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X-factor: Shaka Heyward will need to be all over the field in Atlanta

<p>The Blue Devils are looking to beat the Yellow Jackets for the fourth straight year.</p>

The Blue Devils are looking to beat the Yellow Jackets for the fourth straight year.

With just two remaining games, Duke football needs to win out this season in order to salvage a somewhat less lopsided record. It’s not going to be easy, but the last two games are against struggling opponents and the Blue Devils definitely have the roster to be available to eek out two more wins. 

Shaka Heyward, LB, Duke

Shaka Heyward is Duke’s leading tackler, and has emerged as the unquestionable leader of the linebacker corps. Georgia Tech has relied on young talent all year, meaning they are vulnerable to making mistakes the longer they are on the field. Heyward’s sure-tackling is going to make all the difference in the game. He needs to make Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims put together 10-plus play drives if the Yellow Jackets want to score and he can do that by continuing to be a consistent interior presence.

As Heyward forces Sims to methodically drive down the field, the chances of an interception or fumble from freshman running back Jahmyr Gibbs exponentially increase and will give the defense a chance for a big turnover.

Based on pure talent, the Yellow Jackets can play with the Blue Devils but all the advantage goes to Duke if Heyward clogs the holes and keeps Sims from breaking free off of scrambles. As long as Heyward is plugging the middle of the offense, Sims will be forced to pass and that bodes well for Duke considering he has thrown 10 interceptions in seven games. 

Jeff Sims, QB, Georgia Tech

Sims has had a very true freshman season marred by inconsistency and flashes of the quarterback head coach Geoff Collins expects him to be. Regardless of the rollercoaster of a season Sims is having, he is entering his eighth college game and it is more a matter of when, not if, Sims will have a highlight-filled game.

If this Saturday is when Sims decides to breakout, Duke is in trouble.The Blue Devils have not faced a dual-threat quarterback since they played Virginia Tech at the beginning of October, and Sims is much more talented than any dual-threat quarterback Duke has come across this year. Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong and Virginia Tech’s Braxton Burmeister used their legs to bail them out of broken plays, and Duke’s secondary has only gotten more depleted since then.

The catch-22 situation that Sims puts the Duke defense in is deciding whether they want to have an extra man in coverage or spying Sims. Overall, Sims is largely unproven in college and if the Blue Devils can force him to beat them with his arm, they are in good shape on Saturday.

Jake C. Piazza

Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.


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