB. Daunte Culpepper had 12 in 1998. … This is the first time since 1953 that Duke made it through the regular season without losing at least one game by double digits.