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X-Factor: Johnson, Duke football secondary must limit superstar receiver Flowers against Boston College

Sophomore defensive back Brandon Johnson grabbed a pick-six against Miami.
Sophomore defensive back Brandon Johnson grabbed a pick-six against Miami.

Duke heads to Chestnut Hill, Mass., to take on Boston College Friday for the chance to clinch a bowl appearance this winter. The Blue Zone is here with a potential x-factor for both teams:

Duke: Brandon Johnson, DB

Prior to the Miami game, cornerback Brandon Johnson had put together a good season. Although the former three-star recruit did not record many tackles, he did force a fumble against North Carolina A&T and hauled in an excellent interception against Northwestern. Duke’s defensive coordinator Robb Smith likes to use Johnson as a blitzing corner, sending him off the edge to pressure the QB instead of dropping him into coverage. Johnson has had some success, resulting in 1.5 total sacks in the first seven games.

n the sweltering Miami heat, however, Johnson caught fire. Not only did he rush the quarterback at will, dropping the Hurricanes’ signal callers twice, but he also made his presence felt on the back end. He recorded a total of eight solo tackles, an astounding feat considering he only registered nine solo stops in the prior seven games. To cap off his ACC-Defensive-Player-of-the-Week performance, the Newton, NC., native picked off a wayward pass and walked untouched into the house for six points, a play that went viral thanks to his celebration

With Boston College quarterback Phil Jurkovec questionable for Friday’s game with a lower body injury, it is imperative that Johnson and the Duke rush make the Eagles uncomfortable early. Against a Boston College offensive line struggling mightily, expect to see Johnson breathing down the neck of whoever is in the backfield. When the Blue Devils do drop Johnson into coverage, watch for him (and the entire secondary) to try to limit wide receiver Zay Flowers, a bonafide superstar of ACC football.

Boston College: Zay Flowers, WR

Dubbed “the best deep threat in CFB” by an NFC scout in July, the senior wideout certainly has not disappointed fans in Chestnut Hill, Mass. After leading the ACC in receiving touchdowns as a sophomore, the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native currently leads the conference in total receptions with 54. He has also amassed 726 total yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns, averaging 13.4 yards per catch. Flowers only needs 20 more yards to eclipse his total from last year, and with four games remaining, a 1000-yard season is well within reach. 

The quality that makes Flowers so attractive to NFL scouts was on full display two weeks ago against Wake Forest. Even when teams scheme to respect his abilities, Flowers still finds a way to hit pay dirt. On second-and-long, the Demon Deacons’ cornerback started the play 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage and immediately dropped back at the snap. No matter to Flowers, who flew past the hapless corner, completing the grab and making another man miss on the way to the end zone. He finished the day with 10 catches for 135 yards.

Boston College’s offense has struggled mightily at times this season. Last week, it could not score a touchdown against Connecticut and turned the ball over five times, but Flowers still has that magical touch that can resurrect a clunky offense and turn the dirtiest water into the sweetest wine. Duke must find a way to ensure the NFL-bound Flowers does not single-handedly beat it under the Friday night lights.

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