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5 things to know before Duke football takes on Boston College in first game back from bye

Sophomore defensive back Brandon Johnson will be key in limiting Boston College star receiver Zay Flowers.
Sophomore defensive back Brandon Johnson will be key in limiting Boston College star receiver Zay Flowers.

After a signature win for the Blue Devils against Miami, head coach Mike Elko will lead his players into Chestnut Hill, Mass., to face off against Boston College. With bowl eligibility on the line, Friday night is a crucial game for Duke to continue its positive momentum. Here are five things to know before Duke takes the field against the Eagles.  

Keep taking the ball

It’s no secret that forcing eight turnovers was Duke’s key to victory two weekends ago. After all, the Blue Devils only had nine more yards of total offense than Miami. You read that right, nine. What was the difference for Duke’s 45-21 victory? Starting field position. Sophomore quarterback Riley Leonard capitalized on the Blue Devils’ defensive performance to punch in points. 

This season, Boston College has struggled with turnovers. In fact, it has a turnover differential of -8, 16 given up with eight forced. Meanwhile, Duke has forced 20 while giving up six. If Leonard and his group of skill players can hold on to the ball, it will be difficult for the Eagles to stop them on defense. And, with the Blue Devil defensive line and secondary coming off of a dominant defensive performance, Boston College will likely have a hard time moving the ball on offense.

Coming off the bye

Rest or rust? As the saying goes, maximizing the former while minimizing the latter is the goal, but it’s not always easily achieved. Coming off of their biggest win of the season, the Blue Devils were likely itching to get back on the gridiron; however, the bye week presented the squad with a chance to take advantage of much-needed recovery days.

“I thought we did a really good balancing act last week,” Elko said in a media availability Monday. “[We gave] the kids enough time to kind of refresh, get caught up and get back healthy and charged for the final part of this season. [We also] got enough work in [so] we were able to stay crisp and sharp moving forward.”

Limit Zay Flowers

Perhaps one of the best receivers in the ACC, if not the country, is senior Zay Flowers. With 54 receptions for 726 yards, he holds the 20th-most receiving yards in the FBS. As Boston College redshirt senior quarterback Phil Jurkovec’s favorite target, Duke will need to expect and prepare for excellence from the standout receiver. 

“I think they do a really good job of moving [Flowers] around to a lot of different locations,” Elko said. “We also have to know that we can't commit too much coverage to him, because they do have other dangerous weapons.”

A projected early-round talent in next April’s NFL Draft, Flowers will look to get the Eagles back on track and carry them to their second ACC victory of the season. For Duke, its defensive backs, including sophomore safety Brandon Johnson—who was just named the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week—must step up to the task. 


Elko revealed Monday that senior wide receiver Eli Pancol is “probably” out for the rest of the season and kicker Charlie Ham is away from the team this week for personal reasons, so Duke will have to continue its next–man-up approach against the Eagles.

“I talked to the kids about this all the time, I [told] them ‘you're going to feel 100% sometime around the middle of February,’” Elko said. “You're gonna get banged up, you're gonna have to learn how to play banged up.”

Freshman kicker Todd Pelino stepped up for the Blue Devils last week, going a perfect 6-for-6 on PATs and 1-for-1 on field goals. For Duke to have success on Friday, it will need to have more of the same, both from Pelino and the reserve wideouts. 

Bowl eligibility

The last time Duke played in a bowl game was on Dec. 27, 2018, which was 1,407 days ago. Yes, 1,407 days. All it takes is six wins to secure bowl eligibility, and the five-win Blue Devils are on the doorstep. 

Coming into the year, Las Vegas set the over/under for Duke wins at three-and-a-half. Elko’s program has far exceeded those numbers, yet getting over the bowl game hump would be substantial. 

“To get six wins is something that will be a really big step for this program,” Elko said. “I think you've been around me long enough to know that as soon as we get six, we're going to want seven.”

Although a lot is at stake, Duke must stay in control of their emotions and focus on the task at hand. No ACC victory is easy. Hanging in reach for the Blue Devils this Friday night is a huge statement to the rest of the conference, but in order to capitalize, they must go out and earn it. 


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