After the Blue Devils 39-27 loss to Wake Forest that featured a pair of kickoff return touchdowns,
next up on the menu for Duke is a tilt with Miami that may conclude Duke's 2019 season.
With a victory against the Hurricanes, the struggling Blue Devils can cling onto an outside chance to qualify for a bowl game due to a high Academic Progress Rate compared to other likely five-win programs. Though the odds are long for Duke to reach the postseason, the Blue Devils' focus remains, with their chance to end the regular season on a high note coming at Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
“Obviously we haven’t had great results the last few outcomes, but I think practice habits have remained the same. Everybody comes out ready to work each day and we’re ready to execute the game plan that the coaches put in,” Duke quarterback Quentin Harris said.
The Hurricanes (6-5, 4-3 in the ACC), led by first-year head coach Manny Diaz are coming off arguably the most embarrassing loss in program history. A 30-24 loss to crosstown rival Florida International showed just how far Miami is from returning to the glory days of Vinny Testaverde, Michael Irvin, and Warren Sapp.
Diaz was a career defensive coordinator before taking over the Hurricane job and the Miami native—his father actually was Miami's mayor from 2001 to 2009—calls an aggressive defensive game plan, starting up front.
Miami presents some difficulties up front for a banged-up Duke offensive line. The Hurricanes are tied for No. 8 nationally in sacks per game, with 37. Gregory Rousseau and Jonathan Garvin bring the heat off the edge, and Diaz loves to bring pressure in many exotic ways. Linebackers Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney are both NFL-caliber players, fitting the Miami mold of a hard-hitting linebacker.
The Blue Devils (4-7, 2-5) will have to overcome their injuries and inconsistencies on the offensive line to give Harris enough time to go through his progressions. This includes utilizing running backs and tight ends in protection to offset the incoming pressure. If Harris can be given more time to sit in the pocket, Duke can build of some of the offensive positives against the Demon Deacons. The Blue Devils were able to sustain drives more effectively than in previous weeks, and some running lanes finally opened up thanks to improved offensive line play.
“I thought we had some more explosive plays, a couple plays down the field. A couple great runs by Deon and Mateo there, I think [we just have to] continue to get first downs and finish drives and actually end up in touchdowns. I think that’s really the difference for us in terms of getting more points that last time out,” Harris said regarding the offensive performance against the Demon Deacons.
Offensively, the Hurricanes boast elite speed, especially at wide receiver and tight end, a problem for a Duke secondary that has struggled in recent weeks. Jeff Thomas is a burner who can run virtually any route and K.J. Osborn, a transfer from Buffalo, has been a dynamic weapon and can break off a huge play when necessary.
Tight end Brevin Jordan is one of the most versatile players at his position in the nation, lining up at a variety of spots on the field. Jordan was recently named a semifinalist for the Mackey Award, given to the top tight end in college football.
“The main thing is playing to our abilities, do what we do. We’ve played a lot of talented guys, they’re a very talented group and I respect them for that. We have talent too, so I feel like you shouldn’t undermine that. If we come out and play like we know how to play, things will be the same,” Duke linebacker Koby Quansah said.
Quarterback is another story for the Hurricanes. Redshirt freshman Jarren Williams has shown glimpses into his four-star potential, but he has battled injury and constant duress from opposing pass rushes. In Miami’s disastrous loss against FIU last Saturday, Williams threw three costly interceptions.
The past three weeks, the Blue Devils have been unable to prevent opposing passing offenses from producing chunk gains. With Miami bringing a boatload of speed to the table, Duke will need to be disciplined on the back end in order to force Williams into more mistakes.
There is some revenge that Duke is looking to exact on the visiting Hurricanes. About four years ago, the Blue Devils were in a period of unprecedented success. From the beginning of the 2013 season until Oct. 31, 2015, Duke went 25-9 with an appearance in the ACC championship.
However, that fateful Halloween night featured one of the most crushing losses in the history of Duke football, as a visit Miami reeled off an absurd amount of laterals and blocks in the back en route to a kickoff return for a game-winning score with no time remaining. The referees also may have missed a Hurricane ball carrier with one knee down while still possessing the ball, but let’s not criticize the hardworking zebras too much.
While a 17-12 victory against Miami last year was a landmark victory, Duke has not defeated the Hurricanes in Durham since the lateral bonanza. Saturday’s matchup is the second contest to be played at Wallace Wade Stadium since that shocking ending in 2015, and the Blue Devils can cap off this decade by officially overcoming the Miami curse on their home turf.
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Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.