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UNC vs. Duke: X-Factor

Back-up quarterbacks have haunted Carolina for years. What about back-up back-up quarterbacks?

Wake Forest v Duke Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Duke quarterback Riley Leonard is out, maybe for the rest of the season. Back-up quarterback Henry Belin IV will miss Saturday night’s game in Chapel Hill with an upper-body injury. So the Blue Devils are down to their third-string quarterback, Grayson Loftis.

Loftis made his college football debut two weekends ago in Duke’s ugly 23-0 loss at Louisville. Riley Leonard started the game, but was ineffective and eventually replaced by the freshman Loftis. The Blue Devils not only failed to score at Louisville, but didn’t make it past the Cardinals’ 43-yard line until their very last drive.

On a short week, it could have been more of the same against Wake Forest. Loftis didn’t set the world on fire, completing 7/19 passes for an anemic 86 yards. He threw one touchdown and one interception for a woeful QBR of 16.2 (compare that to Drake Maye’s 61.9 QBR against Campbell). Loftis also ran eight times for 17 yards. This is not a Riley Leonard-quality substitute.

That being said…

Carolina has struggled mightily against back-up quarterbacks in the recent past. Usually, those quarterbacks have been so new that there wasn’t any tape on them. UNC now has a game and change of Loftis to dissect. So there should be no excuse or surprise as to what he can do to hurt the Tar Heels.

Where the pain will come from is running backs Jaquez Moore and Jordan Waters. These two were absolute monsters against Wake Forest, and kept Duke afloat in the first half when the Blue Devils started slowly. If Mike Elko had any brains (and believe me, he’s got plenty), he would run the ball on first, second, third, and fourth down until Gene Chizik’s crew proves they can stop it 1.) period dot and 2.) at tempo.

Campbell’s first couple of drives gave Carolina problems with their tempo, resulting in one touchdown drive and a missed field goal. Duke has superior offensive pieces, so extrapolating their results can be a bit upsetting. The Tar Heels must absolutely sell out to stop the run. If Grayson Loftis is guided to the game of his life by Angels in the Outfield, then so be it. But UNC has to stop getting gashed in the run game, particularly when they know it’s coming. Right up the middle.