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Duke’s Deon Jackson And Leonard Johnson Zoom About Syracuse Saturday

You may remember Syracuse gave Duke a real beating last fall

Duke v Virginia
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 26: Noah Gray #87 of the Duke Blue Devils celebrates a touchdown in the second half during a game against the Virginia Cavaliers on September 26, 2020 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

Duke running back Deon Jackson and cornerback Leonard Johnson Zoomed with the media Tuesday morning after practice and discussed a variety of subjects prior to this Saturday’s game against Syracuse.

Last year’s 49-6 Syracuse blow-out was one of them.

These players are coached to avoid bulletin-board material and neither violated those instructions.

Johnson simply said it was a motivator.

Jackson was more forthcoming.

“Definitely something we’ve talked about. Last year’s score was definitely unacceptable. For me personally it left a sour taste in my mouth and I know it left a bad taste in the rest of my teammates’ mouth. So, we’re definitely extremely motivated to come out of this game with a win.”

How to accomplish that?

Syracuse runs a hurry-up offense, led by veteran quarterback Tommy DeVito

Johnson details how Duke is preparing for that.

“We’ve been game-planning. We know they like a hurry-up offense, so we’re getting ready for that, nothing too crazy, preparing for them. We had two different huddles (in practice), two scout teams running plays in and out, in and out. “We didn’t come off the field.”

Johnson adds that conditioning will be a key to stopping that offense.

“You can’t get tired because they can put up a bunch of plays quick.”

On the other hand, if the defense can force some three-and-outs, they can get off the field in a hurry.

“it’s always the goal to get three-and-outs or get turnovers. We need to get more turnovers on the back end, which we definitely will this week.”

Syracuse runs an unusual 3-3-5 defense. Off of that they do a lot of stunts, blitzes from unpredictable angles, trying to create confusion and uncertainty on the offensive end.

Jackson says even as a running back he has to be prepared for anything.

“When they line up in different fronts, or they switch into different things, bring different blitzes and things like that, it’s good to know what running lanes will be there and anticipate where to go when they throw different things at us. Where we line up blocking assignments and running lanes will be a little different. Just being able to stay on top of that . . . helps me run a lot better.”

Jackson thinks the offense turned a corner in the second half against Virginia Tech, with no turnovers, minimal penalties and three long drives that ended with touchdowns.

He says perfecting the basics is always the key.

“Small steps in the right direction. Get locked in, get our assignments done, make the correct read, make sure we’re executing the play all the way through. We made a huge step.”

Jackson says he loves sharing touches with smaller but quicker Mataeo Durant.

“We were able to get into a much better groove. Once we get going it’s hard to stop us and it opens up a lot of things. As long as we keep that up . . . . I feel like we’ll be in a good spot.”

Jackson calls converting those second-half drives into touchdowns “definitely huge. It’s something we’ve talked about, something we’ve worked on.” Again, the key to finishing drives is finishing plays, finishing blocks, finishing runs.

Johnson tells the Duke faithful not to give up on the team.

“We’ve been working. We can’t let this 0-4 start ruin our momentum. Syracuse is a good team but very beatable. We’re ready for the challenge.”