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X Factor: Pressuring Quentin Harris will be key for N.C. Central

Quentin Harris looks to lead the Blue Devils' offense to another solid outing.
Quentin Harris looks to lead the Blue Devils' offense to another solid outing.

Following a 40-27 statement win last week over Baylor, Duke returns home to Wallace Wade Stadium in a matchup against N.C. Central with hopes of a second consecutive 4-0 start. 

Every week throughout the football season, the Blue Zone will break down a player on each team who could be the difference-maker in the upcoming contest. Here are our Evan Kolin’s X-Factors for this week:

Duke: Quarterback Quentin Harris

Harris showed his volatility last week against Baylor, as he was brilliant at times, but clearly inexperienced at other points. The redshirt junior rushed for 83 yards on 14 carries and tossed three touchdowns through the air, displaying superb arm strength and an ability to keep defenses honest with his legs. But the first-time starter struggled with his accuracy, especially in short-yardage situations, completing only 12-of-30 passing attempts.

Harris likely won’t be tested too much this week against N.C Central. Duke exploded for 60 points on the Eagles last September, their largest offensive output of the season. But the former three-star recruit must use this matchup to improve on his short-throw accuracy, or his flaws will easily be exploited by the Blue Devils’ tougher opponents.

That isn’t to say this contest should be treated like an exhibition game; N.C. Central is coming off a 51-14 blowout victory over Saint Augustine’s. But when it comes to Duke’s offensive focus this Saturday, making Harris more comfortable throwing out of the pocket must be a top priority. 

N.C. Central: Defensive end Kawuan Cox

If N.C. Central hopes to have any chance against Duke, they’re going to have to get pressure on the quarterback—ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Eagles just a 0.4 percent chance to win this Saturday. But if N.C. Central’s defensive line can force the inexperienced Harris into costly mistakes in a crowded pocket, the huge upset is attainable. And the key to that pressure is redshirt junior Kawuan Cox.

Cox had a stellar sophomore year last season for the Eagles. The South Carolina native led the team with eight sacks- second in the MEAC- and three forced fumbles. The 2017 All-MEAC selection hasn’t slowed down this year either, recording a sack and five tackles through two games. 

Duke’s offensive line did a great job protecting Harris last week at Baylor, allowing no sacks, thus giving their quarterback ample time to get the ball downfield. Cox must ensure Harris doesn’t have that luxury this time around.