Five Questions: Duke v. Boston College

The Blue Devils are looking for fourth win in five games this weekend when they host Boston College. Here’s what could be the keys to the game for Duke and a prediction.

1. Dealing With The Boston College defense

For the third straight week the Blue Devils are facing a stout defensive opponent.  After facing Northwestern and struggling, the Blue Devils found a few more big plays and won the physical battle against Georgia Tech last week.  Now comes Boston College, a defense surrendering only 118 yards of offense and just 7.8 points per contest.

For his part, head coach David Cutcliffe has no trouble pointing out his thoughts on the challenges the Eagles present.  

“It's the best defense I've seen in a while, a long while,” said Cutcliffe.  “They have a very physical, big -- very strong defensive front, so it all starts there for them.”

Cutcliffe continued…

“They just don't make mistakes. They fit right. They're always in good position in the secondary. They've got speed, and then along with a very, very strong front. You just can't do much with their front four. They're big, but not only big, they move, and their physical strength is present on every tape.”

It’s going to mean the Blue Devils need to establish - and maintain - a consistent offense.  Things were clicking early against Georgia Tech, but as the Yellow Jackets adjusted things got much tougher for Duke and starting quarterback Thomas Sirk.  

Stopping the Duke momentum pushed Northwestern to victory over Duke in Week 3 and it nearly cost the Blue Devils last week as Georgia Tech had a couple of chances to take the lead but for some big plays by the Duke defense.  It’s a luxury to have that kind of defensive playmaking, but at some point the offense must remain dynamic.   And that comes with experience.

2. Capitalizing on Boston College’s misfortune

The Eagles come into Wallace Wade Stadium with a number of offensive injuries that are forcing rookies or inexperienced players into key roles.  With a Blue Devil defense that’s been accumulating takeaways and getting stops with regularity on the opposite side, there’s a chance to exploit the opponent for Duke.

Even so, Cutcliffe saw some reasons to be concerned in his film study this week.

“They’re very creative offensively. They have been and they were last year, but whichever quarterback is in the game, it actually changes them to some level and degree. Both can throw it, both can run and are very quick – one of them is really, really fast – but [they’re] big, physical, lot of formations, a lot of things that give you problems defensively.”

Coming into the game Duke is ranked among the top 10 teams in the country in total defense, allowing just 261 yards of total offense per game.  Much of that has to do with improved depth and athleticism up front which has helped bolster the already strong secondary.

“I think we’re more aggressive just in general up front. I think you see it in Carlos [Wray] and A.J. Wolf consistently being as aggressive as they possibly can be. I think we’re quicker, more athletic and stronger, particularly on the interior of our line.”

3. Dealing with the weather

A lot was made of last week’s weather and how it would dictate the pace of the game and overall tactics of the two teams.  Certainly the passing games were hardly featured (or overly effective), and that could be the story on Saturday as well.   Durham is expected to receive rain for the next two days with heavy rain expected on Friday.   There is a flash flood watch in effect until Sunday.

The new Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium was engineered to drain incredibly well.  And it does.  But at some point the ground becomes saturated and the conditions on the field will begin to play a factor.  How each team overcomes that could be the difference.  Especially when both teams have question marks with their offenses.  

4. Adapting and evolving with the passing game

Duke will be without starting wide receiver Johnell Barnes during the first half on Saturday as the Duke junior was hit with a targeting penalty against the Yellow Jackets in the second half last week.  In his absence the Blue Devils have a couple of options including starting both T.J. Rahming and Chris Taylor (the two have alternated starts through four games) or, perhaps, starting an additional tight end.  It would give Duke a bigger look along the line and would, in theory, allow one of the most dynamic weapons on the roster to get some work in the passing game.  After all, Braxton Deaver hasn’t been heard from much in the last month.

“We’ve been a run-first offense a little bit more maybe than when Braxton was playing previously,” said Cutcliffe of Deaver’s role.  “But tight ends are unique guys. They can be pass-game weapons, but they have to play at a high level themselves and practice at a high level to become a part of all this.”

“If they will be that combination of a great, physical player that is also a great pass catcher. That’s the role of a tight end.”

5. The Prediction

Duke’s defense has shown itself as good enough to win the ACC’s Coastal Division.  The offense has shown the ability to score enough, but there are still a number of growing pains that come with breaking in a new quarterback and several new receivers.  Facing one of the nation’s best defenses is no way to break a bad trend, but that’s how the table is set.  We would expect Duke to remain more run oriented this week for reasons of execution and setting.  It’s going to be wet.  It’s going to be muddy, and like last week both teams are well suited to make plays on defense.  We look for another big game from Jeremy Cash and for the offense to do just enough to keep Duke moving towards a fourth straight post season berth.  

The pick…

Duke 16
Boston College 10

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