When Duke Has the Ball:
QB Thad Lewis has been the conference's best QB over the past two weeks. In that span, he has raised his passer rating by over 70 points and now is among the ACC's best. He has really found a groove and is executing the Peter Vaas offense very efficiently. Last week against Navy, Lewis w completely torched the Middie defense for 420-plus yards passing and four scores. This week, however, he will be facing a much more formidable defense. The Hurricanes have talent abound on that side of the ball. All-ACC safety Kenny Phillips will patrol the middle of the field looking for errant passes. Lewis must know where he is on every play and try to minimize mistakes, especially in his direction. Of course, for Lewis to have success against the Canes' defense, he must have time to throw the ball. All-ACC candidate Calais Campbell leagues a very talented front four, which will probably be one of the best the Devils will face this season. Expect the Hurricanes to blitz frequently and try to disrupt the timing of the Duke passing game. The Hurricanes will need to pay special attention to Duke standout Eron Riley on almost every snap. After scorching Navy for 235 yards and 4 touchdowns, Riley leads all ACC receivers in receiving yards, yards per reception, and touchdowns. For those that think he is a one-game fluke, consider that Riley came into the 2007 season as the ACC's active leader in yards per reception. Despite these numbers, Miami will probably initially bring blitzes and take their chances covering Riley one-on-one. Of course, if they pay extra attention to Riley, they will be leaving Duke's other starting wideout, Jomar Wright, in single coverage. Last season, Wright torched Miami for 10 catches and 176 yards. If the Duke blockers can pick up the blitz, Wright and Riley should be able to make some plays against the Miami cornerbacks.
Duke will need to be able to establish some sort of running attack to slow the Miami pass rush down. This will be easier said than done as the Hurricanes are only giving up 106 yards per game on the ground. Linebackers Tavares Gooden and Colin McCarthy are the leading tacklers. Because of their athleticism on the perimeter, the Canes can often bring up safeties to crowd the box and stuff the running game. The key to Duke's success on the ground lies in the offensive line and their ability to block the Miami defenders. Duke has been abysmal running the ball this season, averaging a paltry 60 yards per game on the ground. The Devils were in a similar situation at this point last season, but went to Alabama and racked up almost 200 yards against one of the nations' best run defenses. Hopefully the Devils can come close to repeating that turnaround this weekend.
When Miami Has the Ball:
The Hurricanes have been floundering on offense for several years now, mostly because of inconsistent quarterback play. Last week, however, the Canes got a superb game from starter Kyle Wright and torched Texas A&M early and often. Wright finished the game 21-26 for 275 yards and two touchdowns. If Wright continues this brand of play against Duke, the Devils will be hard pressed to stop the Hurricane offense. Miami's best offensive play is still the run. In 3 different contests this season the Hurricanes have had 40 rushes for the game. Backs Javarris James (little brother of Edgerrin) and Graig Cooper gives the Hurricanes a formidable one-two punch the Devils will need to contain. Receivers Darnell Jenkins, Sam Shields, Lance Leggett are excellent athletes that can make average corners look bad.
The skill position talent of the Hurricanes will be a difficult challenge for a Blue Devil defense that gave up 540 yards and 46 points to Navy. The strength of the Blue Devil defense is the front 4. Sophomore DT Vince Oghobaase is starting to live up to his 5-star billing coming out of high school. Last week, he recorded 10 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Freshman defensive end Wesley Oglesby also had his best collegiate game as well, recording 9 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Linebackers Vince Rey and Mike Tauiliili will need to read and react quickly to keep up with the Hurricane skill players.
Key Matchup: Miami offensive line vs. Duke pass rush.
The Devils have not been defending the pass well this year, and one of the mail culprits is the lack of pressure on the quarterback. In this contest, the Devils need to do whatever it takes to get pressure on QB Kyle Wright. He has not historically shown the ability to make consistently good decisions under pressure. Duke really needs one of their pass rusher, either senior DE Patrick Bailey or DE Wesley Oglesby to get in the backfield quickly and make Wright feel uncomfortable. If the Devils can force him into some hasty decisions, bad passes and possibly turnovers will be the result.
Three Keys to a Duke victory:
Kicking: Duke's kicking game has been an Achilles' heel for a second straight season. Joe Surgan was pulled from the Navy contest after missing yet another extra point. Walk-on Greg Meyers was 3-3 in extra points, but missed a crucial 31-yard field goal from the hash that would have given the Devils a 14-point lead in the 4th quarter. Duke must make the kicks they are presented with. A missed extra point is such a demoralizing play. The Devils cannot afford mistakes here and expect to win.
Tackling: When facing any team with Miami's skill talent, good tackling is crucial to limiting their yards after catch. If the Devils wrap-up and prevent the 5-yard passes from turning into long touchdowns, Miami will be forced to sustain drives to score. This will force Miami to execute on offense, and will give the Devils a chance to win.
Turnover(ing): Duke will have little chance at victory if they lose the turnover battle. On offense Thad Lewis must be accurate with his throws and must not force throws into coverage. There will be times where the best play he can make is to throw the ball away. The running backs will need to hold on to the ball and cover up once they are wrapped up. Miami is notorious for having the first defender tackle and hold the ball carrier up while the second player comes in to try and force a fumble. On defense, Duke must pressure the QB and force bad throws. Duke also cannot afford a blocked punt or kick here. While they are technically not considered turnovers, they are usually even more costly.
The Devils need to play four quarters of good football this weekend to have a chance. They have looked like a legitimate ACC football team for stretches in all four of their contests this year. After a rough start to the season, the offense looks capable of scoring enough points to win ball games. What the Devils need now is a superlative defensive effort to take the pressure off the offense. Forty-three points should be enough to win a football game, but last weekend, it was not enough. There is little chance of Duke scoring as many points this weekend against a tougher Miami defense.
On offense, the blockers must do what they can to keep Thad Lewis upright. He has consistently shown the ability to make plays when he has time in the pocket. The Canes will almost assuredly do what they can to disrupt his rhythm and force him to make plays with his feet. The best way to keep the pressure off is to cobble together a passable ground game. Duke does not need to steamroll Miami's defense. They just need to be able to counteract the up-field rushing with draws, screens, and traps.
Defensively, Duke must stop Miami on first and second down and force them into 3rd and long situations. When 3rd and long comes to pass, Duke must bring the blitz to get in Wright's face and force him to make timing throws on his "hot" blitz reads. Knowing what to do and doing it are two different things, however, and the Devils will be hard pressed to keep the Miami offense from scoring a healthy amount of points. Duke will compete and the game will be more competitive than the experts think, but in the end the Devils will just not have enough ammunition on either side of the ball to keep up with the Canes.
Miami – 37
Duke – 20