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Third and goal: Third downs, plays under pressure key for Duke football to remain undefeated

Duke's offense has scored 13 touchdowns this season.
Duke's offense has scored 13 touchdowns this season.

Duke football is off to a perfect start to its season after three straight victories. The path to 4-0 will not be easy, however, as the Blue Devils travel to Kansas to take on the 3-0 Jayhawks. The Blue Zone has three keys for Duke to win the battle of the blue bloods:

Focus on third down

Duke’s defense has its work cut out for itself, playing against a fast-paced, high-octane offense that can score in bunches. It will be crucial to get third down stops against Kansas. The Jayhawks boast the second-best third down conversion rate in the country, converting a whopping 68.6% of their third downs. Many have placed Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels on Heisman watch, and he has the numbers to back it up. The junior leads the country in QBR but also is dangerous with his feet, leading the team in rushing. Duke’s defense will have to be disciplined and not fall for the Jayhawks’ eye candy as they use different formations and misdirections, especially on third down. From the triple option to using two quarterbacks on the same play, Kansas is not afraid to reach deep into its bag of tricks and pull them out at just the right moment. Every possession will be important, and if Duke can get off the field on third downs, that is a big step toward slowing down this Kansas offense. 

Let it fly

This game has shootout written all over it. In order to keep up, Duke will need to match Kansas’ scoring ability. The Blue Devils' offense is well equipped to keep up, leading the Jayhawks in yards per game. Kansas’ defense has been suspect at times this season. In Week Two against West Virginia, the Jayhawks gave up over 350 passing yards—if there is one weak spot on this team, it is its secondary. Duke quarterback Riley Leonard has carved up defenses during the first three games of the season, and will need to do more of the same against Kansas. However, pass protection is essential, and the Blue Devils will need to be sturdy on the offensive line, as the Jayhawks have recorded nine sacks through their first three games. Junior edge rusher Lonnie Phelps is a player to watch, as he has three sacks of his own. Nevertheless, if the offensive line can protect Leonard, there will be plenty of opportunities to air the ball downfield. 

Who will make the big play under pressure?

With rejuvenated energy and optimism under head coach Mike Elko, the excitement around this Blue Devils team is strong. This is one of the biggest Duke football games in recent memory, as the team has not gone 4-0 since 2018. Despite this, it is still unproven against elite competition; Kansas will be the best team Duke has faced by far, and it expects a sellout this weekend. In this big of a game, it will likely come down to who can make key plays under pressure. Turnovers will be decisive, and Duke has forced seven on the season, ranking in the top 20 in the nation. However, Kansas is a well-coached, disciplined football team, committing only three turnovers this year. This is poised to be a close affair, and with two high-powered offenses competing, a turnover and extra possession is that much more important. If the Blue Devils hope to win Saturday, they will need to take the ball away from this Kansas team.

Ranjan Jindal profile
Ranjan Jindal | Assistant Blue Zone editor

Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity first-year and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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