As of Nov. 11, the Blue Devils are sitting at a 3-6 record overall with a 1-4 record in the ACC. Under Head Coach David Cutcliffe, Duke is looking to go to their first bowl game, but has to win out for the remainder of the season. However, the Blue Devils had dropped four consecutive ACC matchups before going into a key game against Virginia. Duke had strong outings against Wake Forest and Virginia Tech, but could not execute down the stretch in order to punch in the wins. If the Blue Devils want to beat the Jackets, they will have to execute the following.
First, the Blue Devils will have to establish their run game. Duke has struggled running the ball this season, averaging 3.3 yards per carry. Leading rushers Juwan Thompson and Desmond Scott will have to find a way to grind out yardage against the Jackets in order to slow down the pace of the game and control the time of possession battle. If the Duke offensive line can open some holes for the backs, Duke should be able to find success against a Jackets’ defense that has struggled against the run.
Second, quarterback Sean Renfree needs to avoid making mistakes in the passing game. Renfree has been an accurate passer at times this season, hitting 66.5 percent of his passes with six touchdowns. However, Renfree struggles to read coverage at times when faced with pressure and has thrown eight interceptions through nine games. Duke’s offensive line has struggled to protect Renfree at times, allowing 15 sacks this season. If Renfree has time in the pocket, he should be able to find his open veteran receivers in the Tech defense.
Finally, the Duke defense will have to stay disciplined against Tech’s option offense and play their assignments. The Jackets ran for 320 yards in the two teams’ last meeting, allowing 5.2 yards per carry. If Duke can force the Jackets into punting situations or turnovers, it will keep them in the game and not put as much pressure on the offense.
The Jackets will have a nine-day break between their matchups between the Hokies and the Blue Devils. At the time of press, the Jackets are headed into a pivotal matchup against Virginia Tech that will determine who has the lead in the Coastal Division. Georgia Tech should be heavily favored in the matchup against Duke in Durham, N.C., but cannot overlook the Blue Devils if they want to earn a win on the road. If the Jackets want to continue their successful season and remain among the ranked, they will have to do the following.
First, the Jackets will have to establish the B-back run. Sophomore B-back David Sims is averaging 5.5 yards per carry and is the team’s second leading rusher. Former Tech standout Anthony Allen ran for 165 yards on 34 carries in the two teams’ last matchup. If Sims can pick up yardage on the dive play, the perimeter game will open up for the A-backs to have some big plays.
Second, the Jackets’ secondary will have to closely cover Duke’s veteran wide receiving corps and force turnovers by the Blue Devils. Duke junior Connor Varnon and senior Donovan Varner are Duke’s leading receivers with 1280 combined receiving yards this season. If junior cornerback Rod Sweeting and sophomore cornerback Louis Young can closely cover these receivers and prevent big plays, it will allow the Jackets’ defense more opportunities to force a Duke mistake.
Finally, the Jackets’ defense will have to make the Blue Devils one-dimensional on offense. Duke has struggled running the ball this season, but has countered that with a strong passing attack. Defensive Coordinator Al Groh will be able to call more extravagant coverage schemes if Duke’s Renfree is forced into clear passing situations.