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X Factor: Duke football's Jordan Waters key to dominant rushing game vs. North Carolina A&T

Running back Jordan Waters rushed for two touchdowns against Northwestern
Running back Jordan Waters rushed for two touchdowns against Northwestern

Following its nail-biting win against Northwestern last weekend, Duke returns home to take on North Carolina A&T in front of a sold-out crowd Saturday. The Blue Zone takes a look at a player on each team that can make the difference:

Duke: Jordan Waters

When Duke released its first depth chart of the 2022 campaign the week of its season-opening victory over Temple, Jordan Waters was slotted in as the third-string running back behind redshirt junior Jaylen Coleman and sophomore Jaquez Moore. It was clear prior to the season, however, that the Blue Devils would be employing a running-back-by-committee approach where all three players would receive carries. 

Despite the early pecking order, however, Waters has clearly taken control of the Duke backfield. He led the Blue Devils with 6.4 yards per carry in the 30-0 dismantling of Temple before exploding in the team’s gutsy 31-23 victory over Northwestern Saturday. Although Coleman had an impressive day and received one more carry than Waters, the latter was the more efficient player. The 6-foot running back amassed 91 yards on just 10 carries and reached the endzone twice. He also added a nine-yard reception.

Duke will look to continue its potent ground game against North Carolina A&T Saturday night, and Waters will be spearheading this attack. The Aggies managed to hold N.C. Central to just 69 rushing yards in a week one loss, but the rush defense collapsed last Saturday when FCS powerhouse North Dakota State gained 149 yards and scored three touchdowns on the ground. While the Aggies will look to return to their week one success, Waters and the Blue Devils are hoping to remain effective in the rushing game and come out of Saturday’s matchup undefeated.

North Carolina A&T: Jacob Roberts

In their mission to slow the Blue Devils’ dynamic offense, the Aggies have a clear leader in the heart of their defense to turn to in junior linebacker Jacob Roberts. In his sophomore campaign, Roberts racked up 84 tackles—including 12 for a loss—and five sacks. Now, the two-time All Conference Second Team selection is currently the second-leading tackler on North Carolina A&T after posting an impressive 13-tackle performance in the opener against N.C. Central and tacking on five more in the Aggies’ loss to North Dakota State. Roberts has also blocked four kicks throughout his career, so keep an eye on him when the Aggies’ special teams unit is on the field as well.

In his Monday press conference, Duke head coach Mike Elko labeled North Carolina A&T as “a very fast, very athletic team.” To see these qualities, look no further than Roberts. The dynamic third-year standout will need to be at his best if the Aggies’ defensive unit wants to keep Waters and the Duke offense out of the endzone and help lift them to their first win of the season.

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