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Third and goal: Duke needs to control line of scrimmage against North Carolina A&T

<p>Linebackers Shaka Hayward and Dorian Mausi look to close gaps in the Blue Devil defense Saturday.</p>

Linebackers Shaka Hayward and Dorian Mausi look to close gaps in the Blue Devil defense Saturday.

A sold-out Wallace Wade stadium sets the stage for Saturday evening’s matchup against the North Carolina A&T Aggies. As Duke looks to start the season 3-0 for the first time since 2018, the Blue Zone has three keys for the Blue Devils’ Week 3 matchup:

Stop the run

After managing a modest 189 offensive yards in last week’s loss to North Dakota State, the North Carolina A&T offense is not trending in the right direction. The Aggies have two options at quarterback, senior Jalen Fowler and freshman Zachary Yeager, but both have struggled with consistency and efficiency issues passing the ball. Leading Blue Devil defensive backs Darius Joiner and Jaylen Stinson should lead a defense that renders the Aggie passing attack ineffective. 

However, the A&T run game is a bright spot, spearheaded by sophomore Bhayshul Tuten who rushed for 127 despite last week’s 43-3 rout by the Bison. Come Saturday, Duke’s ability to shut down the run game will be instrumental. But the key answer here is—how will the group fare? If Elko’s defensive line controls the line of scrimmage, standout linebackers Shaka Hayward and Dorian Mausi should close any remaining gaps. After limiting Northwestern, which is likely one of the best rushing attacks that the Blue Devils will face all season, to just 2.2 yards per carry, Duke fans should be confident in maintaining defensive momentum against A&T. 

Let the receivers feast

North Carolina A&T’s defensive talent is concentrated in its front seven. It will likely look to stack the box come Saturday—given the Duke rushing attack ran for 221 yards against Northwestern, and the Aggies need a plan. However, this shouldn’t deter Duke's offensive coordinator, Kevin Johns, from running the football. Establishing the outside run early in the contest could set the Blue Devils up for an evening of aerial dominance. Once the rushing attack gains momentum, sophomore starting quarterback Riley Leonard should be able to pick apart a stumbling Aggies secondary that lacks some of last year's key defensive players.

We could also see more spread formations to entice A&T defensive backs into 1v1s and exploit the space for chunk plays. Senior wide receiver Jalon Calhoun is one to watch on offense as he enters this contest hoping to add to his already lofty yardage total and earn his first touchdown of the season. In the past two meetings with the Aggies, the Blue Devils have put up 45 points each time, so as long the offense remains consistent, surpassing this magic number is certainly attainable.  

Limit defensive penalties 

If NC A&T struggles to create offense, Duke cannot help it with its own mistakes. Last week, the Blue Devils gave up 85 yards via penalties, including two red zone pass interference calls that led directly to Northwestern touchdowns. The group must stay disciplined throughout the contest and shut down any avenues of hope for the Aggies. The group certainly has the talent to win this contest without being overly physical on the outside, just as it has in both meetings since 2019. Even with these expectations on the line, all sides point to a positive outcome for Duke come Saturday. 

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