Film room: Duke football looks to stop N.C. A&T's offensive wrinkles

<p>Coach David Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils are looking for their first win in 2019.</p>

Coach David Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils are looking for their first win in 2019.

When Duke hosts North Carolina A&T on Saturday, it will be the first game at Wallace Wade Stadium since being routed by Wake Forest last November. The Blue Devils should be especially motivated to perform after a 42-3 loss against Alabama in Atlanta last week.

The Aggies are a highly-ranked FCS team with some great strengths and some glaring weaknesses, equally apparent on film. They are coming off a win in their season opener in which they bested Elon by a a score of 24-21, winning on a walk-off field goal.

On offense, the Aggies have a fairly simple playbook, consisting of a half-dozen or so run designs and some disparate passing concepts. Some of the few ways they consistently keep defenses on their back-feet include wrinkles to frequently-called plays, as well as audibles. One frequent example of a wrinkle is their use of an additional run-blocker who is offset from the offensive line. This blocker can either seal the backside defender on the line of scrimmage to open a rushing lane, or come across the line and perform a "slice block," where he pushes the defender away from the run to help the offensive line.

N.C. A&T head coach Sam Washington also uses audibles in order to take advantage of defensive off-coverage. Whichever quarterback is in the game—one of three who played significant snaps last week—will check with an outside receiver and make a quick throw near the line of scrimmage. This gives the receiver space to run upfield and hopefully force a missed tackle. Wide receiver Elijah Bell was able to put the Aggies in prime position for its first touchdown on one of these audible plays last week.

Defensively, N.C. A&T runs what appears to be a 4-2-5 package on most of their plays. The scheme is really a combination of a 4-2-5 and a 4-3 thanks to starter Joseph Stuckey, who is listed as a “linebacker/defensive back,” and plays the role of a moneybacker, a hybrid position that aims to take away both the run and the pass.

Due to the quality of their pass rush, the Aggies like to blitz from multiple fronts and angles, usually running a Drop 6 zone. When unleashed on third down, the schemes proved consistent drive-killers against Elon. When the Phoenix had time to pass however, N.C. A&T’s coverage frequently provided solid gains to their receivers, even in their base defense that is supposed to take away deep throws.

The Blue Devils should be able to avoid any significant challenges on Saturday. The Duke defense is smart enough to adapt early and often to the various looks that the Aggies will throw at them, especially from an offense that features few constraint plays, designs that counter off core plays and keep defenders honest. The Quentin Harris-led offense should look consistent on the ground and will have what feels like an eternity in the pocket a week after facing the Tide.


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