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Scouting the opponent: Duke football prepares for first nonconference foe of season

Quarterback Chase Brice should have time to throw against the 49ers, who have totaled just three sacks in four games this season.
Quarterback Chase Brice should have time to throw against the 49ers, who have totaled just three sacks in four games this season.

Following its first bye week of the season, Duke football finally returns to action.

The Blue Devils play host to Charlotte this Saturday at 7 p.m. at Wallace Wade Stadium. Duke will be looking to improve upon a disappointing 1-5 start, but according to redshirt junior defensive lineman Ben Frye, the team isn't focused on its record.

"You can look at it and say our record isn't where we want it to be, but as a competitor, I think a competitive mindset is every week's a new week and if you don't come into it with the same attitude you started with, you're going to lose games," Frye said. "I think we have as much to play for as we want to play for."

Duke (1-5) has the 49ers (2-2) outmatched in talent, but it is going to take execution to beat a fundamentally-sound Charlotte team this weekend. Let’s take a closer look at the Blue Devils’ lone nonconference opponent of the year:

Look familiar?

Charlotte’s offense is eerily similar to Duke’s, and most of the ACC for that matter, except in one interesting detail. Most college and NFL teams have moved past the days of using two tight ends in one package, but the 49ers are not afraid to utilize both Ryan Carriere and Taylor Thompson on opposite sides of the formation.

Sometimes they will both have their hand in the dirt on the line, while in other formations one is on the line of scrimmage while the other lines up as a wing. If the Blue Devils want to come out with the win Saturday, though, they must prevent both Carriere and Thompson from having the success that bigger receivers have had against them throughout this season. 

Take your time Brice

Charlotte is one of the worst teams in the country when it comes to getting at the quarterback—in their four games this season, the 49ers have only mustered three total sacks despite an experienced defensive line that includes one senior and two graduate students.

This matchup could not come at a better time for Duke. With starting center Will Taylor, who was already replacing an injured Jack Wohlabaugh, out indefinitely, true freshman Graham Barton will be starting Saturday. Facing off against a subpar defensive line will give Barton a chance to acclimate himself to being a starter. 

Furthermore, the Blue Devils have struggled in keeping quarterback Chase Brice off the ground all year, so giving him a couple extra beats to go through his read progression this weekend will certainly be beneficial in helping him find his groove and cut down on the team's overall turnovers.

"We can't turn the ball over like [we have] and be a winning football team," head coach David Cutcliffe said.

The 49ers hit paydirt

This Charlotte team does not have a single player that is going to take over this game and dominate. But what it does have is the ability to finish drives once it gets into the red zone. In 15 trips, the 49ers have scored 13 times, including 10 touchdowns.

Getting into the red zone 15 times in four games is not an eye-popping stat, but considering Charlotte converts 87 percent of those opportunities, it is a number that Duke should be leery of. 

1-2 punch

The strength of this 49er squad is their one-two punch at running back. Tre Harbison III is technically the starter, but Aaron McAllister gets significant touches every game as well.

Together, they have accounted for 439 yards on the ground and six touchdowns. McCallister has also proven to be a threat in the passing game. While he’s only totaled four catches on the year, he made his mark on one of those receptions against North Texas, sneaking down the seam and catching an over-the-shoulder pass for a 71-yard touchdown.

Duke has kept running backs relatively bottled up in the passing game, but it is going to be a test for linebackers Shaka Heyward and Rocky Shelton II to cover the shifty McAllister.

"Charlotte is a very balanced football team. They play really well in the kicking game, very dangerous offensively," Cutcliffe said. "I think [Chris] Reynolds is an outstanding quarterback. They got [Aaron] McAllister and other backs that are running the football well [and] an offensive line that's playing better and better."

Let’s go Bowl-er-ing

This matchup with Charlotte will likely be one of the few times that Duke punter Porter Wilson finds himself averaging less yards per punt than his opponent’s counterpart. 49er punter Conner Bowler is booting his punts a whopping 44.4 yards per attempt, nearly two more yards than Wilson.

Neither of these teams have high-powered offenses, so field position is going to be especially important. Bowler and Wilson can both flip the field with one swift kick, something that will come into play all game long. Granted, Wilson has been called upon 11 more times in two more games than Bowler this season, but they both have the potential to make a big impact Saturday.

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