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Duke football looks to snap out of funk and secure bowl eligibility Saturday

<p>Deon Jackson broke Duke's single game all-purpose yardage record at Pittsburgh.</p>

Deon Jackson broke Duke's single game all-purpose yardage record at Pittsburgh.

Miami has a history of sending Duke into a downward spiral.

On Oct. 31, 2015, the Hurricanes beat the Blue Devils on a miraculous last-second kick return, starting a four-game losing streak for an upstart Duke team. Last September, the Blue Devils’ hopes were similarly shattered, as a 31-6 drubbing from Miami was the first of six straight losses.

Duke will take on Miami at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., Saturday at 7 p.m. looking to break out of another midseason funk this year—last week’s 54-45 loss to Pittsburgh marked the Blue Devils’ third defeat in its last four contests. With a double-digit lead heading into the waning moments of the third quarter, Duke seemed to be in control, but the Panthers finished the game on a commanding 22-3 run.

“That game was just unfortunate. We had three missed throws that could have been difference makers, and we had the ball slip out of his hand, which could have been a difference maker,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. “But this is what-if, what-if—we’ve got to win the fourth quarter, and we didn’t.”

Although the defense looked utterly lost against Pittsburgh, the Blue Devil offense reached its highest level of play on the season. Daniel Jones stood strong in the pocket, setting highs in both passing yards and passing touchdowns, with 396 yards and four scores.

The real surprise on the offensive side of the ball came from sophomore Deon Jackson. Entering this fall, Jackson ranked behind Brittain Brown on the depth chart, and had 32 carries for just 97 yards as a freshman. 

In Brown’s absence, the Atlanta, native put up a game for the ages, with 10 carries for 162 yards and 3 catches for 89 yards. With a solid day returning kicks, Jackson established a new Duke single-game record for all-purpose yards, with 403.

“As a high schooler, I told him and his mother that in all my years coaching, he has the best receiving skills for a running back that I’d ever seen,” Cutcliffe said. “I think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg with him.”

The Blue Devils (5-3, 1-3 in the ACC) will face more defensive resistance against Miami than they saw against Pittsburgh. Led by three former All-ACC selections—Shaquille Quarterman, Michael Jackson and Jaquan Johnson—the Hurricanes’ defense causes many opposing offenses to crumble.

Miami (5-3, 2-2 in the ACC) yields just 262 yards per game—the second-best mark in the nation. The strongest part of the defense lies in its ability to create pressure behind the line of scrimmage, and the Hurricanes’ 89 tackles for loss lead the nation by a wide margin.

“Miami is probably a football team without a weakness,” Cutcliffe said. “Their defense, which is arguably the best in the country, does a lot of things best in the country there. But their defensive linemen are terrific, pro prospect-type players, and their linebackers as a group are the best in the country.”

Takeaways are another area that Miami excels in, as it forces two giveaways per game. Winning the turnover battle has been key to the team’s success, as the Hurricanes force just 1.3 turnovers in losses compared to 3.2 in wins.

Duke’s defense is not as skilled in creating these big plays. Its 6.5 tackles for loss per game and 1.3 takeaways per game are good for only No. 47 and No. 83 in the country, an indication of the lack of healthy playmakers for the Blue Devils.

“We call them havoc plays,” Cutcliffe said. “When you create havoc plays—tackles for losses and turnovers—you’re generally going to win games.”

A victory over Miami carries added meaning for Duke, as a sixth win secures bowl eligibility, which would make it the sixth time in the last seven years that the Blue Devils participate in postseason play.

If Duke is unable to defeat the Hurricanes, the sixth-win anxiety will heighten. Next week, the Blue Devils will match up against in-state rival North Carolina before taking on No. 2 Clemson as major underdogs.


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