After a much-needed bye week, Duke is finally back and looking for answers as the back half of its season begins.
The Blue Devils will play their first and only non-conference game against Charlotte Saturday at 7 p.m. in Wallace Wade Stadium. This contest marks the first ever meeting between the two schools.
Just a week after Duke’s first win of the year at Syracuse, the Blue Devils fell to N.C. State in Carter-Finley Stadium two weeks ago. Costly turnovers from a struggling offense and the team’s inability to push the momentum through the game have led to Duke’s continuing narrative since the start of the season.
Starting quarterback Chase Brice once again struggled with inconsistency, throwing three interceptions despite having a season-high 60 percent completion percentage. Head coach David Cutcliffe did have high praise for the Clemson transfer's fierce style of playing and is working on putting him in better positions moving forward. On the other hand, running backs Deon Jackson and Mataeo Durant, despite stellar performances against the Orange, combined for just 1.6 yards per carry thanks to the Wolfpack’s lockdown defense.
It’s been a tough week for the Blue Devils (1-5, 1-5 in the ACC), as the team’s starting center Will Taylor underwent knee surgery and will likely miss the remainder of the season. Freshman center Graham Barton, who filled in against N.C. State, will step up with Taylor and Jack Wohlabaugh sidelined.
“Graham never dreamed he would be starting at center for Duke,” said Cutcliffe. “He probably dreamed he was going to start at tackle one day, but here he is. And he will be our starting center. He's an extremely talented young man. He's got good people around him.”
"We've got Elijah Wrote working at center. Addison Penn, who missed time early in the year, who we did sign as a center. Another true freshman. So, we're very fortunate and Greg Frey has done a great job,” Cutcliffe said. "Maurice McIntyre can play center. Casey Holman can play center. We've worked a lot of different combinations because of the COVID circumstance and unfortunately COVID wasn't the reason two young men have gone out. Both of them are knee injuries. So, it's been a unique year, as I've said.”
Earlier this week, cornerback Mark Gilbert, who has battled with injuries throughout his career, announced his decision to opt out of the remainder of the season and prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft. Cutcliffe will have to be flexible with creating a new defensive lineup amid injury troubles in the secondary.
On the other hand, the 49ers (2-2, 2-1 in C-USA), led by second-year head coach Will Healy, are currently on a winning streak after back-to-back victories against in-conference opponents North Texas and UTEP.
Charlotte starting quarterback Chris Reynolds has been very consistent since returning from injury. With zero turnovers over his last three games, combined with a near 60 percent completion percentage thus far, Reynolds will surely become the Blue Devils’ biggest threat Saturday.
While the 49ers’ offense was consistent throughout the last game, it was the many mistakes from the opponent’s side that helped Charlotte pull away late. The Blue Devils must continue their focus on defense, as well as mitigating turnovers in order to avoid such misfortunes this weekend.
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