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Third and goal: Duke football's defensive line will be pivotal against N.C. State

<p>Duke's defense is going to need to continue playing at a high level against N.C. State.</p>

Duke's defense is going to need to continue playing at a high level against N.C. State.

Hold on to the ball

Last week Duke saw a Syracuse team that was unable to capitalize on its turnovers like teams in previous weeks have. As a result of that, the Blue Devils picked up their first win of the season in what seemed to be an all-around dominant game from the team, apart from the turnovers. This week, they are coming up against a much more formidable team in N.C. State. They will need last week’s strong performance to carry over in order to maintain that level of success.

Thankfully, Duke’s nation-leading 19 turnovers might not be as big of an issue against this opponent. In four games this season, N.C. State has only taken the ball away five times. Although the Wolfpack’s pash rush can be strong, it has been inconsistent so far this season. If quarterback Chase Brice, who showed great improvement last week, can stay calm, Duke may be able to prove themselves against a winning team.  

Keep up the pressure

At the start of the season, Duke’s pass rush was already expected to be one of the strongest units on the team. But I’m not sure that it was expected to be this good.  

Much of N.C. State’s offensive success this season has been due to its ability to avoid pressure. In the last two weeks, it only conceded two sacks and it has scored an average of 34 points along with an average of 260 yards passing and six touchdowns. When they are not pressured heavily, it is clear N.C. State can be a dangerous offense.  

This is where Duke’s newfound star, Derrick Tangelo, along with powerful rushers Chris Rumph II and Victor Dimukeje, can be a huge help. Their ability to push past blocks and get to the ball will need to be in top form Saturday in order to slow down N.C. State. If they are able to be consistent, quarterback Devin Leary, who threw five interceptions in just five starts last season, could be forced into similar mistakes.  

Strike in the red zone

At the moment, Duke is 59th in the FBS in red zone conversion rate, at just 75 percent. However, that is being weighed down heavily by their poor red zone performance against Boston College. In the last two games, Duke has capitalized on scoring opportunities much better, scoring seven out of the eight times they have been in the red zone. Most of the other scores Duke has managed have come from long field goals or home run plays.  

However, it is not a coincidence that the best two games of the season have come from where the offense has been much more calculated when they are near the end zone. Head coach David Cutcliffe will need to continue to show his offensive ingenuity to raise that conversion rate even further, and Brice will need to execute for Duke to be able to win on Saturday.  

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