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Third and goal: Duke football vs. Tulane

Duke travels to Yulman Stadium in New Orleans for its season opener against Tulane Thursday at 9:30 p.m. The Blue Devils enter the season having made three straight bowl appearances, but will need to overcome key departures on both sides of the ball to have a successful campaign this season. Here are three keys to this evening's contest: 

Find a healthy balance between run and pass for Sirk

Last season, quarterback Thomas Sirk had a strong performance on the ground against Tulane—recording five rushes for 94 yards and a touchdown. But with the departure of former quarterback Anthony Boone, Duke is going to need Sirk to excel in the passing game. Sure, there was good Boone and bad Boone, but both versions could at least keep the Blue Devils in the game. Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery runs an offense predicated on an efficient passing quarterback who has the ability to make plays with his feet. Although Sirk completed 10 of 14 pass attempts a season ago, it remains to be seen how the backup quarterback can adjust to being an every-down quarterback that defenses will gameplan against.  

Sirk will also not have the benefit of passing to experienced wideouts as leading receiver Jamison Crowder is now a member of the Washington Redskins. Although there are a number of intriguing options within the receiving corps such as tight end Braton Deaver and wide receivers Max McCaffrey and Johnell Barnes, it remains to be seen who Sirk can find an early rhythm with. 

The Duke offense has the potential to grow into something special as the season progresses, but if Sirk falls into the trap of running too often, the offense may become too predictable and make the team susceptible to an early defeat. 

Strong play from the defensive front

Despite losing cornerback Bryon Fields to a season-ending injury, the Blue Devils should have not only one of the best secondaries in the ACC, but one of the best in all of college football. Safeties Devon Edwards and Jeremy Cash were both selected to various media outlets' preseason All-ACC teams and Cash was also named to the preseason ESPN All-American team. 

But question marks remain along the defensive line and at the linebacker position. The loss of redshirt senior Kelby Brown especially stings this year due to the lack of potential substitutes at linebacker. Although Tulane quarterback Tanner Lee struggled in last year’s game against Duke, the Green Wave were still able to generate 231 yards on the ground. In order for the Blue Devils to come away with a victory tonight, the front six will have to minimize big plays in the running game and generate some pressure on Tulane's signal-caller. Lee struggled when his first option was covered a year ago and with added pressure, his decision-making may take a hit. If the Blue Devils' defensive front can do just enough to allow the playmakers in the secondary to do their thing, Duke should be able to come away with a season-opening victory.

Get off to a quick start

This year’s team will rely on much younger talent than the teams of years past. As a result, the Blue Devils will need to get off to a fast start and keep the road crowd quiet. The team has prepared in humid conditions throughout fall camp in anticipation for its season opener and a fast start could allow the offense to look to milk the clock and wear out its opponents. Going ahead on the scoreboard early would also force the Green Wave to pass often, freeing up the secondary to make the game-changing plays Duke could use to come away with the victory. Considering the hype and added attention this game will receive since it is on the opening night of college football, the Blue Devils could use a boost of confidence early in the game to avoid road jitters and start the non-conference slate off strong. 

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