It’s been all Duke the past two times the Blue Devils and Hurricanes have faced off.
But this time, head coach David Cutcliffe’s squad welcomes No. 9 Miami to Wallace Wade Stadium as heavy underdogs Saturday at 8 p.m.
“Nobody enjoys getting beat, particularly me. I’ve never been a good loser,” Cutcliffe said during his weekly press conference Monday. “But I will say this—this has been an inspirational year of football for us here. Nobody has run away from any part of it.”
Despite its turbulent season thus far, Duke (2-7, 1-7 in the ACC) remains fully invested in finishing off the campaign on a high note. Saturday will undoubtedly be one of the Blue Devils’ toughest matchups of the season, however, as Hurricane head coach Manny Diaz appears to finally be bringing Miami (7-1, 6-1) back to national relevance.
One of the biggest X-factors Saturday will be Duke’s ability to stop the Miami rushing attack. Like many of the Blue Devils’ opponents this season, the Hurricane boast a solid 1-2 punch in the ground game, though it looks a little bit different than the others. Junior Cam’Ron Harris is the bell cow at running back, but it’s actually quarterback D’eriq King who leads the team in rushes.
“The run game has been difficult for us these past few games. [We’re] letting up too many rushing yards,” Duke linebacker Shaka Heyward said. "But we’ll get that squared away this week.”
King entered the season as a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender, and although that ship has sailed, the Houston transfer is not to be overlooked. Against N.C. State Nov. 6, he torched the Wolfpack for 430 yards and five touchdowns through the air while adding 105 yards with his legs.
All eyes will be on Heyward and senior safety Marquis Waters, the Blue Devils’ two leading tacklers, to contain King. The former will be especially important—King is the kind of quarterback that requires a spy, and Heyward is the best candidate for the job.
There is no Michael Irvin on this Miami receiving corps, but senior Mike Harley is coming off two recent games in which he went over 100 yards receiving and broke loose for big chunk plays. Fortunately for Duke, Waters and fellow senior safety Michael Carter II have done a solid job of covering slot receivers all year.
Regardless of how well the Blue Devil defense plays, though, if Duke wants any chance at an upset it will need quarterback Chase Brice and company to find the offensive groove they've been lacking all year.
“With the offense, we just have to put drives together, score points, be able to compete, battle with their defense,” redshirt sophomore receiver Jarett Garner said. “That’s kind of what they pride themselves on with the turnover chain and all that.”
If the Hurricanes have shown anything throughout the years, it’s that when they have a big play, they aren’t afraid to let everyone know.
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The notorious turnover chain can be a demoralizing blow for Miami’s opponents, which is why Duke's skill players need to play with some extra juice Saturday. Running backs Mataeo Durant and Deon Jackson will have to hit the holes just a little bit harder and Garner will need to prove himself as a deep threat if the Blue Devils hope to compete.
But it’s Brice who’s the real key to a Duke victory, with everyone still waiting for that switch to flip for the Clemson transfer. Although his final stat line may not show it, last week against Georgia Tech was one of his better performances, as dropped passes by multiple Duke receivers killed drives in which the Georgia native was thriving.
If Saturday’s game is the day that Brice finally hits his stride, then the Blue Devils may be able to play spoiler and ruin Miami’s hopes of an ACC Championship Game, and potential College Football Playoff, appearance.