Only in the rarest of times do teams get back-to-back opportunities against the triple-option offense—especially when there are only two squads that feature the offense on Duke’s regular schedule.

After an up-and-down performance in Saturday’s 21-16 loss against Army, the Blue Devils will get another crack on Senior Day Saturday afternoon at Wallace Wade Stadium. Duke surrendered 231 yards on the ground on 57 carries against the nation's top rushing offense, but could not get a stop on the Black Knights’ game-sealing drive to run out the clock. 

Although Georgia Tech’s triple option differs from Army in its play-calling emphases, the Yellow Jackets are no pushovers running the ball, ranking fourth in the country in rushing offense and averaging 324.0 yards per game. Georgia Tech throws the ball more, though, and has often found success through the air against the Blue Devils in recent seasons. 

“Those big pass plays score points, but it’s demoralizing to give up first down after first down after first down, so it’s a balance,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. “You’re fortunate if you can just stop a Paul Johnson offense anyways. What I think Coach Johnson does as well as anyone in the country, because he’s been running it himself for a long time, is he knows his answers.”

In Georgia Tech’s narrow 38-35 victory last season, then-quarterback Justin Thomas eviscerated the Blue Devil secondary, accounting for 264 passing yards and two touchdowns on just 14 attempts. This season, with junior TaQuon Marshall under center, the Yellow Jackets average nearly 90 yards passing per game, but Marshall has thrown for eight touchdowns—the same number as Duke starting quarterback Daniel Jones in 249 fewer attempts.

Marshall primarily looks for redshirt senior wide receiver Ricky Jeune, who has grabbed more than 50 percent of Marshall’s completed passes. On the season, Jeune has 21 receptions for 460 yards and five touchdowns. At 6-foot-3, Jeune often uses his size to make plays down the field and takes advantage of run defenses to win one-on-one matchups on the outside.

“They’ve gotten a lot of their explosive plays in the past off of us in the passing game, so we’re aware of that,” redshirt senior cornerback Bryon Fields Jr. said. “You have to have good eyes and be locked in as a defensive backs and understand that we have to limit those explosives in the passing game if we’re going to be successful.”

But Georgia Tech’s bread and butter is still its complex ground attack. Marshall often calls his own number and leads the team in rushing yardage with 934 this season. He is flanked by redshirt sophomore B-back Kirvonte Benson—who has 930 yards—and redshirt junior A-back Qua Searcy, along with three more runners with at least 20 carries this season. 

The Blue Devils may be missing a key piece of their run defense this week. With time winding down in last week’s defeat, junior linebacker Ben Humphreys had to be helped off the field favoring his leg. Especially with defensive coordinator Jim Knowles opting to switch from his trademark 4-2-5 defense to a more traditional 4-3 scheme to combat the triple option, Duke will have to replace him after already moving backup linebacker Koby Quansah into the starting lineup.

According to Cutcliffe Tuesday, the Blue Devils are looking at freshman safety Marquis Waters and redshirt freshmen Brandon Hill and Xander Gagnon to replace Humphreys in the middle.

Regardless of who plays at linebacker, Duke vows to be more aggressive defensively this matchup than it was at West Point.

“I feel like usually when you play a triple option team, we’re sitting back preparing for cut blocks and things like that,” redshirt senior defensive lineman Mike Ramsey. “We’re kind of doing away with being really passive and being more aggressive about it.”

The Blue Devils will certainly need to play aggressively against a Yellow Jacket team riding high after landing a massive upset victory against then-No. 17 Virginia Tech 28-22.

Especially against a team boasting a stingy defense that surrenders just 23.4 points per game, Duke will have to keep Georgia Tech’s offense at bay to stop its six-game slide. 

“You still have to defeat blocks and got to tackle well because they’ve got some really good athletes,” Cutcliffe said. “There’s no easy formula, you just have to play extremely well and extremely disciplined.”