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Scouting the opponent: Duke football readies for road test at Georgia Tech

Duke and Georgia Tech are both coming off of big wins ahead of Saturday's showdown in Atlanta.
Duke and Georgia Tech are both coming off of big wins ahead of Saturday's showdown in Atlanta.

After a tough loss to Kansas on the road, Duke bounced back with a controlling win against Virginia on a rainy Saturday night at Wallace Wade Stadium. Next, the Blue Devils will get back on the road, taking on Georgia Tech at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta Saturday afternoon. 

The Yellow Jackets are coming off of a 26-21 upset win against No. 24 Pittsburgh and will look to build some momentum against the Blue Devils, while Duke aims to record just its second ACC win since October 2020. Let’s take a look at what the Yellow Jackets have in store for the Durham-based squad.

To say Georgia Tech is going through a tumultuous time right now would be a major understatement. The Yellow Jackets just fired their head coach, Geoff Collins, in his fourth year after a subpar 1-3 start to the 2022 campaign that included some major losses to Ole Miss and Central Florida. Until its shocking win Saturday at Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech was on a nine-game losing streak against FBS opponents. While there seems to be some hope that offensive line coach-turned-interim head coach Brent Key will turn the historically strong program around, it will likely be a tall order at this point in the season. Duke head coach Mike Elko is aware of the changes on the Yellow Jackets’ sideline, but he knows not to count Georgia Tech out. 

“Sometimes when kids face adversity, you'd be surprised how strong they are and how much they rally together and I think that really showed up last week,” said Elko during his Monday media availability. “[I have] a tremendous amount of respect for that entire program and what they did, coming together going on the road and beating a really good Pittsburgh team.”

Sophomore quarterback Jeff Sims has been one of the bright spots on this year’s Georgia Tech offense, and for good reason. Like Jalon Daniels of Kansas and Brennan Armstrong of Virginia, Sims is a dual-threat signal caller who uses his legs to add an extra dimension to the Yellow Jackets’ offense. So far, Sims is second on his team in rushing yards with 206 through five games and averages 41.2 per game. The rest of the Georgia Tech backfield has been strong, too. Besides Sims, both Dontae Smith and Hassan Hall have been major contributors to a ground attack that has averaged a respectable 145 yards per game. 

On defense, the Yellow Jackets have struggled. Including a blowout 42-0 loss to No. 9 Mississippi and a 41-10 loss to No. 5 Clemson, they have averaged 29.6 points allowed per game. On top of that, the Georgia Tech defense has given up 411.8 yards of offense per game. That being said, Georgia Tech is unafraid to bring defensive pressure, with its typical scheme including four defensive linemen up front.

That line is the central reason why the Yellow Jackets have averaged 1.2 forced fumbles a game, and recovered five of six thus far. On top of that, Georgia Tech is ranked second in turnover margin in the ACC, behind only the Blue Devils. Just like the past few games against tough teams with in-your-face defenses, Duke quarterback Riley Leonard will need to be prepared to scramble and make plays with his legs, while also doing his best to avoid sloppy downfield passes. 

“We've got to be able to be diversified in our attack and we can't be one dimensional” said Elko. “I think anytime you're one dimensional, anything you do, it's easier for defenses to target and tee off on you. I'm just happy with how the offense is growing.”

The Blue Devils are slim three-point favorites coming in, but this game has the potential to be deceptively challenging. The Yellow Jackets are hot off of an upset road win against what was a ranked team, and there is a good chance they will still be riding the high that comes with new leadership. Georgia Tech is not an opponent to be underestimated, and it will be up to Duke to slow down Sims and keep Leonard safe from a tough Yellow Jacket defensive line. Otherwise, Duke may be handed its first ACC loss from a reinvigorated Georgia Tech team with something to prove.

“It's going to take everything we have, we're going to have to bounce back,” Elko said. “Have a great week of practice, have a great, great week of preparation. [We’ll have to] go out and play the way that we're capable of playing.”


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