Carolina will face Duke at home on Saturday, a Carolina win will give them a one loss cushion in the ACC Coastal. The Blue Devils are coming off their gut punch loss against Miami this past week. Duke leads the Coastal if they win on Saturday and ff Duke needed any more motivation, Carolina also stomped them in Durham last year. The Blue Devils have been one of the best teams in the ACC Coastal over the past few years and the Heels will need to play one of their best games to win on Saturday.
The Blue Devils are led by junior quarterback Thomas Sirk. Sirk has been an average college passer so far this season, but is mainly known for his threat as a runner. Sirk's passing line for the season is 168 completions on 280 attempts for 1788 yards with 12 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Sirk averages only 6.39 yards per attempt, one of the lowest figures for a Carolina opponent all season. Sirk's receiving corps has a clear hierarchy, with Max McCaffrey, Johnell Barnes and T.J. Rahming as the clear 1-2-3. McCaffrey is the clear star of the group, leading Duke with 34 catches for 450 yards and 3 touchdowns. McCaffrey also averages 13.2 yards per attempt, an impressive total for a primary wide receiver. The rest of Duke's options are all relatively similar, all of them average between 12 and 14 yards per catch. The two wrinkles int he passing game are running back Shaquille Powell and tight end Erich Schneider. Powell gets is third on the team in catches with 23 but he only gets 5.6 yards per catch. Scheider stands out as a red zone threat with 2 of his 8 catches going for touchdowns.
Duke runs the ball on 53.2% of their plays and the run makes up the core of their offense (they have exactly as many yards on the ground as through the air, 1921). Duke's leading rusher on the season is Sirk, with 481 yards on 105 carries. Sirk averages 4.6 yards per carry which is not great for a quarterback but really shows his volume and emphasis on runs in short yardage. Duke has three primary runners with Shaquille Powell, Shaun Wilson and Jela Duncan all getting significant time. Powell will get the most carries but is the most pedestrian runner while Wilson is the secondary workhorse. Duncan is the explosive back, averaging 6.6 yards per carry for the team lead. Duke averages 4.3 yards per carry and the Heels will need to devote resources to stopping the Blue Devils to win this game. It is important to remember that Duke will put in the backup quarterback Parker Boehme as a runner with the option to throw on some plays. Boehme is not particularly good at running, averaging 3.3 yards per carry on 20 carries with a season long of 9 yards, but it is something to keep an eye on.
Duke wins games via their defense. The Blue Devils are the #9 team in the nation in terms of yards per game, allowing only 295 yards per contest. However, the quality offenses that Duke has faced have moved the ball without much difficulty and Duke has allowed 73 points in their last two games (although one was the overtime affair at Virginia Tech). Duke's real strength is their pass defense which is 8th in the country, allowing 166.1 yards per game. The running defense is still well above average, coming in at #30 allowing 128.9 yards per contest. Opponents only average 2.98 yards per carry against Duke, 8th in the nation. The Heels will have to leverage all their offensive weapons in this game to be able to pick apart the Duke defense, Carolina should send out four wide receivers and keep Elijah Hood in the backfield to have as many ways to attack Duke as possible.
Play a Clean Game:
Carolina is facing a good defense and a weak offense this week. The game could come down to the wire and Carolina can not afford to give Duke free possessions. The Heels need to avoid turnovers and play a clean game on Saturday if they wish to win. If Carolina shows up and doesn't shoot itself in the foot, then this game should not be that difficult. Miami had 23 penalties last week for nearly 200 yards and still won (albeit miraculously) but Duke needs help to beat teams with good offenses. The Heels can not give them that help.
Play to Win:
In the second half of the Pitt game the Heels' play calling became very conservative as Larry Fedora chose to kick field goals on multiple possessions when the Heels faced fourth and short. If Marquise Williams doesn't shrug off a facemask in the first half and find Ryan Switzer then the Pitt game is tied at the end of regulation. Field goals won't be enough to win this game. The Heels will need to score touchdowns in this game if they want to win and the coaching staff needs to put them in position to get those scores.
A Big Game from the Linebackers:
Pitt picked on Jeff Schoettmer in coverage last week and the linebackers lost contain on quarterback Nate Peterman a few times in the game last week. The linebackers will need to be better in this game against Sirk and the Duke rushing attack if Carolina wants to win. The Heels will need the linebackers to play the way they did against Georgia Tech in the second half if they want to emerge victorious on Saturday.