On Saturday, Nov. 20, the Jackets will take the field for the second straight home game, this time against the Duke Blue Devils. After suffering a difficult loss at the hands of the Miami Hurricanes last Saturday, Head Coach Paul Johnson and the Jackets look to rebound against a Duke team that has struggled this season, putting together a 3-7 (1-5 ACC) record. With a win on Saturday, Tech will reach the six-win mark, making the team bowl eligible. If Tech wants to stay above .500 and get a chance to play in the post-season bowls, they have to excel in three key areas. All of these three keys fall to one player: sophomore quarterback Tevin Washington. Tech will need Washington to make the right decisions in the running game, take advantage of Duke’s weak passing defense and manage the game without making mistakes.
The first key will be for Washington to continue to improve as the starting quarterback. In senior quarterback Joshua Nesbitt’s absence, Washington has to spread the ball around to all of the weapons in his arsenal, and do it at the right time. The team’s mistakes last week against the Hurricanes will have to be corrected in order for the squad to win. Washington also needs to know when to pitch, when to keep and when to go down on a bad play. Washington has many talented players around him and must be the field general that Tech’s offense requires.
The second key will be for Washington to make the right reads and throws in the passing game against the Blue Devil’s 106th ranked pass defense. Duke gives up an average of 254 yards per game through the air, making it crucial for Washington to make the most of his pass attempts when called upon.
The final key will be for Washington to limit his mistakes so as not to give the Blue Devils any chance of winning. In the run game, Washington needs to make accurate pitches and avoid fumbles at all costs. Fumbles especially hurt Tech last week against Miami as sophomore A-back Orwin Smith fumbled in the red zone after a lengthy Jacket drive. In addition to the run game, Washington must know when to throw and when to tuck it and run. It is very important to not try to force the ball down the field into coverage.
For Duke to win, they must play one of the team’s best games of the season against the No. 1 rushing offense in the country. The three keys for the Blue Devils to pull off the upset will be to take advantage of their own 26th ranked passing game, cause turnovers and maximize yardage in special teams.
The first key will be for Duke to improve on its 266 yards per game through the air. Tech’s pass defense is ranked 27th in the country, giving up 190 yards per game. Sophomore quarterback Sean Renfree will have to work efficiently and effectively and choose his spots, especially against ball-hawking junior safety Jerrard Tarrant, who leads the Jackets with three interceptions. Renfree has completed passes to 13 different receivers this season, and he will need to continue to spread the ball around to keep the Jacket’s defense off balance. Renfree will look for the open man, but when in doubt, he could throw a deep-ball to sophomore receiver Conner Vernon who has 61 receptions for 851 yards so far this season.
The second key for the Blue Devils will be to hurry the Jackets’ offense and force mistakes in both the running and passing games. Tech is 105th in the nation in lost fumbles, coughing the ball up 12 times. Meanwhile, Duke’s defense has forced 20 fumbles this season, but they have only recovered seven of them. This will need to change if the Blue Devils want to get their defense off of the field. It will be important for Duke to win the turnover battle and control the ball if they want to have any chance of staying in the game.
The last key will be for the Blue Devils to execute well on special teams, where a good kick or punt return could change course of the game in Duke’s favor. Duke will have to rely on junior kicker Will Snyderwine if its offense stumbles in Tech territory. Counting on Snyderwine has not been a problem thus far this season as he has made 18 of his 19 attempted field goals. It is up to junior punter Alex King to pin Tech deep in its own zone and force the Jackets to go three-and-out near their own goal line.