Looking For Momentum For 2012

The Blue Devils can kick-start the off-season with a win over rival UNC today

The Blue Devils could use a feel-good moment at the end of the season after a nose dive that has resulted in six consecutive losses.

The quest to reach a bowl game no longer exists, meaning the last postseason appearance for the program came in the 1994 season.

But building a form of momentum for the 2012 season is something to shoot for in the regular-season finale at North Carolina.

And there's also the matter of playing a team eight miles away in a rivalry that gains more attention in basketball but has a history of its own in football.

Duke could boost its morale by defeating North Carolina.

Coach David Cutcliffe's fourth season with the Blue Devils has sent his overall career record below .500 (59-61). He's 15-32 at Duke, where the program has shown progress but there haven't been a lot of corresponding victories.

Duke started the final week of the season with nearly a dozen players missing practice time because of injuries. Some of those situations are because they're resting players who've been playing injured, so they're not all necessarily new ailments. Three of Duke's last four losses of come against teams currently ranked in the Top 25 and the other setback came at Miami.

--The Blue Devils lost four home games by seven points or less this season. If they had won just two of those, they would be in position to qualify for a bowl with another victory. Instead, the Blue Devils posted a 1-6 home record and they're the only ACC team without at least two home victories this year. They're also the only team without a home ACC victory.

--Seven of the last nine meetings between Duke and North Carolina have been decided by eight points or less. But Duke has won only one of those meetings.

SERIES HISTORY: North Carolina leads Duke 58-35-4, including seven victories in a row. Duke's losing streak to the Tar Heels is the second-longest skid in the series since the ACC began play in 1953.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Blue Devils are bound to air it out against North Carolina with their rushing attack unable to come through consistently. North Carolina has the lowest-ranked pass defense in the league, so it reasons that the Blue Devils will look downfield to WR Conner Vernon and WR Donovan Varner. Duke's offensive line is revamped because of injuries.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Blue Devils rank near the bottom of the ACC, giving up 417.9 yards per game. Part of the problem for Duke has been the lack of big plays as the Blue Devils have snatched a conference-low five interceptions as a team. The young defensive line has shown signs of maturing at times, but the onslaught of physical play has caught up to this group. The Blue Devils have caused some confusion with their newly implemented schemes this year, but usually nothing to keep opponents off balance for long stretches.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "They are amazingly resilient. People wonder how we can be so resilient. But it's our accountability to each other." -- coach David Cutcliffe on the Blue Devils coming close in three of their past five games, yet ending with defeats.


THIS WEEK'S GAME: Duke at North Carolina, Nov. 26 -- Duke will try to end the season with a victory against its neighboring rival. North Carolina has already qualified for a bowl, but with a 6-5 record, it would like more. Duke has lost six games in a row.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Duke's defense must demonstrate that it can stop an offense with big-play capabilities. The Blue Devils have been vulnerable to big plays. Duke also will be looking to break down a North Carolina defense that often physically punishes the Blue Devils in their annual meetings.

QB Sean Renfree -- He's second in the ACC in passing yards per game at 248.9, though it will be tough to catch Clemson's Tajh Boyd in that category. Renfree is trying to keep his touchdown pass total (12) above his interception total (10).

S Matt Daniels -- He's second in the ACC in tackles per game at 9.8 per game. He directs the defense from the secondary and takes his last crack at defeating North Carolina.

WR Donovan Varner -- This is the last chance for the senior record-holder to build on his number of career receptions. He has averaged 4.8 receptions per game this year, good to tie for eighth place in the ACC. With 199 career catches, he's poised to become the sixth player in ACC history to reach 200 receptions in a career.

--LB Kelby Brown missed last year's game against North Carolina because of a knee injury and another injury has put his status for this 2011 meeting in questions. Even with missing two games this year, Brown's seven tackles for loss put him rated 18th in the ACC in that category.

--TE Cooper Helfet is coming off a two-touchdown performance against Georgia Tech. Duke hadn't had a tight end with more than one touchdown in a game since 2004. That's more touchdowns than any tight end for North Carolina has all season.

--K Will Snyderwine's 219 career points mean he's on track to reach the school record of 221 points in the finale. Despite Snyderwine's shortcomings at times this year, the Blue Devils appear set to stick with the senior.

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