Duke running back Juwan Thompson is part of a crowded backfield that hopes to improve the Blue Devils’ ground game this year. Thompson was Duke’s leading rusher a year ago and had seven starts in 12 games. He ran 110 times for 457 yards and seven touchdowns. He also caught 22 passes for 182 yrds and a touchdown. He has improved his receiving skills out of the backfield and has only fumbled once in 175 career touches. I spoke with Thompson on Tuesday to get his take on the season. Here are the highlights of our conversation:
What are the expectations for Duke from your perspective heading into this season?
Juwan Thompson: We have expectations of winning everything in the ACC, trying to go undefeated the first six games and play from there. High intensity, more effort, making more plays, but most of all we want to finish the game, play the full 60 minutes. Last year we had some very close games that came down to two or three points which could’ve changed our record from 3-9 to 9-3 possibly. That’s our main focus, playing the full 60 minutes and limiting the mistakes that keep us from winning those close ballgames.
How do you go about trying to practice to prepare for winning those close games?
JT: Our main thing is more individual drills than a team thing, limiting the amount of contact so we can keep players healthy to play those games. We have to make sure the starters and their backups are ready to go, and not have to worry about putting someone in the game who has never played, so limiting the contact and having more individual drills and focusing on knowing the playbook very well so we can limit those mistakes. Then when it’s time to come together for defense vs. offense in live periods, we can do those things for a limited amount of time, where everyone can still come out healthy at the end of the day.
What’s the running game look like and how much better can you be?
JT: The running game every year has gotten better since I’ve been here, and before I got here. It’s been increasing over time as far as stats we’ve been gaining over the years, and then we had two freshmen come in this year -- Shaquille Powell and Jela Duncan -- two great freshmen to add on to the success we’ve been having. I see a lot more running this year, because we have so many weapons in the backfield, and a lot more speed, actually. Josh (Snead) is back, he’s healthy, I’m doing good, and it’s Patrick’s (Kurunwune) last year. We have a lot of weapons, and we’re not worried about anyone going down. We’re going to keep going with the flow. We have a lot of things we’re going to come out with and show the crowd what we’re made of.
Why do you think this year is going to be different in terms of being able to get to a bowl game? What’s different about Duke football this year?
JT: Everyone is a lot more focused. Everyone understands they have to focus on themselves first instead of relying on others. We have to make sure that individually we get our jobs done instead of looking over at the next person. We learned those little things from the past couple of years where those little things hurt us at the end of the day, and having a losing record every year. We’ve learned numerous times that we just have to finish the ballgame. We did last year, but everything slipped by us. We know we have the talent, we just have to keep working at it. If we keep working at it and play the full 60 minutes, we can win all these ball games.