Duke prepares for Face-Off Classic, adjusts to defense-oriented play

A game against Canandaigua (N.Y.) Academy was tied in the final minute in 2007 when Penn Yan (N.Y.) coach Brian Hobart called a timeout and designed a play to produce the winning goal.

Never mind that the play Hobart designed called for a longstick -- senior defenseman Mike Manley -- to take the last shot. It worked; Manley scored in the final seconds for a 9-8 victory.

"I called timeout and designed the play," Hobart said. "And the whole time I was thinking to myself, 'I just drew up the game-winning play for a kid with a longpole.'"

These days, Manley is leading a charge from offense to defense. He is a sophomore starting defenseman at Duke. And he and junior defenseman Parker McKee have become the leaders on a team that is going through an almost unprecedented change of identity.

The Blue Devils (2-1) will rely heavily on their defense this year. On Saturday, they face Maryland (2-1) in the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore (ESPNU, 2:30 p.m. ET).

Duke has scored nine and six goals in its past two games. This is a marked contrast to Duke's high-flying offense the previous two years: The Blue Devils scored in single digits only twice in 2008 and once in their final 12 games in 2007.

"We are stressing defense this year," McKee said. "And we're taking a lot of pride in that. We're not going to have 20-9 wins like we had last year. … We [the defense] definitely want to be the heart of this team. And I think we are. When we make a stop and clear the ball, everyone on the bench goes crazy."

It is unusual for a college team to change identities so quickly.

In 2000, a high-scoring attack helped Georgetown average 14.8 goals, tied for the most in school history. In 2002, however, its teams were highlighted by defense. Led by All-Americans Kyle Sweeney (first team defense), Scott Schroeder (third team goalie and Duke goalie Rob Schroeder's brother) and Brant Gresham (honorable mention defense), the Hoyas gave up 8.5 goals, one of the lowest totals in program history.

Duke's change was necessitated after the graduation of first-team All-American attackmen Matt Danowski and Zack Greer.

Manley and McKee provide offense where they can. Manley scored 21 goals as a senior at Penn Yan and also scored a goal in a 9-8 victory over Colgate on Feb. 20. McKee scored a goal in the 2007 NCAA semifinal against Cornell.

But they are better known for their defending. Manley is the one who is expected to take the opposition's top attackman. As such, he likely will face Maryland junior Will Yeatman on Saturday.

McKee is well known for his prowess on ground balls -- he had 73 last year, third-most on the team.

Manley said he learned he and McKee are kindred spirits shortly after a scrimmage against Salisbury last year.

"Parker is a very serious player; if he doesn't like how he played, he will immediately go and watch film," Manley said. "I didn't like how I played against Salisbury last year. So right after the scrimmage I went to watch film, and [McKee] was already in there. We watched together and went over what we did wrong."

There is a lot of pressure on the defense this year. Not only is the offense different minus two first-team All-Americans, but the Blue Devils are asking offensive midfielders such as Brad Ross and Steve Schoeffel to play defensive midfield, in part to help with clears but also to keep the primary defensive midfielders fresh.

McKee and Manley said the Blue Devils have started a little slowly this year. The first two games, against Patriot League teams Bucknell and Colgate, featured the defense giving up numerous inside shots that gave Schroeder little to no chance to make a save.

The third game was a 9-6 loss to previously unranked Harvard on Feb. 22. The Crimson had success using "mumbo" plays, or plays that focus on dual off-ball picks that force the defense to be quick thinkers.

Whether Duke has improved defending those plays may be obvious by Saturday afternoon, considering Maryland coach Dave Cottle has used the "mumbo" play extensively in his career.

"There were a lot of things we could have done better [against Harvard]," McKee said. "We played a lot of defense, and we missed some slides. We missed some simple things that I think we're capable of making.

"But Harvard is a good team," McKee continued. "And we've had many meetings already about trying to right the ship."

For more information on the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic, check out Inside Lacrosse.