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5 things to know before Duke football hosts North Carolina A&T

Duke looks to reach 3-0 in Saturday's game against North Carolina A&T in Durham.
Duke looks to reach 3-0 in Saturday's game against North Carolina A&T in Durham.

Duke is off to a strong start this year, with a blowout win against Temple in Wallace Wade Stadium followed by a strong—but still tight—win against Northwestern on the road. Saturday, the Blue Devils will be back at home against North Carolina A&T. Here are five things to look for as Duke looks to open up a three-game winning streak to kick off the season.

Keep the scoring going

The Blue Devils have been strong on the offensive side of the ball through their first two games, scoring a total of 61 points while averaging 196.5 rushing yards and 284 yards through the air.  The Aggies, on the other hand, have struggled to get the ball into the end zone thus far. 

They scored 13 points in their first game, and just three in their second, losing first to North Carolina Central and then to North Dakota State. If Duke can keep its offense rolling as it has in these first two weeks, then it should have no problem outscoring North Carolina A&T. 

Second-half consistency 

Despite the high scores in their first two games, the Blue Devils’ offense has not been as consistent as it aspires to be. In their season-opening win against Temple, the Blue Devils only scored six points on two field goals in the second half. Against Northwestern, the story was similar, as the Blue Devils allowed the Wildcats to come back into the game late and nearly steal the victory. 

“Our goal is to play a full game the same way we play the first half,” running back Jordan Waters said in a Tuesday media availability.

The Blue Devils, who seem to be aware of the disconnect in the second half, will need to keep that high level of offensive production up throughout the game, lest they risk having the win ripped away from them late in the fourth quarter. 

The defense

Northwestern spent most of Saturday’s game on offense, holding the ball for almost 10 minutes longer than Duke and keeping the Blue Devils’ defense on the field for nearly 100 plays. If the Duke offense continues with its highly effective, fast-paced and hard-hitting attack, then the Blue Devils’ defense should aim to get off the field quickly. 

By focusing on stopping the run and forcing the Aggies to risk taking their attack to the air, Duke can avoid long, drawn-out and physically punishing drives on defense. That figures to be especially important against a North Carolina A&T offense that has averaged 110.5 rushing yards per game through two contests on the shoulders of its top running back, Bhayshul Tuten. 

The run game 

One thing that Duke excelled in against Northwestern was pounding the ball on the ground. The Blue Devils rushed for 221 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry, including one 42-yard touchdown run from Waters.

That kind of rushing dominance will be hard-earned against North Carolina A&T. The Aggies are a physical team that typically prefers to play with four defensive linemen on the front. In its first two games this fall, North Carolina A&T has allowed an average of just 109 rushing yards per game, compared to Duke’s average rushing yards of 196.5. It will be up to the Duke offensive line to keep the Aggies away from both sophomore quarterback Riley Leonard and its running backs if the Blue Devils aim to continue their success on the ground. 

Tuning out the noise 

For the first time since 2018, all tickets to Wallace Wade have been distributed prior to game day. While Duke’s season opener had more than 20,000 fans in attendance, all 40,004 tickets to this Saturday’s matchup in Durham have been accounted for. Even though the crowd is sure to be mostly friendly, it will still be an adjustment for the Blue Devils, who likely are not used to the level of noise that comes with a sold-out stadium. Duke will need to remain composed and in control despite the level of excitement.

“We know we're going to get the best from our opponent,” head coach Mike Elko said in his Monday media availability. “That’s what 2-0 gets us.”

This will be especially key in a game that the Blue Devils are expected to win—they opened as a 27.5-point favorite. With the hype around a potential 3-0 start palpable, Duke needs to be prepared to play its best in a raucous environment against a tough team that is hungry for a win, or else it will risk letting a game that it should win slip through its fingers. 

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