Previewing Boston College

The Duke Blue Devils will once again attempt to find the win column for the first time in 2006. This Saturday, the Devils will travel to Massachusetts to take on the Boston College Eagles at 7 PM.

Both teams are coming off losses a week ago. BC came up one touchdown short in Winston-Salem against Wake Forest. Duke was handed its head by the Naval Academy. Which team will get of the snide this weekend? Let's take a look at the matchups.

When Duke has the ball:

The Devils must find a way to gain some offensive consistency against an unbalanced BC defense. Duke has morphed from a shotgun-type throwing offense to more of a ground based attacked. The last 5 games have seen the Devils average nearly 150 yards per contest. Tailback Justin Boyle has really come on the last few games and will provide Duke with a consistent threat in the backfield. Unfortunately for the Devils, the BC run defense has been quite stingy this season, allowing a paltry 85.8 yards per contest. Still the Eagles can be run on as evidenced by the 160 yards Wake gained a week ago.

Most of Duke's scoring woes have been a result of an inconsistent passing game. QB Thad Lewis has looked stellar at times, downright awful at others. Still, Lewis has the capability of making all types of throws both from in the pocket and on the move. If Lewis is on, Duke has some quality targets on the outside. Both Jomar Wright and Eron Riley are in the ACC's top-10 in receiving yardage. The BC defense has given up over 220 yards per game through the air, one of the worst figures in the league. Closer scrutiny of their pass defense, however, reveals that the Eagles will sacrifice the short completion to protect against the long ball. Opponents are only averaging 6.0 yards per completion, which is the 3rd best figure in the league. They also are tied for the league lead with 14 interceptions while only yielding 7 TD passes. For Duke to be successful throwing the ball this week, Thad Lewis must be patient and not force the ball down the field. If he tries to push the envelope, BC has the ability to force turnovers which will spell doom for the Devils chances.

When Boston College has the ball:

Eagles QB Matthew Ryan leads the ACC in passing yardage by a wide margin, averaging over 250 yards per game. He must be licking his chops for this weekend's matchup as the Devils are 10th in the conference in pass defense. Worse yet, Duke has allowed 18 passing scores by their opponents. Two min factors have contributed to this poor performance. First, the defensive front has not been able to get consistent pressure on the passer, as evidenced by Duke's ACC-low sack total of 13. Second, the Duke pass coverage has been sub-par to date, not forcing opposing quarterbacks to check down to their secondary receivers.

Part of the reason Ryan leads the conference in passing yardage is because BC has had trouble running the ball. The Eagles are only averaging 114 yards per game on the ground, but are only gaining 3.3 yards per carry. Only Duke's 2.6 YPC figure is worse, but the Devils have been well over 4.0 for over a month. Until two weeks ago, Duke was giving up less than 100 yards per game on the ground. After getting romped over by Vanderbilt and Navy, Duke has sunk to 10th in the ACC against the run, giving up 155 yards per contest. Despite BC's low rushing average, the Blue Devil rush defense looks like an inviting target for the Eagles to get their ground game on track. If Duke cannot stop the Eagles on the ground, they will have no shot of slowing down their offense.

Matchup to watch: QB Matt Ryan vs. The Duke Pass coverage

Duke's pass defense has been quite poor this season and BC seems to be a nightmare matchup. Still the game must be played and there are things the Devils can do to slow down the BC air attack. The first thing is to get pressure on Ryan and force him to make quick decisions before he has had time to properly read the defense. The second thing is to execute pass coverages and not make mistakes. Both the linebackers and secondary will be under the microscope this week. BC will surely completely their fair share of passes, but if the pass coverage can make Ryan work for every completion, he will make mistakes. The Devils need to cover and capitalize on these mistakes to have a chance of slowing BC down.

Three Keys to a Duke victory:

Turnovers: BC leads the ACC in turnover margin at +9. Duke currently stands at -7 on the season. Duke must be at least +2 in this category to win in Chestnut Hill. The question is can Duke take care of the ball against an opportunistic Eagle defense?

Pressure: Duke is last in the ACC in sacks with only 13 while BC has only allowed 9. The Devils have been able to generate pressure in some games, but teams with really experienced offensive lines have been able to neutralize the Devil pass rush. Duke will undoubtedly bring many blitz packages at QB Matt Ryan, and their ability to get in his face will dictate the success and failure the Duke defense against the BC offense.

Experience: The Devils need a great effort from true freshman QB Thad Lewis. They just do not have the talent to overcome too many freshman mistakes. Now that Lewis has 8 starts under his belt, it is time for him to stop making freshman mistakes. He has the ability to defeat most any defense if he is on his game. Duke needs him on his game this weekend.

What will happen?

I would be lying to you if I said that Duke has much of a chance against a talented, disciplined BC team looking to get back on the winning track. The Eagles pass-oriented offense is the worst possible matchup for Duke, as the Devils have been completely unable to stop any opponent's air attack. Still, games are played on the field, not on paper. Duke has some ability on both sides of the ball. Players like Eli Nichols, Vince Oghobaase, and John Talley on defense, and Justin Boyle, Eron Riley, and Jomar Wright on offense have the ability to make big plays against any team including BC. Duke needs its best players to make big plays to give the Devils a chance. If Duke can stay in the game into the second half and keep it tight through the 3rd, the Eagles will know they have a fight on their hands. Alas, the Eagles will have too much offense for the Devils and once again, Duke will come up short in their quest for their first 2006 win.

Final Score:

Boston College – 41
Duke - 20

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