This week UNC takes on Duke in a Thursday night game in Durham. Since probably no one following Tar Heel Blog watches much, if any, of Duke football, we thought we would do an opponent preview for you guys.
Duke has been a strangely inconsistent team. They come into this matchup with a 3-6 record, with wins only over North Carolina Central, Notre Dame, and Army. They are strangely inconsistent because they seem to play most teams relatively close without actually defeating them. Their average margin of loss is only by 8.5 points. This Duke game might be closer than people expect, so let’s break down Duke more in depth to better understand this opponent.
Duke comes into this game ranked 74th in total offense, averaging 398.9 yards per game, and only 24 points per game. The Blue Devils rank 72nd in rushing offense, averaging around 168 yards per game, as well as 66th in passing offense with 230.9 yards per game.
The Blue Devils are led by freshman quarterback Daniel Jones, who has completed 62% of passes for 2,037, 11 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. The dual-threat quarterback from Charlotte has also ran for five scores on the season.
The thing to point out about Jones is that he has played well in Duke’s biggest games this year (Notre Dame and Louisville). You can say that the Notre Dame game wasn’t a big game but Duke’s coach David Cutcliffe called that win the biggest in the program’s history at the time, as they won on the road as a 21-point underdog. During this game, Jones completed 75% of his passes for 290 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. Against Louisville he completed 66.7% of his passes for 129 yards and 2 touchdowns. The point is, he has played well and efficiently in big games this season.
Duke’s leading rusher in yards and touchdowns, Jela Duncan, is out for the season with an Achilles injury. That means that the bulk of the load will now fall upon Shaun Wilson, who has 111 carries for 449 yards and 3 touchdowns on the year.
Something to take note of is the fact that Duke loves to spread the ball throughout their offense. Five players for Duke have scored rushing touchdowns, and eight different players have scored a receiving touchdown. Duke does not have one stand out player, they just get the ball to the open man, which may make them more dangerous than other teams UNC has faced all season.
Duke ranks 57th in total defense. Duke isn’t incredibly impressive in terms of rushing defense as they are ranked 74th, giving up 177.4 yards per game. However, their bread and butter comes in the form of passing defense, in which they are ranked 48th, surrendering only 216.3 yards per game.
In terms of defense, Duke seems rather average, however, their biggest claim of the season could be that they held Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, who averages 437.1 yards of total offense per game, to just 325 yards of total offense. They also held the nation’s top scoring offense (50.2 points per game) to a measly 24 points. They obviously still lost, 24-14, but this shows that this defense can handle fast-pace offenses led by dual-threat quarterbacks.
Duke boasts eleven different players with at least a sack, and 27 total sacks on the year. Duke also has seven interceptions total between five different players. The talent is spread out all over the field, with any guy on defense capable of making a play. The player that could make the biggest plays on defense Thursday could come from senior cornerback Breon Borders, who has 12 interceptions over his career at Duke. This will definitely be a player to keep an eye on Saturday as he clearly has a knack for picking off opposing quarterbacks.
There are two notable stats about the Blue Devils coming into this game. The first is that they are ranked 13th in the country in kickoff yards, at 26.09 yards per return. The other notable statistic is that Duke is also ranked 4th in kickoff return defense, giving up 16.66 yards per return. Teams usually don’t start with great field position against Duke, but if UNC can change that, they should find themselves in a good position Thursday night.
Final Thoughts and Predictions
Since Duke has played everyone virtually close, it is hard to expect another 66-31 beat down this year. Duke will play UNC tough and I expect this game to be closer than some may imagine.
My prediction: UNC 28, Duke 14