With that, the Blue Devils enter their final game hoping to bolster the offense again. They've scored more than 20 points only twice in the last nine games.
Some of the on-again, off-again offense has come because of injuries. The receiving corps took a hit, and the offensive line has been wounded.
"I don't know if I've ever been around a team so beat up," coach David Cutcliffe said.
With that thought in mind, Duke prepares to play against a North Carolina team that inflicted a physical punishment on a much more vulnerable Blue Devils team last year. This time, the Blue Devils might be better equipped to deal with some of the physical elements.
And even with Duke's offense wavering at times, there's a positive note going into the clash with North Carolina. Duke enters the game having scored 175 points in ACC games, giving it four more points than North Carolina against conference competition.
--The Blue Devils won't get a bowl bid for the 16th consecutive season. They're finishing the season at home for the second year in a row. They lost last year to Wake Forest, and they'll try to snap a 10-game home losing streak in the series vs. North Carolina.
--The Duke/North Carolina game has moved back to the end of the season after it was played earlier in 2009. This is where Duke prefers this game to fall on the schedule, as the Tar Heels are its primary rival. It's also the home finale for a senior class that coach David Cutcliffe has credited with helping turn around the program.
SERIES HISTORY: North Carolina leads Duke 56-35-4 (last meeting, 2009, North Carolina, 19-6). The Blue Devils have won just one of the last 20 meetings. Duke has lost its last 10 home meetings with North Carolina.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Blue Devils haven't been able to shed that one-sided label because the rushing attack hasn't gained a lot of traction. Even the passing attack has been tempered, but a reduction in turnovers during the past month has helped the offense stay on the field longer. Duke ranks second in the ACC in passing offense with more than 272 yards per game in the air, and it figures the Blue Devils will have to throw the ball repeatedly to make much of a difference against North Carolina.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Depth is an issue on this side of the ball, as late-game shortcomings have continued to surface. It won't be any better for the finale after LB Kelby Brown went down for the rest of the season with a knee injury. Duke's improvement in the secondary will be tested by North Carolina's passing attack, and the Heels will be only the second team with a significant passing attack in the last five opponents for Duke. Even with some recent opponents preferring to run the ball, the Blue Devils rank last in the ACC in pass defense.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When things are not there, it's good for me to go run." -- QB Sean Renfree, on his improved awareness. He has gone 157 pass attempts without throwing an interception.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: North Carolina at Duke, Nov. 27 -- This is a big rivalry game, especially from the Duke perspective. North Carolina is coming off a loss to N.C. State, which might be considered the Tar Heels' chief football rival. Duke shares last place in the Coastal Division with Virginia, so a victory could lift the Blue Devils up one rung in the standings.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Duke's motivation will be to put another dent in North Carolina's bizarre season during which the Tar Heels have had to deal with NCAA investigations and major roster upheaval. Duke could use a victory to validate some of the improvements made, and the Blue Devils will want to see if they can exploit North Carolina's secondary. Duke's defense will have to deal with a much-improved North Carolina offense.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
WR Donovan Varner -- He was an all-ACC performer last year, and he has had an off-and-on season this year. However, he became the sixth player in school history with 50-plus catches in consecutive seasons.
LB Abraham Kromah -- He notched a game-high 13 tackles in the Georgia Tech game as he continues to be productive in the middle of the defense. He'll be tested more this week with North Carolina, which has a more multi-dimensional offense than Georgia Tech.
QB Sean Renfree -- He'll be playing in his first rivalry game against North Carolina because a year ago he was done for the season with an injury by the time the Blue Devils took on North Carolina. The redshirt sophomore ranks in the top 10 in school history in most single-season passing stats, and he can add to those numbers against North Carolina.
--LB Kelby Brown, a true freshman whose season began in the third game against Alabama, will miss the finale against North Carolina after suffering a major knee injury that will require surgery for torn ligaments. Brown has become one of the best defenders on the team. It's anticipated that he should be recovered by the start of the 2011 season.
--WR Conner Vernon needs six receptions in the season finale to match the school record of 74 receptions in a season. He needs 82 yards to notch the sixth 1,000-yard receiving season in school history.
--K Will Snyderwine is 14 points away from the school record for a season going into the last game. The record is 104 points, set by former receiver Clarkston Hines in 1989.