Following a disappointing 21-16 defeat at Army on Veterans Day, the Blue Devils will return to Durham looking to snap their six-game losing streak on senior day.
Duke will look to avoid finishing with a losing record at Wallace Wade Stadium for the first time since 2011 when it hosts Georgia Tech Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Although the Yellow Jackets run the triple-option offense, the Blue Devils will be especially prepared this time around, taking advantage of a unique opportunity to face the scheme in back-to-back weeks.
“Usually the games are spread apart, but it’s nice having them back-to-back, staying in the same triple-option mode,” redshirt senior defensive tackle Mike Ramsay said. “One thing everyone always talks about when defending the option is that one mistake, one missed assignment can result in a touchdown. So, everyone has to do their job, be locked in, tackle who they're supposed to tackle.”
The inability to make big tackles and contain its opponents on the ground has been an Achilles' heel for Duke (4-6, 1-5 in the ACC) during its recent skid. The Blue Devils allowed more than 240 rushing yards per contest in each of their last four games after allowing an average of just 88 in their first six matchups.
Duke will need to get back to its early-season defensive efficiency in order to take down a prolific Georgia Tech offense. The Yellow Jackets (5-4, 4-3 in the ACC) churn up 324.0 rushing yards per contest—good for fourth in the nation—and will look to repeat their success from the last season’s matchup in Atlanta when Georgia Tech gained 605 total yards.
To take down the Yellow Jackets, the Blue Devils will need to contain the two-headed monster of quarterback TaQuon Marshall and KirVonte Benson. The two combine for more than 200 yards per game and have accounted for 22 of Georgia Tech’s 28 rushing touchdowns on the season. Duke also needs to close out on tackles Saturday to limit explosives, as the Yellow Jackets have eight players with at least one rush of more than 30 yards this season and five receivers with a 30-plus yard reception.
“You have to be disciplined in the secondary, Blue Devil head coach David Cutcliffe said. “You may over-commit safeties. We’ve got to be smart about that. There’s a balance to that.”
Duke's offense has been silent for the last month and a half, putting immense pressure on a taxed defensive unit. Duke has scored just seven touchdowns in its last six contests due in part to the demise of redshirt sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones, who is struggling in his second season.
His completion percentage is down 8.3 percent from last season, and he has surpassed the 225-yard plateau just twice this season. The Charlotte native has also been susceptible to critical sacks, often bringing his team’s chances down with him in the process.
After starting 4-0, the Blue Devils have dropped six in a row, and Cutcliffe is curious as to whether or not his team with adjust with bowl eligibility on the line.
“We’ve been through these kind of stretches at times early here. Now, we’re being tested at not such an early time, but we do know how to go about it and how to face it head on,” Cutcliffe said. “I’m anxious to see how we respond…I’ve been put in these situations maybe all my life and I want to make sure we all look in the mirror and see if we can respond.”
Saturday, the Blue Devils will also honor their seniors—including captains Ramsay. Austin Davis and Bryon Fields, for their contributions at Duke before their final home game.
“There are a lot of people coming, a lot of high school friends and things like that,” Ramsay said. “I’m excited to see people I haven’t seen in a long time all coming up. I’ll definitely be happy, but I won’t have any tears or anything like that.”
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Digital Strategy Director for Vol. 115, Michael was previously Sports Editor for Vol. 114 and Assistant Blue Zone Editor for Vol. 113. Michael is a senior majoring in Statistical Science and is interested in data analytics and using data to make insights.