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Scouting the opponent: Duke football set to take on red-hot N.C. State squad

Duke's run game will be essential against an N.C. State defense that has vastly improved in recent weeks.
Duke's run game will be essential against an N.C. State defense that has vastly improved in recent weeks.

For the first time in seven years, bitter rivals meet again.

Duke will head to Raleigh this weekend to take on N.C. State Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Despite the fact that a mere 22 miles separate the two programs’ stadiums, the contest marks the first meeting between the two schools since the fall of 2013, a matchup that saw the Blue Devils continue their march to a Coastal Division title with a 38-20 victory. 

While the rosters and assistant coaches have undeniably changed since then, both teams will be led by the same men that roamed the sidelines seven years ago—Duke head coach David Cutcliffe and N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren.

“We’re playing a really, really good North Carolina State team, well-coached [in] all three phases,” Cutcliffe said. “They know how to win football games.”

The Wolfpack (3-1, 3-1 in the ACC) have featured a high-flying offense so far in 2020, averaging 34.3 points per game. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Devin Leary, who last year became the first redshirt freshman to start under center for N.C. State since Russell Wilson in 2010, has tossed seven touchdowns and completed 60 percent of his pass attempts in three starts this year. 

On the other side of the ball, however, the Wolfpack have struggled to stop the run up to this point, which bodes well for a Blue Devil offense that found its identity against Syracuse on the ground. With senior Deon Jackson and junior Mataeo Durant providing a formidable tandem, Duke (1-4, 1-4) will likely look to get things going offensively through its stable of talented backs. Based on the numbers and the film, both players provide quickness, strength and consistency.

“I feel like me and Deon are very much pretty similar, he’s just a bigger back than I am. I feel like we have a lot of speed and we’re both very powerful,” Durant said. “We’re just a great one-two punch overall—there’s not a drop-off when he comes in or when I go in.”

The Wolfpack’s defensive struggles have subsided over the last two weeks in road victories against then-No. 24 Pittsburgh and Virginia. Giving up just 25 points per game in those two wins was a clear improvement for N.C. State after allowing Wake Forest and then-No. 20 Virginia Tech to rack up an average of 43.5 points on the first two Saturdays of the ACC season.

“They’re very aggressive on defense,” Cutcliffe said. “Since the Virginia Tech game, they’ve had a mentality. They’re physical, they tackle well [and] they play well together.”

Duke will need to utilize the confidence it generated from last week’s blitzing of Syracuse in order to take care of business this Saturday. With all that is at stake—regional bragging rights and a chance to continue a potential turnaround of a season that has not gone according to plan in the slightest—look for the Blue Devils to come out with an aggressive game plan that puts pressure on N.C. State with every snap. 

“We need to play a complete game. We know we’re capable—in all five of our games we’ve had moments where we’ve played really good football,” Cutcliffe said. “They’re working really hard at practice, they’re doing everything we ask them to do, but we need to put together a complete game and it couldn’t be a better week to do that than this one.

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