After a disappointing 2-9 season in 2020, Duke football head coach David Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils are closing in on their first game of the season against the Charlotte 49ers. As Friday draws closer, the Blue Zone has you covered with some film study:
Last season was surely a frustrating one for Charlotte, as they missed six games due to COVID-19, ultimately playing only six games and finishing 2-4. This season figures to be no less challenging for the 49ers, whose secondary was hit especially hard, as the team lost star safety Ben DeLuca—a four-year starter and owner of the program's career tackles record. While former Duke cornerback Antone Williams is a veteran who can step up to the challenge for the 49ers, an air raid offensive strategy by the Blue Devils could expose some weaknesses in Charlotte’s secondary Friday.
On the offensive side of the ball, Charlotte’s starting quarterback Chris Reynolds looks to improve upon a solid, yet shortened 2020 season. In only six games, Reynolds managed to throw for just over 1,300 yards, eight touchdowns and only two interceptions with a somewhat low completion percentage of 54.9%—down significantly from the past two years. Reynolds tends to get rid of the ball quickly, with the offense incorporating plenty of drags, flats and quick out-routes last year to account for a poor pass-blocking offensive line and his hesitancy to launch the ball deep.
In last season’s game against Duke, Charlotte's offensive line was especially shaky, allowing five sacks and eight tackles for loss. Coming into this year, the offensive line has not seen drastic improvements, and the Blue Devils could have plenty of opportunities to sack Reynolds in Friday's contest.
The Blue Devils will also have to watch out for Reynolds’ play-making abilities using his legs. In 2019, he rushed a career-high 153 times for 767 yards and six touchdowns. Charlotte's coaching staff has made excellent use of his talent, frequently utilizing designed quarterback runs and play-action, a staple of his game. Reynolds was far less effective at rushing the ball in 2020 with 50 attempts for 36 yards and zero scores—possibly due to the dip in the offensive line's performance—but he definitely still has it in him and could catch Duke by surprise.
The running game will also be interesting to watch with so many unknowns on Charlotte’s side. Having lost their two top rushers in Tre Harbison and Aaron McAllister, the 49ers are going to have to dig deep into their roster to find their main guy—but until then, we will likely see a rotation of players in the backfield. It is a relatively inexperienced group as well, with only a handful of the ten rostered running backs having more than ten career carries. If the Blue Devils can attack the run game and force Reynolds into tough situations, they should find themselves in a good position.
With lots of new faces to the Charlotte offense and defense, the Blue Devils will have to be prepared for anything as they enter Friday looking to secure their first victory of the season.
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