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Third and goal: Duke needs to bring pressure on Howell in order to compete against the Tar Heels

Deon Jackson will need to rack up yardage to put the pressure on the North Carolina linebackers.
Deon Jackson will need to rack up yardage to put the pressure on the North Carolina linebackers.

The most anticipated game on Duke’s schedule is finally here and for either team to secure the Victory Bell, it is going to take 60 minutes of quality football. North Carolina is coming off a rough patch in its season, dropping two of its last three games, but the Tar Heels are as talented as any team in the ACC. Duke is flirting with a season turnaround, as the emergence of the run game has given a glimpse of hope. The Blue Zone brings you three factors that will be pivotal in Saturday’s matchup:

Tar Heel down

Defensive ends Chris Rumph II and Victor Dimukeje have quietly grabbed the lead for most sacks in the country, with them both tied for first at 7.5 sacks. The good news for them is that North Carolina struggles protecting quarterback Sam Howell.

In an interesting juxtaposition, the Tar Heel offensive line is dominating in the run game but when Howell drops back, they are giving up an average of 3.2 sacks per game. North Carolina isn’t showing any signs that their pass protection is improving either, as last week Virginia sacked Howell five times en route to upsetting the Tar Heels.

Going strictly off of the statistics, Duke has the best defensive ends that North Carolina has come across so far. Dimukeje and Rumph have the ability to help out the Duke secondary by making an extremely talented Howell have a difficult day in the passing game. If the Blue Devils want to stun the rest of the ACC, this matchup is going to be the difference. 

Ball first, block second

The North Carolina defense is slightly different than most of the opponents Duke has played this season, but what is most important for the Blue Devils to take note of is that they will line up a nose tackle right over the center all game long.

With all the football knowledge on that North Carolina coaching staff, expect to see a nose tackle in front of new starter Graham Barton to try to take advantage of his inexperience. The Tar Heels do not have a particular player on their defensive line that can take over a game, but with their recent struggles defending the run, a packed box is likely to happen this Saturday. 

Barton is going to have to keep his composure when the Tar Heels do bring a blitz in the A-gap while they have their nose tackle chip him. If Barton can do that, Duke will be in good shape to let Chase Brice and company work their way down the field. 

Chazz hands

The North Carolina defense has an exceptional linebacker corps, led by redshirt senior Chazz Surratt. Surratt, who is a quarterback turned linebacker, is the go-to guy when head coach Mack Brown needs a big play and the rest of the defense feeds off of him. 

The inside linebacker’s fingerprints are on every defensive aspect of the game, as he has notched an interception, 4.0 sacks and a forced fumble this season. Although Surratt’s versatility attracts most of the attention, fellow linebackers Jeremiah Gemmel and Tomon Fox have managed to fill up the stat sheet as well.

Gemmel is tied for second on the team with 30 tackles and although he only has two sacks, his four quarterback hurries show that he is more than capable of getting into the backfield. Fox leads the team in tackles for loss while also contributing four sacks of his own. Duke needs to wear these linebackers down with the run game to help nullify their impact and keep Surratt from making momentum-shifting plays. 

Jake C. Piazza

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


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