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Film room: Duke football must slow down rushing attack to upset Kansas

Duke takes on another undefeated team in Kansas Saturday.
Duke takes on another undefeated team in Kansas Saturday.

Duke travels to Kansas Saturday for its second away game of the year. The Blue Zone analyzes the Jayhawks on film prior to the 12 p.m. showdown:

Following a resounding 49-20 victory against North Carolina A&T, Duke remains undefeated with three games won. The team’s best opening since 2018 has been marked by solid play from sophomore quarterback Riley Leonard, a commanding running game and restored defensive strength.

It is just Duke's luck that its next opponent, Kansas, is also undefeated to start the year. Currently ranked first in the Big 12, the Jayhawks have scored 48 or more points in each game behind dual-threat quarterback Jalon Daniels. The Blue Devils mark Kansas' last statement before heading into challenging games against conference opponents Iowa State, TCU and Oklahoma. However, the group already has one strong conference performance under its belt, against West Virginia.

The Jaywalks' most exciting game of the year thus far was their 55-42 thriller against the Mountaineers Sept. 10. A brilliant catch by freshman wide receiver Quentin Skinner let Kansas take a one-score lead in overtime. The Mountaineers quickly marched down to the Jayhawks’ 20-yard line in hopes of sending the contest to a second overtime. On a third-and-5, Mountaineer quarterback JT Daniels attempted to connect with wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton on an out route. Yet, Kansas cornerback Cobee Bryant cleverly read the play, picked off Jalon Daniels and ended the game with an 86-yard house call.

Meanwhile, Duke’s run defense, which has held opponents to 3.4 yards per carry, presents an intriguing matchup for the Jayhawks’ rushing attack. Kansas has averaged 259.0 yards per game on the ground, with Daniels sublime on that end. In a 48-30 win against Houston on Saturday, the quarterback had 12 carries for 123.0 yards and two scores on the ground, including an incredible nine-yard run to the end zone to put the Jayhawks up 35-21 in the third quarter. But Duke's defensive performance hasn't been perfect, allowing 5.3 yards per carry by North Carolina A&T Saturday night, introducing an opportunity for Kansas to exploit the run-stopping group.

Besides allowing those runs, the Blue Devils had an otherwise strong defensive game with the Aggies, holding them to six points in the first half and sacking their quarterback four times. With seven minutes left in the first quarter, junior interior defender Aeneas Peebles garnered a strip sack on Aggie signal-caller Jalen Fowler that lead to a 35-yard scoop-and-score by redshirt junior defensive tackle DeWayne Carter to put Duke up 21-0.

Kansas appears to have a slight edge due to its quarterback's dominance on the ground and in the air, as well as its overall rushing prowess. However, the Blue Devils have a powerful dual-threat signal-caller of their own in Leonard. Duke is no stranger to winning as the underdog this season, as its Sept. 10 win over Northwestern shows. With head coach Mike Elko’s squad riding high on momentum, the Blue Devils must play to near perfection on both sides of the ball to earn a gripping 4-0 start.

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