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Duke rides a 4-game losing streak into Saturday's matchup with UVA in Charlottesville

Duke looks to make it 4 in a row against Virginia

Duke rides a 4-game losing streak into Saturday's matchup with UVA in Charlottesville

Duke (3-6, 1-4 ACC) will look to make it four in a row against the Virginia Cavaliers (6-3, 3-2 ACC) on Saturday. Heading into the 3PM kickoff in Charlottesville, the Blue Devils are riding a 4-game losing streak while the surprising Wahoos have won 4 out of 5. Virginia ranks 3rd in the ACC in both total offense and total defense, and will present a significant challenge for Duke on both sides of the ball. After a disappointing performance on the road in Miami a week ago, the Blue Devils will need to put together a much better effort in Charlottesville if they hope to secure a tough ACC road win.

GAME INFO

Duke at Virginia

3:00 PM ET, Saturday, November 12

Radio: Blue Devil IMG Sports Network; Sirius XM Radio (Channels 92 & 190)
TV: RSN – Rich Waltz (Play-by-play), Keith Jones (Analyst) and Jenn Hildreth (Sideline)
Internet: GoDuke.com; theACC.com

KEYS FOR DUKE

Duke's Desmond Scott dove for the game-winning TD last year against UVA -Lance Images

1. Winning attitude: Duke is in the midst of a 4-game losing streak, and it shows. The Blue Devils have lost tough games to Wake Forest and Virginia Tech and are in danger of taking a turn to Negative Town. Defensive leaders Matt Daniels and Charlie Hatcher will have to keep their unit focused and confident after they were picked apart by a speedy Miami offense last Saturday. Sean Renfree must take control of the offense, and Kyle Hill must do a better job keeping the offensive line in sync. In short, Duke must play hungry for a win for a full 60 minutes on Saturday.

2. Win the line of scrimmage: Football is won and lost in the trenches, and UVA’s offensive line has helped to power them to their 6-3 start after a dismal 2010 season. The Cavaliers rank 3rd in the ACC with 190 rushing yards per game and are 2nd in the ACC with just 8 sacks allowed all season. If the Blue Devils are to win this game, their young defensive linemen will have to play up to their potential. First and foremost, Duke cannot allow UVA to open holes for RB Perry Jones, who enters the game averaging 5.3 yards per carry. If the Blue Devils can put first-year QB Michael Rocco under pressure, he will make bad throws, as evidenced by his 9 INTs on the season. Virginia as a team ranks last in the ACC with 13 interceptions thrown, a number which the Blue Devil secondary will have to add to on Saturday.

3. 60 Minutes: Coach-speak, cliché, call it whatever you want. Virginia is a good football team and it will take a complete effort for the Blue Devils to pull off an upset on the road. Perhaps most important will be the offensive effort, as Duke’s offense has been wildly inconsistent of late. Sean Renfree will have to be wary of Chase Minnifield lurking in the Virginia secondary, but should be able to find mismatches in the Blue Devils’ favor down the field. Senior Cam Johnson will present a challenge for the Duke offensive line, but the duo of Desmond Scott and Juwan Thompson should still find room to run. Duke has 3 straight wins against Virginia, and they will have to play with confidence and consistency to keep their streak intact.

WHAT TO WATCH

1. Blue Devil Streaks: Duke has a few players closing in on several school records.

  • Senior WR Donovan Varner needs just two more catches to tie Clarkston Hines’ all-time receptions record at Duke. Varner ranks second with 187 grabs. Junior teammate WR Conner Vernon is right behind Varner with 184 catches.
  • Redshirt senior K Will Snyderwine compiled two points last week and ranks fourth on Duke’s all-time scoring chart with 209 points … Randy Gardner is third on the list with 221 points.
  • Donovan Varner has at least one catch in 34 straight games to match the third-longest streak in Duke history … The school record of 35 is held by Scottie Montgomery.

2. Red zone offense: It’s no secret Duke has struggled to score points at times this season. Duke ranks next to last in the ACC in red zone efficiency, scoring on just 72% of their opportunities. If the Blue Devils come away empty-handed in the red zone on Saturday, it will be an ominous sign.

3. Duke seniors: In particular, Matt Daniels and Donovan Varner, two great representatives of the Duke program, who always seem to come up with a play when their number is called. Duke fans have just three games left to watch these two All-ACC seniors and their classmates take the field. This senior class has never lost to Virginia, and would like to keep it that way on Saturday.

PREDICTION

Matt Daniels has never lost to UVA. Sean Renfree has never lost to UVA. Coach Cutcliffe is 3-0 against UVA since arriving in Durham. Coming off one of their most disappointing performances of the Cutcliffe era, Duke needs a win in the worst way. Expect the Blue Devils to put together a much improved effort against a bowl-bound Virginia team. At 6-3, the Wahoos have been one of the biggest surprises in the ACC this season, and they’ll certainly be gunning for the Blue Devils after 3 straight losses in the rivalry. There are few instances where history and karma seem to be on the Blue Devils’ side, but this may be one of them. Duke seems to have the Cavaliers’ number, and they come into this game with nothing to lose, in desperate need of a win. Duke 24, UVA 20

Wake Forest is riding a 12-game winning streak in the series with Duke.

Blue Devils will try to end a streak against Wake Forest Saturday

Wake Forest is riding an 11-game winning streak in the series with Duke.

Duke (3-3, 1-1 ACC) will host in-state ACC rival Wake Forest (4-2, 3-1 ACC) on Saturday afternoon in Wallace Wade Stadium. The two programs are familiar foes, having met 91 times, including each of the last 44 seasons. The Blue Devils hold the all-time lead in the series, but the Demon Deacons have dominated their Tobacco Road rivals over the past decade. Duke’s last victory over Wake Forest came in 1999, and though the two teams have produced several competitive and memorable matchups since (5 games decided by less than a touchdown), the Demon Deacons have won 11 straight in the series. The Blue Devils will try to end that streak when the two teams kickoff at 12:30 PM ET on the ACC Network.

After a disappointing season in 2010, the Demon Deacons have been one of the ACC’s biggest surprises in 2011, with conference wins over NC State, Boston College, and Florida State. Wake Forest is led by a disciplined offense, which leads the ACC in red zone efficiency (89.7% scoring) and turnovers (5 total turnovers). The Demon Deacons feature a balanced attack led by QB Tanner Price (267 yards per game, 2nd in the ACC), WR Chris Givens (123 yards per game, 1st in the ACC) and RB Josh Harris (82 yards per game, 6th in the ACC). The defense has been opportunistic, forcing 9 turnovers on the season, but ranks last in the ACC with just 6 sacks.

Both Duke and Wake Forest were riding winning streaks before a conference loss last week, and both teams will look to get back on track this Saturday with a crucial ACC win.

Tanner Price led the Demon Deacons to a shootout victory over Duke last season- Blogger So Dear Photo

KEYS FOR DUKE

1. Limit Explosives: the Blue Devils got burned repeatedly last week against the Seminoles, and that helped put the game away early. The combination of Price and Givens has proven to be explosive this season for the Demon Deacons, as evidenced by a 79-yard TD catch last week against Virginia Tech and a season average of 18.5 yards per catch. Expect Ross Cockrell to have a busy day keeping tabs on Givens, and the entire Blue Devil secondary will have to help to keep him contained. Josh Harris is the key for the Wake Forest running game, but has been limited in practice this week. Expect senior Brandon Pendergrass to help shoulder the load, and look for Duke’s Kelby Brown and Matt Daniels to have a big role in stopping the Deacs on the ground.

2. Take care of the football: Duke has improved on their turnover ratio from a season ago, but continue to give the ball away. QB Sean Renfree threw a costly tipped pass interception early in the game against FSU last week, and that helped to set the tone of the game. Wake Forest has been the best in the ACC at taking care of the football, and the Blue Devils cannot afford to give the Demon Deacons extra possessions on Saturday.

3. Find an unlikely hero: we’re at the halfway point of the season, and every team is bound to have injuries. They have certainly piled up for the Blue Devils, but Duke has showcased some of their improved depth over the past few weeks. Heading into Saturday, there are three key positions of concern for the Blue Devils, where young players will be needed to step up. Duke’s secondary is slowly healing, but several players are hurting, including a few not listed on the official injury report. Lee Butler, Johnny Williams, and August Campbell all appear on this week’s injury report, which means that players like Zach Greene and Jordon Byas will have to take on a larger role again this week against an explosive Wake Forest passing game. The Blue Devils have significant injuries to two potential offensive line starters in David Harding and Brian Moore. Both players may be able to play, but will be far from 100%, which means that Conor Irwin may again have to take some snaps at center. Lastly, senior WR Donovan Varner continues to nurse a hamstring injury that will limit him on Saturday, meaning more snaps for freshmen Jamison Crowder and Blair Holliday. A combination of these young players will have to make an impact for the Blue Devils to get the W on Saturday.

GAME ANALYSIS

Turnovers

Wake Forest +4, Duke -2

Duke has made significant improvements in limiting turnovers this season, but continue to struggle in forcing turnovers. The Blue Devils rank 3rd in the ACC with just 8 turnovers on the season, but are last in the conference with just 6 takeaways of their own. Similarly, the Demon Deacons are 1st in the ACC with just 5 turnovers, but 8th in takeaways with 9.

Sacks

Duke 10, Wake Forest 6

Two of the ACC’s worst pass rushes will face off on Saturday, with the Blue Devils having slightly more success thus far. The Duke offensive line has also done a slightly better job protecting their QB, having given up 13 sacks on the year versus 16 allowed by Wake Forest.

3rd Down

Duke 40%, Wake Forest 37%

Again, both teams fall in the bottom half of the conference in 3rd down efficiency. The Wake Forest defense has held opponents to just 34% on 3rd downs, which means that the Blue Devil offense will have to execute well to move the chains on Saturday.

Explosives

With two of the top WRs in the country squaring off on Saturday, the team that does the better job defensively will win this game. These two defenses will be challenged to keep their opponents’ offense grounded with stars like Conner Vernon and Chris Givens. In their losses, the Blue Devils have been burned by explosive plays, especially through the air. If Price is able to find Givens in open space, it will be a long afternoon for the Blue Devils.

Rushing TDs

Duke 12, Wake Forest 8

This statistic is very misleading. The Blue Devils have the worst red zone offense in the ACC, scoring on just 73.9% of trips to the red zone. When Duke does score, it’s usually on the ground, with 12 rushing TDs to just 2 passing TDs in the red zone. Wake Forest is tops in the ACC, scoring on nearly 90% of their trips to the red zone, and feature a balanced red zone offense with 8 rushing TDs and 6 passing TDs.

Field Goals

Wake Forest 92%, Duke 40%

While much of Dukes struggles in the kicking game came early in the season, the Blue Devils still have improvements to make. Wake Forest’s Jimmy Newman is 1st in the ACC with an average of 2 made FGs per game.

Penalties

Duke 36.2 yards per game, Wake Forest 49.7 yards per game

Surprisingly the Demon Deacons rank next to last in the ACC in penalty yards per game. The Blue Devils continue to be one of the more disciplined teams in the conference. Duke will have to continue to play good fundamental football on Saturday, as their margin for error against a confident and talented Wake Forest team is slim.

PREDICTION

With 11 straight wins in the series, it’d be an understatement to say the Demon Deacons have the Blue Devils’ number. Both teams enter the game bumped and bruised and fresh off an ACC loss. Wake Forest has been the more consistent team and have done a good job taking care of the football. With a depleted offensive line, expect a light workload for Duke’s running backs and quick throws from Sean Renfree. A hamstring injury to Donovan Varner will provide an opportunity for young Jamison Crowder and Blair Holliday to step up. The Blue Devil defense will have their hands full trying to stop Wake Forest’s combination of Tanner Price, Chris Givens, and Josh Harris. The team that takes care of the football will emerge the victor.

Wake Forest 34, Duke 31

Florida State will travel to Durham to take on the Blue Devils for the first time since 2007 on Saturday.

ChantRant helps preview Florida State

Florida State will travel to Durham to take on the Blue Devils for the first time since 2007 on Saturday.

After a week off to rest and heal, the Blue Devils will ride their three-game winning streak into the heart of their ACC schedule. Preseason favorite Florida State will travel to Durham on Saturday, and while things are looking up for the Blue Devils, the Seminoles’ season took a turn for the worse after an injury to QB E.J. Manuel. FSU will enter Saturday’s matchup in the midst of a three-game losing streak, but with a healthy Manuel, they will be a stiff test for the young Blue Devils.

To give us additional insight into the Seminoles’ recent struggles, BDN welcomes in Rich from ChantRant.com. Be sure to check out BDN’s half of the Q&A Exchange on their site as well. Thanks for your help, Rich!

BDN: As the consensus preseason pick for ACC Champion, expectations were obviously high for the Seminoles in 2011. What is the mood in Tallahassee after three straight tough losses to Oklahoma, Clemson, and Wake Forest?
 You know about the five stages of grief? It’s been something like that. After the final gun last Saturday, the mood was appropriate to the opponent: a Wake. A day later it had turned to anger (“How could this happen!?” “What’s up with our well paid coaching staff!?,” etc.). Depression was mixed in there somewhere. Then a grudging acceptance of the Seminole’s swan dive from the Top Ten. Now FSU’s faithful (at least the majority) are rallying behind the team, remembering the Noles have been down before and bounced back, while looking ahead to a better 2012 with a more experienced corps of young talent.

QB E.J. Manuel is expected to start for the Seminoles on Saturday

BDN: Redshirt-freshman Clint Trickett stepped in after E.J. Manuel was injured against Oklahoma. Trickett started the past two games, but Manuel replaced him last week at Wake Forest. Can you give us a brief scouting report on Trickett and Manuel? How do you expect them to be used against Duke on Saturday?
 Jimbo Fisher had made it clear that E.J. Manuel is his starting QB — and that was even before Clint Trickett had a poor start at Wake. So unless E.J. is injured against Duke, I doubt you’ll see Trickett. The scary part, though, is that doctors had told Jimbo before the Wake game that E.J. was not completely healed from a shoulder injury against Oklahoma. And if E.J. takes a nasty hit, he could be out for up to six weeks. For that reason, E.J. was one dimensional against the Deacs: all pass, no designed runs. I’d expect the same against Duke. And FYI, if Trickett DOES enter the game for whatever reason, FSU also becomes one dimensional. The redshirt freshman QB, who’s the son of FSU’s offensive line coach Rick Trickett, is not physical or fast enough to present a run threat — at least not this season.

BDN: After finishing 2nd in the ACC a year ago, FSU has really struggled to run the ball consistently this season, ranking last in the ACC at just over 85 yards per game. What has been the source of the Seminoles’ struggles on the ground and how can they get back on track?
Blame it mostly on the offensive line. FSU graduated two excellent linemen — both on last year’s Outland Trophy watch list. Since the 2011 season kicked off, one senior OL (Datko) is out with a shoulder injury; another (Spurlock) is limited by lingering effects of a concussion. Quality depth that should be filling those spots was lost due to various issues over the past few years. That leaves little continuity, with one senior tackle surrounded by underclassmen — including true freshmen — and one junior, a JC transfer. Given all that chaos, the OL is a work in progress from week to week. And that’s a nice way to put it.  

BDN: Mark Stoops took over the FSU defense for Mickey Andrews last season, and though there were some growing pains, the unit performed well, finishing 1st in the ACC in scoring defense. After a promising start, the defense has allowed 70 points over the last two games. What are the areas of concern and how do you expect the Seminoles will try to stop the Blue Devils’ potent passing attack?
There are concerns at linebacker and in the secondary. No doubt Jimbo Fisher is wrestling with how much of a youth movement to employ to address those concerns. My guess is he’ll go mostly with experienced guys rather than experiment. That’s especially true for the secondary, where two upper classmen have underperformed since a strong showing against no. 1 Oklahoma. In fact, I expect Coach Cutliffe to pick on that duo all day with the pass ’n catch combo of Sean Renfree and Conner Vernon. But you can be sure FSU will attempt to do the same. Both teams top the ACC in passing (FSU is first with 325.4 ypg; Duke 2nd with 311.6), while the Noles and Devils are at the bottom of the league in run yards. Fans of the aerial game should get their money’s worth on Saturday.

BDN: Florida State and Duke last met in 2007, and the Blue Devils are 0-16 all-time against the Seminoles. This will be the teams’ first meeting in the David Cutcliffe and Jimbo Fisher eras. Duke is riding a 3-game winning streak, while FSU has dropped 3 in a row. What do you expect to see from this matchup Saturday afternoon in Wallace Wade Stadium?
It all depends on which FSU team shows up. We don’t know how much player confidence is shaken after the Wake upset. If the Noles have been able to rebound emotionally and physically, fired up to make a statement and turn their season around — AND reduce the number of dumb penalties and careless turnovers — expect a team that will battle til the end. But if the guys in garnet and gold come out tight and tentative, and worst of all not playing as a team, it could be a long afternoon.

BDN: Thanks for your insight, Rich!

Duke rallied to pull out a 31-27 win at FIU on Saturday -BDN Photo

Duke 31, FIU 27: BDN Rapid Reaction

Duke rallied to pull out a 31-27 win at FIU on Saturday -BDN Photo

MIAMI- BDN was on the scene to take in Duke’s 31-27 victory at FIU tonight. Here’s our Rapid Reaction.

Thriller in The Cage

Duke and FIU put on a show under the lights tonight in South Florida. Both teams excited fans with explosive plays and great effort. The game was evenly matched throughout. Both offenses had the upper hand early, but the defenses rallied to keep things in check heading into the 4th quarter. Just when the Golden Panthers thought they had the game in hand with a 27-17 lead, Duke senior Donovan Varner stepped up for a 54-yard completion followed by a 6-yard TD run by Juwan Thompson. There was palpable excitement in the stadium over the closing minutes, as Duke rallied to a 31-27 lead and the Blue Devil defense came up with a clutch goal line stand to force a turnover on downs. Duke’s offense picked up the crucial 1st down to seal the victory on a 16-yard run by Jamison Crowder.

Fast start

The two offenses combined for 330 yards of offense and 31 points in the 1st quarter alone. Both defenses were on their heels and had no answer for their opponents’ dynamic receivers. Sean Renfree was 12/14 for 173 yards and 2 TDs in the 1st quarter; his favorite receiver was Conner Vernon, who had 5 catches and 76 yards in the opening period. T.Y. Hilton slipped past the Blue Devil defense for a 63 yard touchdown to get the Golden Panthers on the board.

Defenses adjust

After the blazing start, the pace of the game slowed in the 2nd quarter. Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles threw several looks at the Panthers in the first half, including several blitzes and even a package with 3 down linemen and 6 defensive backs at one point. The adjustments did enough to disrupt the Golden Panthers, holding them to just a FG in the 2nd quarter. After putting up 17 quick points in the 1st quarter, Duke’s offense was halted by the FIU defense in the 2nd quarter and continued into the 3rd. Fortunately, Knowles’ defensive adjustments were enough to keep the Golden Panthers at bay and keep the Blue Devils in the game heading into the 4th quarter.

Running game struggles

The Blue Devils could not get anything going on the ground against the Golden Panthers, finishing with just 49 yards rushing. Desmond Scott returned for his first game action since week one, and Josh Snead saw his first game action of the season. FIU’s speedy defense was able to consistently hit the Blue Devil backs near the line of scrimmage and prevent big gains.

All-hyphen team comes up big

The turning point in the game came with 7 minutes remaining, as Duke’s Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo sacked FIU QB Wes Carroll, forcing a fumble which was recovered by Anthony Young-Wiseman at the 9 yard line. Juwan Thompson added his second TD of the 4th quarter on the next play, walking in untouched to give Duke the 31-27 lead. The two hyphenated defenders stepped up when the Blue Devil defense most needed it. DeWalt-Ondijo’s first career sack was a big one for Duke. Later in the game, it was the Blue Devil pass rush that ultimately forced a turnover on downs to seal the victory.

Off week ahead

The Blue Devils will enjoy their off week with their record now at 3-2 and sitting at 1st place in the ACC Coastal Division. Duke will have plenty of time to rest and regroup for a tough FSU opponent on October 15.

Stats
Sean Renfree 28/43, 335 yards, 2 TDs
Conner Vernon 8 receptions, 117 yards, 1 TD
Donovan Varner 7 receptions, 111 yards
Juwan Thompson 13 carries, 33 yards
Walt Canty 13 (8/5) tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 2 forced fumbles, 1 pass break-up
Matt Daniels 9 (5/4) tackles, 1 tackle for loss
Will Snyderwine 1/1 FGs, 4/4 PATs

FIU hosts Duke on October 1 for a Homecoming night game in Miami

BDN Previews Duke’s week 5 trip to FIU

FIU hosts Duke on October 1 for a Homecoming night game in Miami

The Blue Devils will look to make it three in a row on Saturday as they travel to FIU to take on the Golden Panthers. The matchup will be televised on ESPNU at 7PM ET and will also be FIU’s Homecoming Game. Duke evened their record at 2-2 last week with a convincing win over Tulane behind impressive performances by QB Sean Renfree and the Blue Devil defense. Renfree finished with 278 passing yards and 1 touchdown, and added 2 rushing touchdowns as well. The Blue Devil defense held the Green Wave without an offensive touchdown for the first three quarters and allowed just 2.5 yards per carry for the game. Despite numerous injuries, including the loss of ACC sacks leader DE Kenny Anunike for the season, Duke dominated the game, controlling the ball for 36:12 while building a 48-13 lead by early in the 4th quarter.

FIU is one of the youngest programs in the FBS, having played its first season in just 2002. The Golden Panthers are coming off their first winning season in 2010, which saw them claim a Sun Belt Conference co-Championship and a Little Ceasar’s Pizza Bowl victory. When the Golden Panthers take the field, all eyes are on Heisman Trophy candidate T.Y. Hilton, the reigning Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year and one of the most exciting players in all of college football. Hilton lines up at wide receiver for the FIU offense, but also handles the punt and kickoff return duties. This season, Hilton helped FIU to a fast 3-0 start to the season, including over 200 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns against Louisville in week 2. A hamstring injury limited Hilton in week 4 against Louisiana-Lafayette, and the Golden Panthers dropped to 3-1 after a 36-31 defeat to their Sun Belt Conference rival. The Blue Devil defense will have a stiff test on Saturday night as they try to slow the speedy Hilton and the Golden Panthers.

KEYS FOR DUKE

1.       Contain T.Y. Hilton

When you face a talent such as Hilton, the key is to minimize his impact on the game, both offensively and on special teams. The probable return of CB Ross Cockrell should help the Duke defense keep tabs on the speedy Hilton, who is utilized in a variety of roles in the FIU spread offense. With Hilton as his favorite target, redshirt-senior QB Wes Carroll has completed over 61% of his passes and thrown for 3 touchdowns. After injuries to Hilton and Carroll forced FIU to rely heavily on RB Kedrick Rhodes in week 4, expect the Golden Panthers to try and get their passing game back on track against Duke. Paul Asack and Alex King would be wise to try and avoid good return opportunities for the always dangerous Hilton.

FIU's T.Y. Hilton is one of the top players in all of college football

2.       Match FIU’s speed

Relying heavily on the fertile South Florida recruiting grounds, Head Coach Mario Cristobal has built this FIU team around speed, headlined by Hilton, but exemplified up and down the roster. The Golden Panthers are balanced on offense, averaging 198 yards passing and 138 yards rushing per game. Defensively, FIU ranks fifth in the country with 15 sacks per game and has also recorded 7 tackles for loss. On special teams, Hilton averages over 33 yards per kickoff return, good for 4th in the nation. Under David Cutcliffe, Duke has made a deliberate effort to improve their team speed, and it will be put to the test in all phases against a FIU team capable of making explosive plays all over the field.

3.       Protect Sean Renfree

Renfree has played outstanding over the past two weeks, spreading the ball around the field to his deep group of receivers and leading Duke to a top-20 passing offense in the country. The Duke offensive line has allowed 8 sacks so far on the season, but Duke fans have seen Renfree sustain several other hard hits. Against an athletic FIU pass rush, the Blue Devil offensive line will have to provide Renfree enough time to deliver the ball down the field to South Florida natives Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner. If Renfree is able to establish a rhythm with his receivers against a FIU secondary that allowed 363 passing yards to Louisville, the Blue Devils will be in good shape.

GAME ANALYSIS

Turnovers

FIU +2, Duke -3

What a difference a year makes. The Blue Devils have significantly cut down on their turnovers from a year ago and find themselves playing better football as a result. The Duke defense is still struggling to turn opponents over, but have managed to force a few key miscues. With a redshirt-senior QB in Wes Carroll, the Duke defense likely will again have difficulty winning the turnover battle on Saturday.

Sacks

FIU 15, Duke 7

The Duke offensive line will have its hands full as they try to protect Sean Renfree against one of the top 5 pass rushes in the country. FIU’s defensive speed will particularly challenge the Blue Devils with their blitz packages, as they will try to penetrate Duke’s pass protection. With Brian Moore still sidelined, Duke will need another strong effort from redshirt-freshmen Laken Tomlinson and Takoby Cofield.

3rd Down

Duke 46%, FIU 29%

Duke’s success on 3rd down has been a big part of their #7 national ranking in time of possession. The Blue Devils have converted 28/61 3rd down opportunities while holding opponents to just a 38% conversion rate. Conversely, FIU has struggled to sustain drives, picking up just 14/49 3rd downs while allowing opponents to be successful on 35% of their opportunities. Both 3rd and 4th down conversions have been key to their current 2-game winning streak, and they’ll look to continue that success on Saturday.

Explosives

T.Y. Hilton is explosive, and FIU’s speed can burn opponents. If Hilton is allowed to make plays for the Golden Panthers, it will be a long night for Blue Devil fans. Duke, of course, has playmakers of their own. If it is to be a happy homecoming for Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner, Duke will have to continue to get them the ball down the field. Freshman Jamison Crowder showed a glimpse of his explosiveness last week with a punt return touchdown that was later voided by penalty. With Crowder and Hilton in the return game, there will be explosive athletes on both sides of the ball in all phases on Saturday.

Rushing TDs

Duke 10, FIU 9

Coach Cut says, “When you run out of room to throw the football, find a way to run the ball in.” Despite the loss of QB Brandon Connette, RB Desmond Scott, and RB Josh Snead, the Blue Devils have been successful rushing the football in the red zone in their past two contests. In fact, Duke was able to convert all 7 of their red zone chances against Tulane, including 2 rushing scores for Sean Renfree and 2 more for Juwan Thompson. With the possible return of Scott and/or Snead, the Blue Devils will have plenty of weapons to punch it in on the ground. For FIU, Kedrick Rhodes has been the primary threat on the ground, but the always-dangerous Hilton can run it in from anywhere.

Field Goals

FIU 5/6, Duke 2/8

Welcome back, Will Snyderwine the All-American. After a disastrous start to the 2011 season, the Blue Devils’ kicker got back on track with a 40-yard FG against Tulane. Though he is still nursing an ankle injury, Duke fans should be able to breathe a small sigh of relief when the Blue Devils line up for a field goal. FIU’s Jack Griffin has been perfect from inside 50 yards so far in 2011.

Penalties

Duke 20-168 yards, FIU 21-183 yards

The Blue Devils continue to clean up their act, but are far from playing error-free. Against an energized and veteran FIU team, Duke will have a very small margin for error on Saturday, meaning that penalties could be costly. The Blue Devils will have to match the Golden Panthers’ speed with good fundamentals and avoid ill-advised penalties.

PREDICTION

ESPNU was wise to televise this game, as it should be both entertaining and competitive. Both offenses feature explosive talents that are likely to put up points on the board. The Blue Devil defense is playing with renewed confidence after two victories, while the Golden Panthers will look to fight back from a disappointing conference loss to Louisiana-Lafayette. Uncle Mo is on the Duke side, and it should be enough to carry the Blue Devils into their off week at 3-2 behind another strong performance by Sean Renfree.

Duke 31, FIU 27