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Duke football travels to Georgia Tech in search of confidence-boosting win

<p>Running back Mataeo Durant has paced the Blue Devils' offense early.</p>

Running back Mataeo Durant has paced the Blue Devils' offense early.

This season has not been kind to Georgia Tech or Duke. 

With a combined 4-11 record between them, neither squad has figured out the formula for success in this ACC-heavy schedule, though Saturday night’s matchup at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta should still be a hard-fought contest.

“Georgia Tech's a much better football team than most people are going to think based on records and different things,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. “And I think we are too.”

Due to byes and various postponements, the Yellow Jackets haven’t played since Oct. 31 while Duke hasn’t played since Nov. 7. So while the season has been a struggle for both, there’s no doubt they’ll be eager to return to play.

“A lot of the guys just can’t wait to go out and play against Georgia Tech,” senior tight end Noah Gray said. “I know that [Georgia Tech has] been off for an extended period of time so I think it’s going to be good for both programs to get back out on the field.”

On the Blue Devil side, it’s all about running backs Deon Jackson and Mataeo Durant. Georgia Tech has surrendered over 200 rushing yards in both of its last two games and places 14th in the ACC in rush defense overall, which plays directly into Duke’s greatest offensive strength. 

Durant is having the best season of his collegiate career, with his 592 yards on the ground already surpassing his mark from last year. Jackson is not far behind with 580 yards of his own, and together the duo has willed Duke (2-6, 1-6 in the ACC) to its lone two wins this season. 

The big question mark on offense continues to be the quarterback position. Redshirt junior Chase Brice has started each of the Blue Devils’ eight games this year, but redshirt sophomore Gunnar Holmberg has slowly started to see more playing time and there’s no clear indication of who Duke's quarterback of the future is.

With the Blue Devils guaranteed to finish below .500 on the year, it will be interesting to see if Cutcliffe shakes things up in order to get younger players experience and begin to build for next season. 

Leading the charge for Georgia Tech (2-5, 2-4) is true freshman quarterback Jeff Sims, who came to Atlanta as a four-star recruit and earned the starting role right away but has yet to put it all together. The Jacksonville, Fla., native has completed 55.7 percent of his passes for 1,346 yards, eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions through the air, adding 277 yards and four scores on the ground.

While Sims has struggled to keep the ball out of opposing defenders’ hands, he possesses impressive talent and could be in for a breakout game. Senior safeties Marquis Waters and Michael Carter II have anchored Duke’s injury-ridden secondary all season long, but both will need to be sharp Saturday in order to limit Sims’ ability to extend plays.

Both of these teams have struggled to win the turnover battle, with the Yellow Jackets’ -7 turnover ratio on the year placing them 13th in the ACC and the Blue Devils’ -11 mark putting them at 14th. Whoever can avoid those easy giveaways could go a long way in determining the outcome of Saturday’s contest.

Duke’s defensive end duo of Chris Rumph II and Victor Dimukeje will help greatly with both bottling Sims up and creating turnovers. Both Rumph and Dimukeje are tied for third in the country with 7.5 sacks apiece, and the latter of the two has a little extra incentive Saturday being one sack away from becoming the all-time leader at Duke. 

All in all, these two teams match up very evenly, and despite neither having a successful season, numerous storylines remain as the 2020 campaign begins to come to a close.

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