Already a quarter into Duke’s 2019 campaign, it’s still unclear how this season will pan out. Facing its first hostile crowd this week, however, should give everyone a fairly clear idea.
The Blue Devils will face their first road challenge Saturday when they travel to Middle Tennessee to face the Blue Raiders at 7 p.m. in Johnny “Red” Floyd Stadium. This weekend’s bout in will mark the first time ever that the two programs have squared off against each other, as Duke will go for its 21st nonconference win in the last 26 tries.
Coming into the week three, Duke (1-1) has yet to be involved in a close game after a 39-point loss to Alabama and a 32-point win against North Carolina A&T. Things seem like they may finally come down to the wire in Murfreesboro, Tenn., as the Blue Devils are favored by less than a touchdown. With the two blowout games, many are wondering what to take away from this year’s squad.
“I think that for years and years, good college programs have home-and-home arrangements and I support that,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “I like our team to go on the road to hostile environments. We were at Baylor and at Northwestern a year ago, and those are tough places to play. Middle Tennessee is a tough place to play. That makes you better when you go into conference road games.”
Despite the results in 2019 thus far, quarterback Quentin Harris has experience going on the road, appearing in the Blue Devil wins at Northwestern and Baylor due to Daniel Jones’ absence with a broken collarbone. The redshirt senior led Duke to a 40-27 road victory against the Bears, which gave his team their third straight victory to open the season.
Middle Tennessee (1-1) has already faced Power Five competition this season, opening the year with a 40-21 loss against No. 7 Michigan. The Blue Raiders hung around with the Wolverines for a while, but eventually were overwhelmed, mustering just 67 rushing yards on 28 carries. They followed that up with a week two win over Tennessee State that saw a much improved offense in a 45-26 win.
"Michigan is a really good team and big powerhouse. That just shows that they have an explosive offense and they have explosive players," Duke safety Michael Carter II said. "We've just got to prepare like we don't want to give up any [big plays]."
Similar to the Aggies last week, Middle Tennessee just moved on from their record-breaking quarterback Brent Stockstill, who started each of the last four seasons. While their replacement signal-caller Asher O’Hara may not have the same arm talent, the redshirt-sophomore uses his legs to pair well with an offense designed to spread the field.
“You’re going to see motions and receivers all over the place and unbalanced [from Middle Tennessee]," Cutcliffe said. "They’re going to haul them all near the line of scrimmage and burst out of there. That becomes problematic when you’re having to look where people are.”
Next season, the two teams will face off in Wallace Wade Stadium to complete the home-and-home, but it seems like the two programs are already pleased with what the matchup brings. It was announced in May of last year that the Blue Raiders would travel to Durham for a second time in 2024, with Duke returning to Murfreesboro the following season.
With the Blue Devils set to begin ACC play following the matchup with the Blue Raiders, Cutcliffe’s squad will take all the momentum it can get, as Duke has only won their ACC opener in two of the last six seasons.
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