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Third and goal: Duke football must apply pressure to take down Georgia Tech

DeWayne Carter led Duke with 1.5 sacks against the Tar Heels.
DeWayne Carter led Duke with 1.5 sacks against the Tar Heels.

On the heels of a brutal loss to rival North Carolina, Duke stays home Saturday for its first home ACC matchup of the season. As the Blue Devils look to get back in the win column, the Blue Zone brings you three keys to a Duke victory:

Quarterback pressure

Last Saturday against North Carolina, the Blue Devils finally accomplished what they hadn’t all season: they got to the quarterback. The defense doubled its 2021 sack total—from five to 10—in just one game. Five different players got in on the action, with DeWayne Carter leading the way with 1.5 sacks. This should mark a turning point for a defense that has struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks all season long. 

Duke's defensive line faces a tall task Saturday in containing Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims. Sims threw for 359 yards, a pair of touchdowns and a pair of interceptions in Georgia Tech’s loss to Pittsburgh last time out. The dual-threat quarterback also rushed for 38 yards. Sims poses a serious threat to an inconsistent Duke defense, but if the Blue Devils can apply pressure as they did against the Tar Heels, they can slow down the visiting offense and give themselves a fighting chance. 

Finish the drive

The Blue Devils punted nine times against the Tar Heels. Two more drives ended when Duke failed to convert on fourth down and two more with two turnovers by quarterback Gunnar Holmberg, the first of which was returned for a touchdown. Duke fell behind early and could never recover, ending the first half staring at a 24-0 deficit.

As such, key this week will be capitalizing on big plays and finishing drives in the end zone. Georgia Tech can score—they put up 45 points on North Carolina—and no doubt would like to make this a high-scoring affair. Holmberg is working against an efficient Sims-led offense, and the Blue Devils need to match their opponent's scoring pace in order to pull out the victory. 

Ground game

At this point, Mataeo Durant's importance to the offense is clear. Even in Duke's losing battle at North Carolina he notched 114 yards, as the senior running back is now up to 636 total yards on the season and is showing no signs of slowing down. This week he faces an unpredictable Georgia Tech defense that most recently gave up 181 rushing yards to Pittsburgh but only 63 to North Carolina the week before.

Durant is, plainly, the spark the offense needs Saturday. In Duke's first home ACC matchup of the year, early rushing success by its offensive cornerstone could get the offense flowing and the crowd roaring. Durant has the opportunity to help the Blue Devils flip the script after a miserable road loss. Expect strong offensive line play and equally strong running to give Duke the advantage they need.

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