The Blue Devils pulled off an encouraging 30-23 win against Northwestern last week, and they can maintain their perfect home record by keeping up that momentum against Kansas at Wallace Wade Stadium this Saturday afternoon. In preparation, the Blue Zone brings three keys to game for Duke to do just that:
Pushing past halftime
While Duke has consistently started games strong, their stats have shown that they lack strong finishes. Through the early portions of this season, they have been outscored in the second half 40-38. Conversely, in the first half of games they have cumulatively outscored their opponents 65-31. This major drop off in production following halftime is an issue that will need to be fixed for the Blue Devils to get to where they want to be. It cost them against Charlotte and it’s only a matter of time before it costs them again.
However, Kansas hasn’t been performing in the second half either. In fact, they have only scored a total of 17 points in comparison to the 66 points they have allowed in those final two quarters. This is a prime opportunity for the Blue Devils. They must take advantage of Kansas’ weak second half performances to fix their own late-game issues and finally finish strong.
Command the air
An interesting trend in Duke’s games this season has been the correlation between their passing yards and the results of the game. In their first two wins, Duke out-passed their opponents by 227 yards against North Carolina A&T and 90 yards against Northwestern. In Duke’s first and only loss of the season against Charlotte, however, their opponent out-passed them 324 yards to 228. It is no secret that Duke dominates on the ground, but it is when they simultaneously prevail through the air that they become so difficult to beat.
The Jayhawks’ defense should make this a strong likelihood. They are already giving up 204 yards per game while their offense is only averaging 152.7. Therefore, it shouldn’t be too difficult for Duke, with the fourth most passing yards in the ACC, to once again outmatch their opponents in this portion of the battle. If they keep up their rushing consistency and take advantage of a suspect Kansas pass defense then this trend of winning on the scoreboard and through the air should continue.
Convert those downs
Kansas is a mess when it comes to initiating conversions and defending against them. In the Big 12, they are last in first downs, last in opponent first downs, last in third down conversions and last in opponent third down conversions. This is a serious weakness that continuously hinders the Jayhawks and has been a major determining factor in their last two blowout losses. On the other hand, Duke is not riddled with all these same issues, actually thriving in some of the same categories. They rank first in third down conversions in the ACC with a staggering 54.9% success rate compared to the Jayhawk’s measly 34.1%.
Keeping a drive alive is critical for an offense to gain momentum and maintain it. The Jayhawks have only gained three turnovers in their first three games. Therefore, it will likely be difficult for the defense to create extra possessions. This means the value of maintaining their drives by converting on third downs becomes all the more important. Additionally, on defense this means getting their offense off the field the less flashy way, forcing punts. But that’s another problem that Duke has to patch.
Although Duke has been incredible at keeping their offense on the field with conversions, their defense, like Kansas, has struggled with stopping their opponents from doing the same. If Duke wants to be the next team to dominate the Jayhawks then their defense will have to tighten up on third downs and flip the possession back into the hands of their offensive stars. The momentum starts with denying those conversions and builds by converting them on the other end.
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