What’s Their Deal?
After a month of football, the Dukies were 3-1, having scored over 40 points in three straight easy wins after an opening week pummeling at the hands of the Crimson Tide. For what it’s worth, they handled Virginia Tech with far more aplomb than our Irish did. Things were looking pretty good, and pretty good is more like great when it comes to Duke football. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, their opponents woke up when September ended. It’s been a tale of two seasons, as they went 1-3 in October, only beating lowly Georgia Tech. These high-level stats tell the story:
To me, personally? That is not good. Congrats to the defense on forcing more turnovers, though! They’re anchored by a solid secondary and defensive line, and rank as a top 40 unit. That secondary features three players with multiple picks, and that line features Victor Dimukeje, who’s logged 6.5 sacks.
The dropoff is more stark on the offensive side of the ball (although the scoreboard weirdly says otherwise), where they currently rank 95th in SP+. Fifth-year senior Quentin Harris has provided some stability at quarterback after the loss of Daniel Jones, but the Devils also saw a bunch of offseason turnover at receiver and have felt those losses — they’re averaging only 6.1 yards per pass attempt, and no wideout has reached 300 yards on the year. This is an offense that has to rely on its offensive line and running backs, both featuring a bunch of returning talent, yet they’re averaging 3.9 yards per carry. There’s simply not a lot of Good Stuff happening.
One Scary Man: S Marquis Waters
Waters might be the most complete player on the Duke defense. The junior safety has logged 43 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 5 passes defended. Unfortunately no one cares or writes about football in Durham, so that’s all I got.
A Few Things I Hate About You
What to Expect
How do you beat the Blue Devils? Disrupt their offense and force some sloppiness. In four losses to date, they’ve coughed up the ball 17 times, including a near-impossible 11 to Pitt and Virginia alone. The only turnovers lost in a winning effort came against North Carolina A&T. Not that they should get much room to operate against the Irish defense anyway — Quentin Harris unquestionably presents more of a threat through the air than Quincy Patterson, but they should mirror VT in their limited ability to create against the Notre Dame defense. Creating and capitalizing on turnovers is how the Irish break this one open.
Thank goodness Tony Jones should be back and healthy. The ability of the offensive line to generate enough push in the running game is unknowable from week to week, but Jones’ return should help smooth things over. Best case scenario for Ian Book is that he keeps the momentum from last week’s game-winning drive going and is the confident quarterback he intermittently looked like against VT. Duke’s secondary is perhaps their strongest unit, so that’s not a given, but I’ll put the onus on the receiving corps to get more separation than they did a week prior. The offense needs to prove that the nonsense in the red zone was an aberration — finish drives and everyone goes home happy.
Yes, I started the season by noting this game as one I feared, not out of any rational thought or decided schematic disadvantage, but because it felt like one of those sleepy road trips that has the potential to trip up the Irish (hey, Grayson). And yes, David Cutcliffe is a genuinely good coach who had his guys ready in 2016 and will have them ready on Saturday. But objectively, this is probably the least concerning game left on the regular season schedule. Saying it’s a “must win” feels overwrought, but, I mean, it is, or this season is officially a certified bummer. Irish take care of business, 27-13.
Play ’em Out
Shoutout to Asheville, NC, a place I have never visited but have heard very good things about, for giving us Angel Olsen, and shoutout to Angel Olsen for giving us this great song and video off her great new album.