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Scouting the opponent: Duke football to take on new-look Georgia Tech

<p>Deon Jackson only rushed for 2.5 yards per carry in last week's loss to Syracuse.</p>

Deon Jackson only rushed for 2.5 yards per carry in last week's loss to Syracuse.

For more than a decade, head coach Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech squads gritted their way to consistent success on the gridiron, winning games with an effective triple-option attack that looked as if it was from a different century than the pro-style and spread offenses that their opponents ran.

After Johnson stepped down from his post last November, the Yellow Jackets, now led by former Temple head coach Geoff Collins, have opted to abandon the triple-option in favor of a more traditional offense. To put it nicely, Georgia Tech has experienced some growing pains in Collins’ first year at the helm.

The Yellow Jackets currently rank 111th out of 130 FBS teams according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the second-lowest mark among all Power Five teams. Though Georgia Tech is coming off a respectable showing against North Carolina in a 38-22 loss last week, the Yellow Jackets will head to Durham Saturday as heavy underdogs yet again. Duke, reeling from a devastating loss at Wallace Wade Stadium against Pittsburgh, will look to bounce back and take care of business against a Georgia Tech group that’s still searching for its identity.

“You can see [Georgia Tech] grow week by week,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. “You see them morph and find the right mix with their offense…. They’re building a brand at Georgia Tech. This is going to be a team that gets better by the week and we’re a team right now that needs to get better by the day and then ultimately by the week.”

Let’s take a look at five key questions for the Blue Devils’ matchup with the Yellow Jackets:

Will Duke give Georgia Tech a taste of its own triple-option medicine?

Though its glory days at Georgia Tech are gone, the triple-option is not dead in the ACC. Duke ran an option offense for much of its season-opener against then-No. 2 Alabama, a contest that was coincidentally played in the Yellow Jackets’ home city of Atlanta.

The Blue Devils have largely abandoned the triple-option in favor of a more pass-heavy attack, but the old Georgia Tech staple has still been a part of Cutcliffe’s playbook. When leading by a wide margin against Middle Tennessee, Duke turned to the triple-option to let time run down. The Blue Devils using the triple-option to kill clock against the Yellow Jackets would be cruelly ironic.

Who will start behind center for Georgia Tech?

It’s often said that if a team has two quarterbacks, then it has none, but what if it has three?

Three different Yellow Jackets have started as quarterback for Georgia Tech in 2019—Tobias Oliver, Lucas Johnson and James Graham—all with limited success. 

Graham, who started against the Tar Heels, seems to be the likely starter behind center against Duke, but Cutcliffe will not be preparing his team differently in preparation for the quarterback uncertainty.

“There are a lot of ways they can go at [quarterback]. But the thing you have to be is sound. You have to have people where they're supposed to be. If you're going to run a quarterback more, if you're going to throw a quarterback more, if you're going to play action pass, none of that changes by the person doing it. You still have to be sound. You have to play your defense. Every defensive call should have answers.”

Can Duke continue to stop the run?

Duke’s defense has held up well in the interior, allowing just 3.5 yards per rushing attempt. Although Georgia Tech lacks in offensive weapons, Jordan Mason and Oliver both have 275 yards rushing or more on five-plus yards per carry. Something needs to give, and the Blue Devil defensive line seems to be a strong bet in this matchup.

“Georgia Tech has a lot of explosive players,” Duke defensive end Victor Dimukeje said. “Of course, they played the triple-option, so they have a lot of explosive guys. They run a lot of speed option, so we kind of know what to expect.”

Will Duke run all over Georgia Tech?

Georgia Tech allows an astronomical 245.8 yards per game on the ground, the third-most among all FBS teams. Clemson thrashed the Yellow Jackets for 411 rushing yards, including a mind-boggling line of 12 rushes for 205 yards and three touchdowns for Travis Etienne. Even FCS Citadel got in on the fun, running for 320 yards in its matchup against Georgia Tech.

The Blue Devil running back duo of Deon Jackson and Mataeo Durant should have this game circled on their calendars, a great opportunity to bump up their season stats. 

Does this have the makings of a trap game?

This is the only game remaining on the schedule that Duke is favored to win by more than 70 percent according to FPI. As such, it’s easy to overlook a cupcake matchup against Georgia Tech in favor of a season-defining three-game stretch against No. 20 Virginia, sworn rival North Carolina and No. 9 Notre Dame. But such a trying slate means that bowl eligibility is no given for the Blue Devils and that beating the Yellow Jackets needs to be the top priority right now.

“We have a tough stretch with five straight [ACC] Coastal games before our second bye week, but we’re really not thinking ahead to anything after this week, we’re really focusing on Georgia Tech this week,” Duke quarterback Quentin Harris said. “You can never overlook an opponent to think of other future matchups.”


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