Duke is winless through four games for the first time since finishing 0-12 in 2006.
The Blue Devils will try to turn the tides, however, this Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in a road matchup at Syracuse. The last time these two teams squared off was not a game to remember for Duke—a 49-6 dumpster fire at Wallace Wade Stadium.
“A year ago, they came down here and spanked us pretty badly,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “So another big challenge—fifth ACC game in a row. It is what it is. It's 2020. We're not going to run from the challenge. We are going to run to the challenge.”
Last season’s matchup between the two squads featured a lot of Duke mistakes on both sides of the ball. Obviously, ball control has been something the Blue Devils (0-4, 0-4 in the ACC) have singled out as a point to improve on through the first several weeks of this season, but haven’t seen much change—through four games, Duke’s 15 turnovers lead the nation.
On the brighter side, senior Noah Gray has a pretty good shot in the coming weeks of setting the school's career record for receptions by a tight end—his 95 catches put him just three behind Stan Crisson’s 57-year-old mark.
The Orange (1-2, 1-2), led by fifth-year head coach Dino Babers, are coming off a 37-20 win against Georgia Tech two weeks ago. Syracuse’s defense was firing on all cylinders against Yellow Jackets quarterback Jeff Sims, intercepting four passes including the icing-on-the-cake pick-six in the fourth quarter. For Duke, this means quarterback Chase Brice must play smart and limit turnovers, though that’s been the Blue Devils’ game plan for several weeks running now, to no avail.
It's worth noting that top Orange safety and projected first-round draft pick Andre Cisco has been nursing a freak leg injury after colliding with a teammate prior to the Georgia Tech contest. With coaches still unsure of his availability two weeks after the injury, Syracuse’s secondary may be missing Cisco this week and beyond.
On the offensive end, redshirt junior quarterback Tommy DeVito has started the Orange’s first three games this season and led the high-tempo offense that tore Duke apart last year.
“Obviously, with offense, [Syracuse is] going to play fast,” Cutcliffe said. “They're going to spread the field. They've got some good football players and an outstanding quarterback in DeVito.”
Syracuse utilizes a run-pass option, so DeVito could end up throwing the ball anywhere from 10 to 40 times, simply depending on what is working against the Blue Devils’ injury-riddled defense. Duke’s defensive front needs to make a statement in stopping the run early and the secondary has to play on par with last week if the team wants any chance at coming away with the win.
“We can’t get tired with the hurry-up offense, because you know they can run a lot of plays real quick,” redshirt junior cornerback Leonard Johnson said. “We just have to condition during practice, stay up during practice and prepare for this Saturday.”
Johnson added that last season’s 49-6 loss is fresh in the minds of the returning players, and that they’re using that defeat as extra motivation heading into this weekend.
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Last week’s game against Virginia Tech may have been Duke’s most impressive team performance of the season. But the Blue Devils will need to carry that momentum forward if they hope to leave upstate New York with their first win on the year.