Duke travels to Chapel Hill Saturday for a 3:30 kickoff of the battle for the Victory Bell. The Bell is currently Duke blue, thanks to last year’s 28-27 win. Duke is favored very lightly on the road by oddsmakers. Duke is also favored by this writer, for a few reasons. The main reason being that UNC’s weaknesses are playing into Duke’s strengths.
Duke is one of the best teams in the country in third down conversions, and UNC currently sits at a lowly 36.8% success rate. Baylor was 1-12 last week on third down. Northwestern was 1-10. This pattern is likely to continue due to UNC’s substantial injury problems across the team, notably on the offensive line. Two starters are out, and two more are questionable. Blue Devil linemen and assorted blitzers will have extra motivation to get pressure on traitorous QB Chazz Surratt, and they’ll be up against an inexperienced line without much depth. This should also help Duke’s run defense, which doesn’t need much help already as the #1 run defense in the country. UNC had 219 rushing yards in their close loss to Cal, and only 17 yards on 23 attempts to Louisville in a 47-35 loss, so stopping the run game will be huge.
Chazz Surratt has not thrown a pick yet this year, and the Duke secondary picked off Baylor 3 times. Something has to give. If Duke can get pressure on the QB and force mistakes, there’s plenty of good hands in the secondary. Bryon Fields has a pick-six Gilbert had two picks against Northwestern, and Ben Humphrey, Giles-Harris, and McDuffie each got one against Baylor.
Time of possession, another huge strength for Duke, will be important as UNC did not have much of it against Louisville. Getting Carolina to go three-and-out, and keeping the Duke offense on the field without turning the ball over, will be key. Daniel Jones has only thrown one pick this year, but he and Wilson each put the ball on the ground last week. The other key for Duke’s offense is the offensive line. Cutcliffe was somewhat critical of the performance against Baylor, but if the line can improve and adjust this week, it’ll help Daniel Jones get back on track throwing the ball. The UNC secondary is simply awful against good passers, which according to Tar Heel Blog, ranks 111th in the country in passing efficiency and 120th in yards allowed. If the Duke line can give Jones time, he should be able to throw wherever he likes. Brittain Brown and Shaun Wilson have been excellent on the ground so far, as has Jones. Hopefully this will balance the passing game rather than carry it. A win on the road in a rivalry game would be huge for Duke’s momentum, as they host Miami next week and Florida State on October 14th.
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