When Duke has the ball:
For the Devils to break into the win column, they will need to put some points up against one of the ACC's better defenses. Tech is giving up an average of 17.4 points per game and less than 300 yards of total offense per game. They love to bring pressure on the QB by blitzing from any position at any time. With this pressure, GT has recorded 25 sacks this year and are 3rd in the conference in turnover differential. Defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta's schemes are designed to confuse opposing offenses and force mistakes. So far, his schemes have succeeded.
For Duke to defeat the Tech defense, they will need a superlative effort from QB Thad Lewis. The GT defense is tough on any QB, but it is doubly tough for a QB that has not seen the defense before. Despite his relative inexperience, Lewis now has 9 college starts under his belt and has the ability to make Tech pay for blitzing him. If Lewis has time, the Devils wide receivers should be able to get open and make plays. The Duke running game suffered a big blow last week when Justin Boyle suffered a season-ending knee injury. The rushing chores will fall to a triumvirate of backs: Re'Quan Boyette, Cliff Harris, and Devilback Ronnie Drummer Also expect fullbacks Tielor Robinson and Brandon King to play more in passing downs. Boyle was the teams' best blocker in blitz pickup. Robinson and King can replace Boyle's strength in picking up linebackers and defensive linemen should they break through.
When Georgia Tech has the ball:
The Jackets are primarily a run-oriented, ball control offense. They are second in the ACC in rushing. Primary ball carrier Tashard Choice is 3rd in the conference, averaging 94 yards rushing per game. Reggie Ball is probably the conference's best running QB, but his inconsistencies throwing the ball is well-documented. Still, Ball is a good enough athlete to play a different position in the pros. Duke will need to account for his scrambling abilities on every passing down, even though he is slowed by an ankle injury. The good news for the Jackets' passing game is the presence of all-American WR Calvin Johnson. Likely the top-available NFL prospect in the college game, Johnson has true game-changing ability. He is a one of a kind athlete with a freakish combination of game-breaking speed, immense size, and velvet-soft hands. For the past two seasons, Duke has been able to somewhat neutralize Johnson in their first two meetings, however, the Devils will be hard-pressed to pull a hat-trick. Even though Duke has a matchup nightmare in Johnson, he is not their biggest worry. The Devils started the season pretty good against the run. As recent as three weeks ago, they were giving up less than 100 yards per game on the ground. After being gashed via the run recently, the Devils are now averaging 160 yards each contest. Tashard Choice is probably the last thing Duke wants to see, but the fact is they must find a way to stop him. If Duke is to slow the Tech offense down, they must force the Jackets to the air and hope that Reggie Ball and Calvin Johnson are not able to connect.
Matchup to watch: Georgia Tech blitz vs. Duke blitz pickup.
With Justin Boyle out of the lineup, Duke will have to replace both his power rushing and his blitz pickup ability. The Georgia Tech defensive staff is surely aware of this fact and will most assuredly try and force the other running backs to show their blocking wares. The Duke offensive line will be hard-pressed to block the normal blitz packages, so the backs must be ready to take on the free-rusher, whether it is a defensive back, linebacker, or even defensive lineman.
Three Keys to a Duke victory:
Slow Johnson down: The last two seasons, Duke has done a good job of limiting Calvin Johnson's effectiveness. He has made catches and gained yards, but has been kept out of the end-zone. It is likely that Johnson is aware of this fact and will maybe give a little extra-effort to get on the scoreboard this weekend. Also taking into account that Johnson was held to 3 catches last week against UNC, expect Tech to get Johnson involved early.
Keep Ball in the pocket: Georgia Tech QB Reggie ball is a dynamic athlete and is a true threat with his feet. He struggles, however, with his throwing consistency especially in the pocket. The Tech offense has many athletic weapons, so if Duke is to roll the dice with one of them, it should be with Ball's throwing within the pocket.
Execute: Duke has shot itself in the foot week after week with mental mistakes and execution errors on both sides of the ball. After 10 games, it is time for the Devils to run their schemes on both sides of the ball with precision. The coaching staff needs to prove it is up to the task of running this program, and having their team executing against a quality opponent like Tech will show that they can.
What will happen?
Tech is looking at this weekend's contest as a chance to polish their performance on both sides of the ball and rest their starters as much as they can. They will undoubtedly come out swinging for the fences to try and build an early lead so they can pull their starters once the game is in hand. The Devils cannot come out of the locker room flat this week, as Tech will surely be ready. If Duke can respond to Tech's attack with some early points and establish a physical presence on both side of the ball, the Devils will stay right with the Jackets. I think Duke is due for a good performance and should hang in there this weekend. Unfortunately, Tech has too many offensive weapons for Duke to shut down, and the Tech defense will be able to prevent Duke from scoring enough points to win the game.
Georgia Tech – 31
Duke - 13