BDN’s Cacchio previews Duke vs. Miami

Photo by Lance King

Duke (1-4) begins the second half of their season at 1:00 on Saturday in Wallace Wade Stadium, where they will take on the Miami Hurricanes (3-2). With basketball season kicking off Friday night, the Blue Devil Nation will be out in force in Durham this weekend. BDN previews Saturday’s matchup with the Canes and what it will take for a Blue Devil victory.

Duke in Week 5
The Blue Devils’ last game was two weeks ago in College Park, where they fell to the Terrapins, 21-16. The Blue Devils outplayed the Terrapins for much of the game, but the key factors in the loss were red zone offense, turnovers, and special teams. Duke traveled to the red zone 4 times in the first half, coming away with only 9 points, and a 9-7 halftime lead. An 84-yard kick return for a touchdown and a 71-yard touchdown pass put the Blue Devils in a second half hole once again. The offense rallied, but came up short, ultimately failing to overcome their 2-0 turnover deficit. During the bye week, the Blue Devils underwent a thorough self-examination, and expect to see some personnel and schematic changes as they take the field on Saturday.

Miami in Week 6
The Hurricanes put forth their worst effort of the season last Saturday evening, falling at home to the rival Florida State Seminoles 45-17. The Canes were dominated from the start, and found themselves in a 21-0 hole early in the second quarter. The team failed to consistently match the Seminoles intensity and physical play, which resulted in many fans and analysts questioning their coaching and leadership. The previously-dominant Hurricanes’ defense gave up an astonishing 471 total yards, including 298 on the ground. Jacory Harris finished the day just 19/47 for 225 yards and an interception. Damien Berry paced the ground game with 101 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown.

Miami is a team of big, physical athletes that will challenge the Blue Devils in all areas of the game. Duke should be near full strength after a week off, and the Hurricanes expect Jacory Harris to play, despite a recent groin pull. The Hurricanes enter the game at the top of the ACC in total defense, giving up just over 300 total yards per game, and also first in pass defense, giving up just 143 yards through the air per game. The defense is effective in bringing pressure, already totaling 11 sacks and 11 turnovers on the season. Perhaps the most telling statistic is tackles for loss, where the Hurricanes lead the NCAA with 48 total tackles for loss. The Hurricanes will get after the Blue Devils from all angles, led by LBs Sean Spence and Colin McCarthy. On the defensive front, the pass rush will be led by Olivier Vernon and Andrew Smith, each with 3 solo sacks on the year. The Hurricanes’ secondary is fast and physical and has already grabbed 7 interceptions on the year.

Offensively, Miami has several weapons, most notably RB Damien Berry and WR Leonard Hankerson. Berry is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, while Hankerson enters the game 2nd in the ACC in receiving at 92 yards per game and 6 touchdowns. RB Graig Cooper is healthy again after a week 1 injury and will bolster the Canes’ rushing attack. The slowly improving Blue Devil defense will have to contain these explosive weapons to keep the Hurricanes out of the end zone. Jacory Harris enters the game averaging 220 yards passing and a total of 10 touchdowns. That being said, Harris has continued to be plagued by poor throws and interceptions. If Duke can apply pressure and good coverage, they should be able to force Harris into turnovers and keep themselves in the game. Miami also enters the game last in the ACC in penalties, averaging 68.6 yards per game, which could help sustain Blue Devil drives and stall the Hurricanes. The advantage should go to Duke in the kicking game, where Will Snyderwine is 9/10 on the year, while Miami’ s Matt Bosher enters the game just 5/8.

The keys to the game are fairly obvious for the Blue Devils:

  1. TURNOVERS: Both QBs have been plagued by interceptions this year, and the team that takes care of the football will win this game.
  2. BIG PLAYS: Duke has been burned by several big plays, including 2 in their last contest against Maryland. Miami has the athletes capable of torching the Blue Devils if given the chance.
  3. SPECIAL TEAMS: Miami features two explosive returners in Travis Benjamin and Lamar Miller. Both have already returned kicks for touchdowns this year, and will be looking to do so again if the Blue Devils have any lapses in coverage.

BDN Prediction
The Blue Devils have given the Hurricanes a scare in recent years, forcing Miami to win the last two contests in the 4th quarter. Those Duke teams showed a mental toughness we have yet to see from the 2010 Blue Devils, but a victory over a top 25 caliber opponent would be just the boost this team needs. Duke’s overall effort has improved in recent weeks, particularly on defense, and will have to take another big step forward on Saturday to compete with “The U.”
BDN staff consensus pick - Miami 40 Duke 23