Preview: North Carolina at Duke
7:30 PM ET
Thursday, November 20
Radio: Blue Devil IMG Sports Network, Sirius Ch 126 and XM Ch 193
Duke in 2014: 8-2
North Carolina in 2014: 5-5
OUT – Alonzo Saxton II (CB)
OUT FOR SEASON – Kelby Brown (LB), Braxton Deaver (TE), Jake Kite (S), Taariq Shabazz (DE)
NORTH CAROLINA INJURIES
QUESTIONABLE - Elijah Hood (TB)
OUT FOR SEASON - Khris Francis (TB), Conner Gonet (RB)
Thursday night football arrives in Durham as the Blue Devils host the rival Tar Heels in a primetime matchup. A year ago, Duke escaped Chapel Hill with a 27-25 win, clinching the ACC Coastal Division crown. This year, the Blue Devils need wins in their final two games to repeat as Coastal Division champions; meanwhile, the Tar Heels need a win to secure bowl eligibility. North Carolina holds a 58-38-4 edge in the all-time series, with the Blue Devils winning the last two meetings.
HOW DUKE CAN WIN
Get back to playing Duke football. The Blue Devils are 10-2 in their last 12 ACC regular season games, and for good reason. When at their best, they play sound fundamental football, and make their opponents pay for mistakes.
1. Win the turnover battle. Even after the loss to Virginia Tech, Duke remains +7 in turnover margin on the season, including a +2 in ACC play. While Jim Knowles' defense is becoming more adept at taking the ball away from opponents, the key for the Blue Devils is to take care of the football, and that starts with QB Anthony Boone. In Duke's two losses of the season, the redshirt-senior has thrown four interceptions; in their eight wins, just two. In a game that could easily turn into a shootout, the Blue Devils simply cannot afford to give away possessions and points. Conversely, one of the glaring weaknesses of Larry Fedora's offense has been a propensity for turnovers; through 10 games, the Tar Heels have thrown 11 interceptions and given away 5 fumbles. On a chilly night in Durham, look for the opportunistic Duke defense to secure a few takeaways.
2. Control the line of scrimmage. When looking at Duke's offensive success, it's easy to point to the balanced attack that averages nearly 33 points, 202 passing yards, and 193 rushing yards per game. That balance is not possible without strong offensive line play. After giving up 3 sacks and averaging just 3.4 yards per carry last week, the Duke offensive line, led by All-ACC senior Laken Tomlinson, should be ready for a big bounce-back effort. Expect a big day for the Duke stable of running backs against a North Carolina defense that ranks last in the ACC against the rush (and the pass, for that matter), giving up 4.9 yards per carry. Anthony Boone should have plenty of time to get the ball to his star senior WRs Jamison Crowder and Issac Blakeney, as the Tar Heels have allowed 24 passing touchdowns on the season.
3. Contain, contain, contain. It's no secret that these two defenses are capable of giving up lots of yards - the Blue Devils and Tar Heels rank last in the ACC in total defense. The difference between an 8-2 Duke team and a 5-5 North Carolina team, however, is that the Blue Devils rank second in the ACC in scoring defense. Jeremy Cash, David Helton, and the Duke defense will have to wrap up the elusive Tar Heel playmakers. Marquise Williams is a true dual-threat quarterback, and he alone has accounted for 28 of the North Carolina touchdowns this season. With two high-scoring offenses, the defense that manages to limit explosives and keep the opponent out of the end zone will win this rivalry game. In a game that could be decided by less than a touchdown, it's worth noting that the Tar Heels haven't made a field goal outside of 23 yards on the season.
HOW DUKE CAN LOSE
1. Make Duke predictable. Virginia Tech and Miami have laid out the blueprint for beating this Duke team, but do the Tar Heels have the talent and discipline to replicate their efforts? It all starts up front defensively, where the Tar Heels have struggled all season. A big night will be needed for the North Carolina defense, led by senior bandit Norkeithus Otis, in order to slow the balanced Duke offense. Holding Duke to well under their 5.3 yards per carry average is essential in pressuring Boone into obvious 3rd down passing situations. If North Carolina can win the battle in the trenches, they should create a lot of work for Will Monday. The Tar Heel secondary will be equally challenged, however, as they will have to keep pace with Crowder, who is averaging 8 catches per game over his last 4. Sophomores Des Lawrence and Brian Walker will have to provide tight coverage on Crowder and Blakeney in particular, as Boone has shown he can be pressured into forcing throws to his senior receivers.
2. Keep it on the ground. Much like the Blue Devils, the Tar Heels are at their best when their offense dictates the game. Duke's defense has been vulnerable to the run, and a heavy dose of the North Carolina ground game will be crucial for a Tar Heel victory. Expect a big game from TJ Logan and company, who may be bolstered by the return of star freshman Elijah Hood. Jim Knowles typically likes to dial up pressure on third down, but If Williams can find ways to move the chains with his feet as well as his arm, it should put Jeremy Cash and the Duke defense on their heels. An effective running game will open up opportunities downfield through the air. Ryan Switzer is emerging as a threat not just on special teams, but in multiple roles on offense, and the Blue Devils will have to account for him at all times.
WHY DUKE WILL WIN
The Blue Devils are more disciplined and have the better defense, and that will be the difference in this game. Duke is among the least penalized teams in the ACC, while North Carolina gives up over 60 yards in penalties per game. Though both defenses are prone to giving up yards, the Blue Devils manage to keep their opponents out of the end zone. With the help of a few timely Tar Heel penalties and turnovers, Duke will pull away in the second half. A strong ground game with the re-emergence of Shaun Wilson will keep Marquise Williams and his offense on the sidelines and trailing on the scoreboard. Expect a monster game from Jamison Crowder, who will prove to be too elusive for the much-maligned Tar Heel defense.
Did you know it's been almost three years since Duke lost to an in-state rival? When it's Duke and North Carolina, anything can happen, but this Blue Devil team is too focused, too veteran, and too talented for the young Tar Heels. David Cutcliffe will have his squad back to winning football and one more win away from a repeat Coastal Division title, while Larry Fedora will drop to 0-3 against Duke.
Duke 38, North Carolina 27