While spring break may be upon us, Duke shouldn’t take a break from its dominance the past couple of weeks. Riding the wave of arguably its best performance of the year last Thursday against Loyola, the Blue Devils have a chance to continue their winning streak against Utah. 

Tuesday night in Koskinen Stadium, Duke faces off against the Utes, who are in the midst of their first ever season as an official Division I program. Utah poses a much smaller threat than Duke’s last opponents, the No. 2 Greyhounds, whom the Blue Devils picked apart. While Utah has done well for itself so far as a first-year program, with a record just above .500, No. 6 ranked Duke is a clear favorite to come away with a victory. 

The Blue Devils will look to leading scorer, sophomore Joe Robertson, to lead the offensive attack, as Utah most likely will not have a defender skilled enough for the Salem, Va., native. However, if Robertson is limited—as he was against Loyola finishing with just one goal—his teammates are more than capable of having his back. Sophomore Nakeie Montgomery and junior Joey Manown both scored four goals in Duke’s last match, and they should be able to carry over at least some of that success against the Utes. 

“We try not to make it about matchups or the one-on-ones,” head coach John Danowski said after Thursday's win. “It’s a team game...we want to make it about the team.”

If Duke (6-1) gets going on offense, it will be very difficult for Utah to compete, as its biggest strength as a team is its defense. Holding opponents to just 26.6 percent hit clip, the Utes (4-3) have won games by smothering midfielders and attackers and forcing other teams to play at their pace. 

With that, Utah’s offense has struggled in its losses. Against No. 8 Denver, the Utes scored just six goals and they didn’t fare any better in their season opener against unranked Vermont, finishing with six goals in that game as well. Utah averages just 8.43 goals per game, which ranks the team at 66 out of 73 Division I programs. Against Duke’s fifth-ranked defense, the Utes may find themselves scoreless for a majority of the game. 

Utah’s uniquely bad offense should not change how the Blue Devils approach the match on the defensive end.

“We like to focus on ourselves,” senior Cade Van Raaphorst said. “We think if we play Duke defense and we’re going up against anybody in the country we think our way is best.”

If there is anybody on Utah who can get their team out of its offensive rut, it is Josh Stout, who leads his squad in goals scored by far with 26. The Ute with the second highest goals scored has just seven, so it is fair to say Utah’s offense runs through Stout.

To keep the ball out of Stout’s stick, Duke must continue to dominate faceoffs, something that has helped the Blue Devils during its winning streak. Utah has been unsuccessful thus far on faceoffs, losing 104 out of its 163 tries. This low win percentage has contributed to its slow offense, as low faceoff wins leads to low numbers of touches and thus a low number of goals. Duke on the other hand, ranks 14th in the nation in faceoffs with a 58 percent win percentage. If the home team controls the faceoff X, it should easily be able to keep Utah’s offense at bay.

At the halfway point in the season the Blue Devils need to finish games stronger as tough opponents loom. Against Loyola, Duke dominated the first three quarters, outscoring the Greyhounds 11-3. However, the Blue Devils allowed Loyola to close the gap in the fourth period, as the Greyhounds scored four unanswered goals until Robertson put the nail in the coffin with one minute left in the match. 

Duke’s physical conditioning appears top notch for most of the game, and Danowski feels as though his difficult practices are a part of it.

“We work hard in practice. We demand a lot of our guys and we work at it because we need to,” Danowski said. “We need to get the work done and I thought our guys responded really well.”

If the Blue Devils can figure out how to play a full 60 minutes in attack mode, they can elevate their play up another notch, making the team that much more difficult to beat.

Mitchell Gladstone contributed reporting.