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X-Factor: Duke football needs Leonard Johnson to help reinvigorate the defense

Leonard Johnson was named a team captain Friday by head coach David Cutcliffe.
Leonard Johnson was named a team captain Friday by head coach David Cutcliffe.

After suffering a pair of consecutive blowout losses to Virginia and Wake Forest, the Blue Devils return home for the first time in nearly a month Saturday to take on Pittsburgh. With that, the Blue Zone brings you a player to watch out for on both sides:

Duke: Cornerback Leonard Johnson

The Blue Devils face an uncompromising opponent Saturday, meaning that they will need all hands on deck. Last week, X-factor Shaka Heyward was expected to provide that boost against Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. Despite an impressive defensive showing, the redshirt junior’s game was second on the day to the performance of Leonard Johnson.

Johnson led the team defensively by garnering nine tackles, all of which he performed solo. The Blue Devils and Panthers only have one overlapping opponent in the books, Georgia Tech, and it is one that the former lost to and the latter demolished. Considering the Yellow Jackets fell to Pittsburgh 52-21, the Blue Devils will need to play a solid defensive game from the opening snap to contend with the visiting Panthers.

Though Johnson has not recorded the most tackles on the team this season, he has been a force when it comes to interceptions. His high versatility and football IQ will be vital Saturday as the Blue Devils aim for an improved defensive performance. And as a newly appointed team captain, Johnson's leadership will prove invaluable in the secondary's efforts this weekend.

Pittsburgh: Quarterback Kenny Pickett

If you have been paying attention to college football this season, you already know to watch out for Kenny Pickett. Amid an impressive season, the redshirt senior quarterback has racked up candidacy for a handful of impressive awards and remains a long-shot candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Pickett's play has also led his team to the national leaderboards—the Panthers rank first in the ACC and fifth nationally for points per game at 43.9.

Pickett's accolades come as no surprise when considering that he has already passed for 2,755 yards and 26 touchdowns this season, good for sixth and fourth nationally, respectively. Pickett plays a power game comparable to Virginia's Brennan Armstrong, and if Duke learned anything from its shutout loss to the Cavaliers, the Blue Devils must ensure that they shut down Pickett come Saturday.

Ana Young | Assistant Blue Zone Editor

Ana Young is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle’s 118th volume.


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