Film room: Duke football needs improved secondary to stop Miami passing game

Wide receiver Jordan Moore has three touchdowns this season.
Wide receiver Jordan Moore has three touchdowns this season.

Following its defeat to North Carolina, Duke next travels to preseason-top-25 Miami. The Blue Zone is here to analyze the Hurricanes before Saturday's matchup in South Florida:

After a tough overtime loss to Georgia Tech the weekend prior, Duke suffered another defeat in heartbreaking fashion to North Carolina this past Saturday, dropping the Blue Devils to 1-2 in the ACC. 

A capacity crowd created an electrifying atmosphere that hasn’t been seen at Wallace Wade Stadium in a while, and the game definitely lived up to the hype. The in-state rivalry contest had seven lead-changes and came down to the wire. Ultimately, after a missed field goal by Duke kicker Charlie Ham, North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye put together a game-winning, nine-play drive that was capped by a touchdown pass to Antoine Green. The drive topped off a superhero-like effort from Maye, who threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions. Maye also led his team in rushing with 70 yards on the ground. It will be tough for them to get over this painful loss, but the Blue Devils have no time to hang their heads as they take on Miami Saturday in Coral Gables, Fla.

Even though its record is just 3-3, Miami is no opponent to overlook. The Hurricanes are coming off of a 20-14 victory against Virginia Tech last weekend and have a history of giving Duke trouble. Since 2005, the Blue Devils are just 3-14 against Miami, and have lost the last two matchups by over 35 points each, one of which a 48-0 walloping in 2020. Despite its rough couple of games and troubled history with the Hurricanes, there are a few things Duke head coach Mike Elko’s squad can do to come out with a victory this weekend, the first being stopping quarterback Tyler Van Dyke and Miami’s passing attack.

Unlike the previous two quarterbacks Duke has faced in Georgia Tech’s Jeff Sims and North Carolina’s Maye who like to run, the Hurricanes’ signal caller is a pass-primary quarterback, who, as of late, has been a very effective one. In his last two games alone, Van Dyke has thrown for an absurd 838 passing yards on a 68.9% clip. He also threw five touchdowns between those games, including this 17-yard strike to Colbie Young in Miami’s victory against Virginia Tech.

Young is another part of this Hurricane air assault that will be a tough task for the Blue Devils to contain Saturday. He is 6-foot-5, 215 pounds and has been one of Van Dyke’s favorite targets since he entered the lineup for Miami’s clash with North Carolina. The sophomore wideout put up 110 yards on nine catches against the Hokies, highlighted by this amazing one handed grab to put the Hurricanes in the red zone.

The Blue Devil secondary has been shaky of late, giving up 612 yards and five touchdowns through the air over the past two games, and will need to organize itself better if it plans to limit Miami’s point total this weekend.

On offense, Duke needs to continue to mix up its rushing and passing strikes and allow quarterback Riley Leonard to make plays. Despite the loss to the Tar Heels, the Blue Devil offense was explosive, putting up 542 total yards and five touchdowns, including this exhilarating 74-yard scramble by Leonard to put Duke on top in the second quarter.

Additionally, the Blue Devils’ offensive line must continue to dominate and create big holes for the ground game. Leonard is passing efficiently through the air, completing 65.7% of his passes, but Duke needs to take more shots down field. Leonard’s longest pass of the month was this 30-yard toss-and-catch to tight end Nicky Dalmolin against North Carolina.

Duke needs to take more shots like this downfield to keep the Hurricanes’ defense honest and open up opportunities for the Blue Devils’ effective running game. The receiving corps, which features Jalon Calhoun, Eli Pancol and Jordan Moore, among others, has combined for less than one-third of Duke’s touchdowns this season. Moore leads the group with three receiving scores but hasn’t caught one in four games. Offensive coordinator Kevin Johns will need to get Moore, and the rest of the Blue Devil receivers, the ball more frequently if Duke wants to put up a lot of points this weekend.

Against a talented Miami team with a firing offense, the Blue Devils will need to be at their absolute best—on the ground, in the air and on defense—to come back even in ACC play and put themselves one win away from bowl contention.


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