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Film room: Duke football looks to figure out zealous Cardinal defense

Running back Mataeo Durant has a tough nut to crack in terms of Louisville's run defense.
Running back Mataeo Durant has a tough nut to crack in terms of Louisville's run defense.

Louisville comes to Durham this Thursday to take on Duke football at Wallace Wade Stadium. The Blue Devils look to avoid their seventh-straight conference loss this season, so the Blue Zone previews the game with some film analysis:

On the heels of Duke football’s most recent blowout loss, it feels as if the Blue Devils have little to play for with the season winding down and the team now officially ineligible for the postseason. The story could not be more different for Louisville, who got back in the win column Saturday to even its record at 5-5, just a game away from bowl eligibility with two outings remaining.

The Cardinals—who started the season 3-1 before dipping below the .500 mark two weeks ago—left no doubt against Syracuse over the weekend, dominating nearly every facet of the game en route to an impressive 41-3 win. Head coach Scott Satterfield’s squad undoubtedly would love to secure a bowl bid Thursday night in Durham, especially with a tough matchup against Kentucky waiting on the other side.

Perhaps most impressive in Louisville’s most recent win was its rush defense, which stymied star running back Sean Tucker and Syracuse’s top-ranked ground attack to an extent that few others have: the NCAA’s second-leading rusher still tallied 95 yards, but that total checks in as his second-lowest of the season. Factor in Tucker’s 19 attempts, and his five yards per carry are his third-lowest of the season.

Louisville needed to shut down Tucker and did just that, but he still accomplished quite a bit in what was nearly another 100-yard performance. Seemingly stumped up front by a staunch defensive line and a group of firing linebackers, Tucker found success on more than one occasion in bouncing to the outside. By escaping the strength of the Cardinals’ front seven, the running back gave himself more time and room to work with. Watch below how Tucker recognizes the pressure he is facing, cuts outside and rumbles toward the first down marker for a nice gain.

Within the context of Duke’s upcoming matchup against Louisville, that might be an area that the Blue Devils can exploit. Tucker is likely the only running back in the ACC this season operating within the same tier as Mataeo Durant, Duke’s own star rusher. Louisville’s consistent run defense, ranked fifth in the conference, should pose quite the challenge to Durant, which could lead to a heavyweight battle featuring Duke’s offensive workhorse and a deep, talented defensive group.

Durant can use Tucker’s limited success against the Cardinals as a blueprint Thursday night. The senior from Plum Branch, S.C., is powerful enough to earn yards up the middle, but, like Tucker, he should capitalize against a defense that isn’t quite as good at setting the edge as its pedigree would suggest. Durant has seen success within this style before, specifically on this early play against Virginia:

But for as good as Louisville’s defense was against the Orange, the offense did rack up 41 points behind the strength of Malik Cunningham’s 209 passing yards and five total touchdowns. To not account for the impact that the redshirt junior quarterback has on the game would be a mistake for the Blue Devils, regardless of how important it may be for them to dissect the opposition’s defense.

Cunningham is a talented quarterback in many ways, but his rushing ability is what has always set him apart and what has made him difficult to scheme against. Beyond his pure power and speed as a runner, Cunningham almost always has a case as the most agile, elusive player on the football field. The Blue Devils have struggled against the run throughout conference play, and it doesn’t look as if their next opponent will make matters any easier.

Cunningham’s 19 rushing yards Saturday were actually his fewest of the season, but he still made his mark on just seven attempts. Watch the quarterback’s quickness in play as he sneaks past the oncoming defender for the score:

On both sides of the ball, the Blue Devils are sure to see Satterfield’s best hand as he and his team aim to put any lingering postseason questions to bed. Those cards won’t show until these two teams meet Thursday at Wallace Wade Stadium, but should they properly account for Louisville’s strengths and weaknesses, the Blue Devils might just have the right cards to counter.

Jonathan Levitan | Sports Editor

Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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