Duke football is back in action Saturday in Durham against North Carolina A&T. The Blue Devils, with ACC play just around the corner, will look to extend their record to 3-0, which hasn’t been done since 2018. Head coach Mike Elko’s squad is the clear favorite against the Aggies, and they’ll bring momentum from last week’s victory on the road against Northwestern as well as the support from fans in Wallace Wade Stadium, which is already sold out for Saturday. Will the beginning of the Elko era continue to impress? Let’s take a look at Aggie head coach Sam Washington’s team from Greensboro in order to get an idea.
The Blue Devils and the Aggies have met twice since 2019, and Duke walked away with victories on both occasions. Last year, when the Blue Devils had their tenured weaponry in former running back Mataeo Durant, wide receiver Jake Bobo and quarterback Gunnar Holmberg, they took down North Carolina A&T by a 28-point margin. The big story of this matchup was the Aggie secondary’s poor defense against Duke’s receivers. Holmberg threw for 270 yards, and two Blue Devil receivers had at least 90 yards: Jalon Calhoun and Jake Bobo with 98 yards and 90 yards respectively.
Since then, the North Carolina A&T secondary has lost arguably its best defensive back in Najee Reams. The safety was actually invited to a rookie mini-camp for the Detroit Lions back in May. As a result, expect to see Duke quarterback Riley Leonard rack up pass attempts Saturday. On the flip side, the Aggies have a lot of talent on the defensive front and Elko has already suggested that this will be a headache for the Duke backfield on Saturday.
“They're going to really make it hard for you to run the football, they're gonna pack numbers into the box, and so we're going to have to really do a good job with our running schemes and creating movement up front,” Elko said with regard to the upcoming matchup.
North Carolina A&T’s offense also appears to be struggling; the Aggies are 0-2 with losses to N.C. Central and North Dakota State, with the latter being especially grim. The Aggies fell to the Bison by 40 points and only had 189 offensive yards. Last year’s passing leader Jalen Fowler started the game, but the senior had an underwhelming 45 yards. It’s unclear who will be the Aggies’ starting quarterback Saturday, as freshman Zachary Yeager threw for 275 yards and a touchdown. Still, though Yeager was productive, he was very inefficient, completing just 23 out of his 48 passes.
“They've kind of been bouncing around two quarterbacks so far this year, and so it'll be interesting to see where they settle on that coming into our game,” said Elko.
Everything thus far suggests that the Aggies are trending in the wrong direction on both sides of the ball. However, one source of light is running back Bhayshul Tuten. The sophomore is stepping up following the departures of Jah-Maine Martin and Kashon Baker, last season's rushing leaders. The quick—and stocky—option out of the backfield had 127 yards over 24 carries in the North Dakota State defeat last week, and it’s expected that he’ll get hefty volume in Durham as well.
Overall, North Carolina A&T still has many kinks to iron out before their bus ride to Durham. However, the Aggies are still capable of taking care of business with their athleticism and rising talent; beating Washington and his squad definitely won’t be an easy feat.
“You know Coach Washington has done a really good job with that program the last few years,” Elko said. “Got a lot of respect for what we see on film—they're a very fast, very athletic team.”
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