Following an emphatic Week 1 victory over Clemson, No. 21 Duke football faces Lafayette Saturday. The Blue Zone is here to bring you three keys to a Duke victory:
Force Lafayette to pass
Lafayette may have a seldom-talked about football program, but it does have a weapon to call its own — running back Jamar Curtis. Against Sacred Heart last Saturday, Curtis played excellent football, rushing for 181 yards and a touchdown on just 19 carries. His dominance in the run game took pressure off of the Leopards’ quarterbacks, who combined for just 15 pass attempts and 69 passing yards.
While the Blue Devils’ pass defense held Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik to just a 27.9 QBR, the team’s run-stopping was lacking at best. Running backs Will Shipley and Phil Mafah combined for 179 yards on 28 carries for an average of 6.4 yards-per-attempt. In particular, Mafah broke off a 49-yard run early in the third quarter to put the Tigers in the red zone. In order to beat Lafayette on the defensive side, Duke needs to tighten up its run defense to force Lafayette’s signal caller — whether it be Ryan Schuster or Dean DeNobile — to pass the ball. With a defense that prevented nearly every deep pass from Klubnik from connecting, the Blue Devils can take control on that end of the ball, as long as they can hold off Jamar Curtis.
Protect the football
The first half of Duke’s contest against Clemson was offensively deficient for the Blue Devils, thanks in large part to two fumbles at critical parts of the field. The first of these came when receiver Jalon Calhoun botched a punt return deep in the team’s own territory, giving the Tigers great field position to score their only touchdown of the night. The second of these happened on Duke’s final first-half drive. As the Blue Devils looked to kick a field goal to take a potential 9-7 lead, running back Jaquez Moore fumbled with 10 seconds left, ensuring that Clemson would enter the half with a small lead.
Despite these mistakes, Duke still confidently won, thanks in large part to committing no turnovers in the second half. To defeat Lafayette, Duke must keep this streak alive and play clean football. As Clemson’s performance Monday showed, great field position means nothing if you can’t protect the football, so Duke needs to secure the rock in Saturday’s contest.
The heart and soul of Duke’s offense is its dual-threat quarterback, junior Riley Leonard, who ran all over Clemson to the tune of 98 yards and a touchdown. His passing numbers weren’t as spectacular, with Leonard averaging 5.3 yards-per-attempt, but they were explainable given the constant pressure he faced against the Tigers. Against Lafayette Saturday, Leonard has a prime opportunity to shake any remaining rust off and focus on his passing. Not only can Leonard’s passing lead to a victory Saturday, it also can increase his pocket comfortability and confidence down the line. Assuming the Blue Devils let him air out the ball, the signal-caller will look first to wideout Jalon Calhoun, who had a middling contest against the Tigers.
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