Heisman challenge nothing new for Duke

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
4:00
PM ET
Forget defending a Heisman winner. Been there, done that, as far as Breon Borders is concerned.

No, the biggest challenge for the Duke freshman this week has been navigating a bustling metropolis, as Tuesday's Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta has offered the Statesville, N.C., native his first time seeing -- and entering -- buildings taller than 10 stories.

"I come from a real small country town," the cornerback said. "A big city is something new. And plus, there are buildings here and there. I never saw buildings this tall in my life. It's mind-blowing."

What Borders has seen is a Heisman Trophy winner, with the Blue Devils falling to Jameis Winston and Florida State their last time out, in the ACC title game. They will get another opportunity against Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman winner, in the finale of a historic season.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsThe Duke defense had its hands full with 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston; 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel is a stern test, too.
But for Borders, the aura of closing out his rookie campaign on the postseason stage against arguably the two best players in college football is hardly daunting. Despite a rough outing for Duke's defense in its 45-7 loss on Dec. 7, Borders managed to pick Winston off twice, so he welcomes the challenge of facing Johnny Football in what will likely be the quarterback's collegiate finale.

"Our coaching staff all week did a great job with film study and all that so they had us prepared," Borders said of the game against the Seminoles. "And I just happened to be in the right spots at the right times to make some plays."

With his ability to improvise and make plays with his legs, however, Manziel brings something different to the table. And it will be up to Borders and the rest of the Duke secondary not to take the bait the moment an Aggie play appears to break down.

"The most important part is in the back end, so get those guys not to be watchers; you know, don't watch the paint dry in the back, because he does put on a great show," defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said. "But our guys need to cover in the back. They need to cover in the back and let the people up front chase him all over. So we'll be playing plenty of guys, because that's the other key to it, too, is you've got to stay fresh because people have to chase and run and those plays can become ten seconds long."

Knowles said Manziel is the best ad-libber he has ever seen. While Duke likes to talk about "five-second plays" in the film room, Knowles said, the Blue Devils often found themselves watching plays that lasted upward of 10 seconds, testing the last line's discipline.

Duke cannot afford to "watch the show," end Kenny Anunike said, and Knowles had instituted a scramble drill in the practices leading up to this contest to test the stamina of his defenders, with speedy freshman quarterback Quay Chambers running the scout-team offense.

Having a mobile quarterback in Brandon Connette (30 career rushing touchdowns) does not hurt matters, either.

"When you are playing a quarterback like Johnny Manziel who will take advantage of something like that and has a good game then you have to limit your rush," Anunike said. "Certain things you just can't do. You can't zoom high, and when we say zoom high, it's taking off behind the offensive tackle and trying to get the quarterback from behind, because Johnny Manziel steps up in the pocket and his line will continue to block and he will take off right up the middle, and that will hurt us and that's how they hurt teams in the past."

The Blue Devils (10-3) are again heavy underdogs, but Anunike, a sixth-year senior, senses a 180 in their approach to these games from the time he came along with head coach David Cutcliffe in 2008.

"This is an opportunity on a national scale to show the direction this program is moving in," Anunike said. "We have accomplished tremendous milestones along this journey and it's been a magical journey. We are looking to cap it off with a win here against Texas A&M."

Matt Fortuna | email

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