Scouting the opponent: Duke football set for battle of undefeated teams at Kansas

Duke topped Kansas in Durham a season ago behind Gunnar Holmberg's five total touchdowns.
Duke topped Kansas in Durham a season ago behind Gunnar Holmberg's five total touchdowns.

Duke has gotten off to a remarkably hot 3-0 start, and following a 49-20 blowout win against North Carolina A&T, the Blue Devils will hit the road Saturday to face Kansas in Lawrence, Kan. The Jayhawks have started with an equally blazing 3-0 start, and Saturday’s showdown on the road will likely be an offensive shootout. Can the Blue Devils make it to 4-0? Or will the Jayhawks end Duke head coach Mike Elko’s honeymoon? Let’s take a look at what the squad hailing from Lawrence has coming up for the Blue Devils. 

Last year’s matchup against the Jayhawks was one of the few bright spots for Duke in what was a dark season for the Durham-based outfit. The Blue Devils came out on the winning side of a 52-33 shootout, carried in large part by then-quarterback Gunnar Holmberg, who rushed for four touchdowns and threw for another. 

Kansas was, in fact, one of the worst FBS teams in 2021. The Jayhawks went 2-10 on the year, and struggled on both sides of the ball. Their defense was especially porous, allowing the second most points per game in college football at 42.2. Their offense was not much better either. It was the worst in the Big 12 in scoring, averaging 20.8 points per game. 

But this year, things are very different for both traditionally basketball-focused schools. On Duke’s end, there is a new head coach, a new quarterback and a new mindset. On the Lawrence-based operation’s side, Kansas has turned into an offensive powerhouse, dominating both in the air and on the ground. The Jayhawks have averaged 453.0 yards of offense and 53.0 points per game to this point. A big part of that has been due to the performance of junior quarterback Jalon Daniels, who is averaging 188.7 passing yards with a 67.1% completion rate and just one interception on the year. 

“They've got a tremendous dual threat quarterback,” Elko said during his Monday media availability. “And what they're doing on offense is extremely challenging.” 

One area in which the Jayhawks did not struggle in 2021 and have remained strong this year is on their offensive line. With four returning starters in protection, Kansas is yet to allow its quarterback to be sacked. In a similar vein, that strong offensive line has allowed the Jayhawks to punish their opponents on the ground, averaging 259.0 rushing yards per game, a big chunk of which have come from Daniels, who leads the team with 79.0 yards a game. 

On the other side of the ball, the Kansas defense has been solid. The Blue Devils can look forward to more of the same physically punishing four-down defensive scheme that they faced against the North Carolina A&T and Northwestern squads. With that line, the Jayhawks have been able to contain the run game extremely well, limiting their opponents to 137.7 ground yards per game. The Kansas defense has also been strong when it comes to pressuring the quarterback, with nine sacks during the first three games this year. 

“They play extremely hard. And so they've been able to really stop people from running the football,” said Elko. “That recipe is a recipe for success as we've talked about and so, we're gonna have our hands full out there in Lawrence.”

The Blue Devils will certainly have their hands full against the Jayhawks, as this will be far and away the toughest game they have played so far in the 2022 campaign. Kansas is a tough, physical team that uses a dual-threat quarterback behind a stellar offensive line and an aggressive defensive front that puts pressure on opposing passers. 

This game will hinge on Duke breaking through that tough offensive line and forcing Daniels to make quick decisions. Either way, fans should be in for a physical and tight game Saturday in Lawrence, between two exciting and surprising teams each with something to prove.


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