Duke will head to Annapolis, Md., to take on UCF at Navy–Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in the Military Bowl Wednesday. The Blue Zone is here to break down film on the Knights prior to the 2 p.m. matchup:
After a disappointing last-second loss to Pittsburgh, Duke bounced back with a 34-31 victory against Wake Forest in its final game of the regular season. Now, the Blue Devils are up against UCF in what many thought impossible at the beginning of the season: a bowl game. That being said, this will not be an easy win for first-year head coach Mike Elko’s Duke squad.
The Knights are a solid team, and the main driving engine behind their offensive success has been quarterback John Rhys Plumlee. Plumlee has posed a significant challenge to opposing defenses all year, largely because of his potency as a dual-threat weapon. He has averaged 200.3 passing yards per game and has added 70.1 on the ground. His athleticism is unmatched, as can be evidenced by the circus-like hurdle touchdown he scored against Florida Atlantic earlier this year.
As a result of the threat posed by Plumlee’s legs, the Blue Devil defense may find itself forced to consider leaving a defender as a “spy” near the line of scrimmage to limit the potential damage the dynamic signal caller can do on the ground, which would limit Duke’s ability to bring pressure into the pocket and also open up more single-coverage options in the passing game.
In this clip here, Tulane’s Larry Brooks (No. 31) is caught sitting on the edge of the defensive line to stop a potential running play, and as a result another Tulane defender is caught in single coverage on a slant against UCF’s Kobe Hudson, leading to the easy score in between the hash marks.
When Duke has the ball, it will want to exploit a Knights defense that has struggled to bring pressure on opposing quarterbacks, recording just 22 sacks on the season. As has been seen all year, when signal caller Riley Leonard has time, he finds his receivers downfield. Take the Blue Devils’ matchup against the Demon Deacons, when the sophomore finished with 391 yards through the air. In this clip from the second quarter, Leonard sits in the pocket with plenty of time before he finds speedster Jalon Calhoun for the easy score.
On the defensive side of the ball, the key to the game will be keeping an eye on Plumlee. Duke has faced similar threats this year during the regular season, matching up against dual-threat quarterbacks like Jalon Daniels of Kansas and Brennan Armstrong of Virginia. The Blue Devils may be forced to drop a spy and keep an eye on Plumlee, or they will need to structure their pass rush carefully, bringing pressure around the edge to prevent Plumlee from escaping out of the sides of the pocket for a big gain. Duke has done it before, like against Armstrong in the clip below, where the Blue Devils dropped linebacker Shaka Heyward to spy on a play that ended with an easily-blocked pass.
This will be a tough game for the Blue Devils, and their defense will need to shine if they want to leave Annapolis, Md., with a bowl trophy. The Knights, and especially Plumlee, have been playing good football all year, and it will not be easy to take them down. But, if Duke can limit Plumlee’s rushing attack and execute its game plan on offense, it is very well possible that Elko will close out his debut season with a big-time bowl victory.
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