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UNC vs. Duke: Game Preview

A wounded Duke team comes into Kenan Stadium looking to play spoiler. Can the Tar Heels stop the bleeding on defense and win their fifth straight Victory Bell game?

Campbell v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

You never relish the prospect of taking on an opponent that isn’t at their best, and that certainly describes Duke at this point in the season. Riley Leonard is irreplaceable, and Mike Elko will have to get really creative in finding ways to make up for lost production.

Fortunately for the Blue Devils, Virginia and Georgia Tech have essentially authored a SparkNotes study guide for him, and Elko has the horses to make it work. Can Carolina settle their defense down enough to let Drake Maye cook? They did against Campbell, but that can’t be a strong barometer for what’s to come.

It’s all up for grabs as Duke and Carolina get it on for the Victory Bell at Kenan Stadium.

Duke’s defense has been their calling card all season. But without consistent offense behind it, are we starting to see the cracks? After nine games, they’re currently the #27 ranked defense in FBS, surrendering just 329.1 ypg. Scoring wise, they’re even better, ranked #7 in FBS, giving up just 15.7 ppg, and that’s with two heavy losses to Florida State (38-20) and Louisville (23-0) throwing off the average.

Carolina has the offense, but they’re going to have a long day at the office on Saturday night.

There’s reason for optimism, though. In Duke’s last three games (two losses and one win against 4-5 Wake Forest), they’ve given up total yards of 420 (Florida State), 351 (Louisville), and 400 (Wake Forest). The difference in the Wake Forest game ending in a win (besides the Deacons being booty cheeks this season) was two turnovers on quarterback Mitch Griffis (one interception, one lost fumble). If Drake Maye keeps possession, the battle is half won.

The other pillar of Carolina’s offense, Omarion Hampton, should take note of Louisville’s Jawhar Jordan and the afternoon he had against the Blue Devils. Jordan ran for 163 yards and two touchdowns on just 21 carries against Duke. A lot of those runs were the kind that Hampton excels at, up the gut with power and speed. Hampton, who is two inches taller and 35 pounds heavier than Jordan, can run just as fast as the Louisville running back, but with twice the force. When Hampton hammers you, you stay nailed.

It is imperative that UNC play complementary football. If the defense can get off the field quickly, it will allow Hampton and British Brooks to keep pounding the Blue Devil line, tiring them out so the offense can score more deep into the fourth quarter, if necessary. If Mack Brown and Gene Chizik were so inclined, I’d sell out to stop the run to the point of not caring if the back end got burned on some long tosses. The quicker they get Duke’s offense off the field, the better. Carolina should score more points.

It cannot be overstated how much of a usage monster Riley Leonard was for this year’s Duke football team. In the games he played this season, he accounted for 62.9% of all yards gained by the Blue Devils. This ridiculously fat slice of Duke’s offensive pie-chart would be even larger if it wasn’t for the 30% he accounted for against Florida State, where he essentially played on one leg and didn’t last the entire contest.

Grayson Loftis has completed ten passes in two games. He played the entire Wake Forest game and went 7 for 19. UNC cannot show him the respect that it would to any other mouth-breathing idiot that Gene Chizik is convinced might become the next Andrew Luck on 3rd & 18. Sell out to stop Jaquez Moore and Jordan Waters, they’re the real threats.

As long as Carolina doesn’t drown in uptempo runs up the gut, Duke’s offense has been off-schedule enough without Leonard that Drake Maye and company can put up enough points to overcome any Tar Heel defensive shenanigans. Famous last words. I was convinced 42 points would be enough to beat Georgia Tech, so ‍♂️

Prediction: UNC 31, Duke 17