After a week off, the Duke Blue Devils will travel down to Atlanta to take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. The Devils won their first game of the season two weeks ago, downing the Citadel 28-10. Duke is searching for its first conference win of the season, but Tech will present a formidable challenge in reaching that goal. The Jackets are coming off an impressive performance last Saturday in their 20-7 victory at Maryland. Lets see how the teams match up.
When Duke has the ball:
Duke accumulated a season high 397 yards of offense against the Citadel, which underscores the offensive troubles the Devils are having this season. Help should arrive this weekend as starting tailback Cedric Dargan is expected to see his first action since the Navy game. Dargan started of the season with an impressive 118 yards rushing in barely over a half, before injuring his leg. He has not seen game action since.
Quarterback Mike Schneider is starting to show signs of improvement, now that he is not looking over his shoulder every play to see if he is coming out of the game. Junior Ronnie Elliot stepped up against the Citadel to become the leader of the very young receiving corps and appears poised to have a good second-half of the season.
Despite all of the good news for the Devils, they will be facing a Tech defense that limited the Maryland Terrapins to 68 yards of total offense last week. Free safety James Butler is an All-American candidate, and junior LB Gerris Wilkinson is among the league leaders in tackles. Tech can also pressure the passer with LB Chris Reis (tied for 1st in the ACC in sacks) and DE Eric Henderson. Despite their daunting performance of a week ago, the Jackets are 6th in the conference in total defense, ranking 6th against the run, surprise, 6th against the pass. They are capable of great performances, but must be wary of a let down against Duke.
When Georgia Tech has the ball:
Like Duke, Georgia Tech has struggled to score points this season. Quarterback Reggie Ball, has struggled with consistency throwing the ball in his sophomore season as Georgia Tech is next to last in the ACC in pass offense. Their running game, however, is much more effective. Junior PJ Daniels was the ACC's leading rusher last season. He has picked up where he left off a year ago, averaging 103 yards per game in 2004. That represents almost one third of Tech's total offense.
The Duke front seven will have their hands full slowing him down. The Duke defense gives up over 200 yards per game on the ground. The linebackers, especially SLB Malcolm Ruff and MLB Giuseppe Aguanno, must do a better job attacking the ball carrier and wrapping up. The Duke defense gives up way too many yards after first contact, and Daniels is one of the ACC's best at breaking them.
Duke keys to the game:
Arm on the Ball: Duke had great success last season forcing Reggie Ball to beat them through the air. Based on 2004 results so far, that defensive strategy should be employed again this year. Ball can be deadly outside the pocket, but is erratic when forced to stay stationary. Despite Duke's defensive troubles this year, one thing they have done well is force turnovers. Duke will need Ball to make a few bad throws and capitalize on the mistakes. If so, Duke could add on to their league leading interception total.
Chuck it, Mike: Duke QB Mike Schneider seems to be finally settling in as Duke's primary signal-caller. The first few games saw The Devils shuttling quarterbacks in and out like defensive linemen. Over the last two games, Schneider has received virtually all of the snaps. Not coincidentally, his passing efficiency rating has risen as well. Schneider is competing 58% of his passes, averaging over 10 yards per completion.
For Duke to have success against Tech this weekend, Schneider must build on his successes from the previous weeks and find the open receivers. He must also resist the temptation to try and force the action. Sometimes, throwing the ball away is the best course of action. Schneider finally understood that lesson against the Citadel, and he ended up playing a solid game.
Three things will factor into Schneider's success or failure. One, he must find open receivers and deliver them the ball on time. Two, the offensive line must give Schneider adequate time to make his reads. Three, the receivers must get open and hang on to the ball when it is thrown their way. The Tech defense will make this difficult, but it is not an impossible task for the Devils.
Maximize the Advantages: Despite a 1-4 record, Duke does some things well. They have some of the best kick and punt coverage teams in the conference. Duke also has forced the most turnovers of any team in the ACC, and the defense has not been giving up big plays. The Devils must play better on offense and defend the run, while continuing to do the other things well. Turnovers and big plays can change the tide in any game. Duke has scored twice on defense and once on special teams. Getting another score in this fashion and making Tech work for every score could really even things out this weekend.
Despite all the positives and optimism Duke has coming off their first win and subsequent bye week, Georgia Tech is the clear favorite going into Saturday's game. Duke has not been able to generate any consistency on offense, while Tech's defense is coming off a stellar performance against Maryland. For Duke to have a shot this week, the Devils must hope for a Tech letdown after such an outstanding performance.
Considering the drubbing the Devils handed to the Jackets, it would seem likely that GT will seek revenge. Of course, Tech has not been the model of consistency during the Chan Gailey tenure, which should worry the Tech faithful. It is not that often the Jacket puts together two solid performances in a row.
This game will be Duke's ability to slow down the Tech rushing attack. Duke must be able to force Tech into punting a few times. Maryland only punted once against Duke on September 25th and the defense cannot allow a repeat performance. They showed signs of being competent last week, as they allowed the Citadel offense only 3 points (Citadel scored a defensive TD), but that was a 1-AA opponent.
On offense, Duke must play better in all facets to score enough points to win. Having Cedric Dargan back from injury will definitely help the running game. In the end, however, the Duke defense will see too much PJ Daniels, and the Duke offense will not be able to respond with enough points.
Georgia Tech – 24
Duke – 13