Two of the most spotlighted programs in the NCAA go head-to-head this weekend in the Mile High City on Saturday. Denver comes into the game 1-0 after deflating the Air Force Falcons 14-6 and demonstrating composure and consistency despite major personnel losses. Duke enters Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium 2-1 following a season opening loss to Air Force, but two back-to-back resurrection wins over High Point and Cleveland State.
This is a game that could in reality go either way. Many lacrosse fanatics boasted that Duke wouldn’t be great this season after losing to Air Force. I beg to differ. Though High Point and Cleveland State are younger programs than the Blue Devils, they were still dominated 10-5 and 22-7 respectively by Duke. Out of Durham, North Carolina Duke always has inconsistent seasons yet pulls it together in time for strong postseason runs.
Denver proves to have a very balanced team on both offense and defense, with Connor Cannizzaro and Alex Ready quarterbacking. Ethan Walker, Jeremy Bosher and Cannizzaro all had major showings in their home and season opener last week.
Duke lost to Air Force because of one major flaw: they forgot their defense in the locker room. There were no slides and especially no communication. The Blue Devils needed their next two games to get their act together. When Air Force ran the same offenses against Denver that they used in North Carolina, the systems failed. That goes to prove it wasn’t the offense but the lack of defense.
This leads to the closing argument: who comes into the game with an advantage?
Denver comes in with the advantage. No one should be afraid of the scores Duke has compiled so far this season. The Blue Devils have two or three main shooters in Jack Bruckner, Justin Guterding and Brad Smith.
The Pioneers have a defense that causes and recovers more turnovers, Trevor Baptiste at face-off (Duke won fewer faces than Cleveland State in their matchup) and a more balanced offense. As long as Denver continues with the composure they carried against Air Force, and Baptiste can command face-off X, then all DU needs on defense is a backer-zone D.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a backer-zone defense is when teams are all-even. The four long poles take the corners while the two short stick defensive midfielders are used strategically to lock off the crease with the other as backer; to cover the crease and star player; both cover the star player or cover two star players; or one on the crease and the other spying the man at X-behind.
Game time is set for noon Mountain Time at Barton Lacrosse Stadium on Saturday in Denver.