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Third and goal: Duke will need to restart the run game in order to find offensive success

Deon Jackson can return to his normal self this game, as the Blue Devils look to catch their stride once again.
Deon Jackson can return to his normal self this game, as the Blue Devils look to catch their stride once again.

The Blue Devils will return to action this weekend as they welcome the Charlotte 49ers to Wallace Wade Stadium for the first matchup between the two programs. The 49ers have rattled off two straight wins to climb to 2-2 on the season, while Duke will look to rebound after falling flat at N.C. State two weeks ago. The Blue Zone gives you three keys to the Blue Devils’ matchup with the 49ers:

Return to the Run

Duke’s first win of the season doubled as a huge breakout game for the running back duo of Deon Jackson and Mataeo Durant: both backs accounted for more than 160 rushing yards on a combined 53 carries, with Durant making his way into the end zone twice and Jackson breaking free for a fifty-yard gain early on. As the dust settled in the Carrier Dome postgame, it appeared that the previously stagnant Blue Devil offense may have finally found its niche.

It was not to be, however. In the team’s most recent loss at the hands of the Wolfpack, Jackson and Durant combined to average less than 1.6 YPC and tallied a mere 43 yards, half as many as quarterback Chase Brice’s 86 rushing yards. While it certainly was not the sequel Duke fans were hoping for, the disappointing outing may very well have been the product of an unfavorable game script, as Duke fell behind for good in the third quarter. As a result, Jackson and Durant totaled just 27 carries, good for half as many as the week prior.

This week, the Blue Devils will take on a 49ers team that has fared poorly early on in games. With Duke’s well-documented knack for getting off to a hot start, the game script should be much kinder to the backfield on Saturday. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Charlotte’s rushing defense is dreadful, ranking near the bottom of Conference USA and yielding just below 200 YPG on the ground. If Duke can lean into their strong backfield here, they could very well put on the repeat performance that the Blue Devil faithful so desperately desire.

Finish the Game

A Duke football game is like trying to sprint a marathon: it may start out hot, but it is nearly certain to have an ice-cold finish.

For all the success that the Blue Devils have had early on, they have made a habit of fading late in games. From Notre Dame to N.C. State, each loss has seen the Blue Devils hit a metaphoric wall almost exactly on cue, but the upcoming battle has the makings of one in which the team will finally kick the habit. Coming off of a bye week that saw the coaching staff prioritize rest and recovery, Duke should enter the game with fresh legs. A tight game, by this logic, would favor the Blue Devils. 

Yet while the talent here in Durham may be a tier above that of the opposition, Duke cannot underestimate the late game capabilities of a team that may have recently discovered its identity as a second-half squad in a tight win against UTEP. The Blue Devils can – and should – plan on playing all four quarters.

No place like home

Charlotte is, to put it simply, not good on the road. Dating back to last season, they have posted a 3-6 road record, and have dropped two of three away from home this fall.  Even in a world without fans, Duke should hold a steady advantage in its own stadium against a relatively new program with little experience against Power Five teams. The Blue Devils should recognize that this is their house and play with a level of confidence as a result.

This game does, however, appear to have implications beyond this season. Charlotte has made a point out of getting the state of North Carolina’s premier football programs on the schedule – their early season bout with the Tar Heels was canceled due to the pandemic – and coach Will Healy has gone on the record to state his intention to compete with such schools for in-state recruiting in hopes of keeping his young program on the rise. While Duke’s season might not be salvageable by some standards, this game could have implications far beyond 2020, and that is something that each person on the Blue Devil sideline can rally behind. It is just one more reason for Duke to protect its house and take care of a less talented, less experienced team come Saturday.

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