No. 20 Duke hits the road for the second-consecutive week, taking on No. 18 Louisville in an afternoon showdown between ACC title hopefuls. The Chronicle’s beat writers are here to preview the action before the 3:30 p.m. kickoff:
Andrew Long: Duke 21-17
It’s easy to forget given the final scoreline, but Duke was competitive and arguably the better team in its loss to Florida State a week ago until Riley Leonard’s injury exit and a failed fourth-and-3 condemned it to defeat. In another world, the Blue Devils very possibly leave Tallahassee, Fla., with an undefeated ACC record still intact. Enter Louisville, where the Blue Devils have a chance to finish their unfinished business from seven days prior and put their journey to the ACC title game back on track.
The Cardinals are a formidable foe with a talented quarterback-running back duo in Jack Plummer and Jawhar Jordan, but have had turnover troubles — something Duke preys upon — and it’s debatable whether Jordan is at full tilt. Duke’s defense, meanwhile, has proven itself up to task against even the best backs in the country (looking at you, Will Shipley and Audric Estime) and the Blue Devil offense will be hungry to avenge its scoreless second half against Florida State. With home field advantage and a bye week in its locker, Louisville will make every yard a brutal one. But if Leonard returns as I think he will, the run game continues to be excellent and the defense stays among the conference’s — and the country’s — tightest, I foresee this being a real character win for head coach Mike Elko and his Duke team when they need it most.
Rachael Kaplan: Louisville 27-24
I feel like a broken record. Duke found out just how crucial Leonard is to its offense against Florida State, and with a perennial “day-to-day” designation, no one knows for sure which Blue Devil lineup will show up in Louisville, Ky. Both teams are coming off bad, blowout conference losses, and both have real chances to be playing in Charlotte Dec. 2. However, without a 100% healthy Leonard under center, the rest of Duke’s pieces will have to play lights-out. The Cardinals are a much better team than N.C. State was, with Plummer and Jordan sitting second in the ACC in passing yards and rushing yards, respectively. With an opponent who has averaged 34.1 points per game, the Blue Devil offense needs to be explosive, and without Leonard at full strength I just don’t think it gets there.
Ranjan Jindal: Duke 21-17
Both Duke and Louisville have a bad taste in their mouths after frustrating losses. The Cardinals had a bye week after their 38-21 loss at Pittsburgh, where Louisville fumbled the ball five times — losing it once — and Plummer threw two interceptions. The Cardinals have an explosive offense with the likes of Jordan and Jamari Thrash and this is definitely going to be a tough game for the Blue Devil defense. However, I think the biggest positional advantage for Duke is its experienced defensive line against the shaky Louisville offensive line. The Cardinals gave up four sacks against Pittsburgh and N.C. State, which led to a lot of those turnovers. The forecast looks like it might be a rainy affair, so I see a low-scoring game. It will be close in a tough environment, but if Leonard plays, I see the Blue Devils getting a victory in Louisville.
Dom Fenoglio: Duke 21-13
Last week against Florida State was the first true road test for Elko and the Blue Devils in his tenure. As soon as the game got away from them in the fourth quarter, the home crowd seized momentum and helped the Seminoles put the game away. Duke could suffer a similar fate if it lets off the gas for even a moment against Louisville. With that said, I think the defense will have something to prove after giving up three scores at the end of the game against Florida State, and it will face a potentially limited Jordan — who has been the Cardinals’ best offensive player. If the Blue Devils can start strong, score first and keep the crowd out of the game, I think their defensive talent can control Louisville’s attack and generate turnovers. However, if Duke again falters — whether because of the health of Leonard or a different momentum swing — it is at risk of dropping two straight, winnable conference games for the second-straight season.
Caleb Dudley: Duke 24-20
After Duke’s late-game falter against Florida State, there is plenty of reason to think that the Blue Devils will similarly struggle in their second ranked road matchup in as many weeks. However, Louisville, while talented, is not quite to the caliber of the Seminoles, and I think the Blue Devils match up well with the Cardinals. This prediction is assuming both teams are at full strength, as I think Leonard and Jordan will be on the field. The Cardinals’ strength is in their ability to stop the run, but Duke is arguably the best rushing attack they have faced, especially if Leonard plays. In the end, Duke’s offense will sustain just enough drives to give it a fighting chance, and the talented Blue Devil defense will force Plummer into multiple turnovers, giving Duke a victory with major postseason implications.
Micah Hurewitz: Louisville 28-20
The first half of Duke’s loss against Florida State: very impressive. The second: very not. I’m concerned that the Seminole offense exposed the most vulnerable aspects of the otherwise rock-solid Duke defense and Plummer and the Cardinals will look to expose those same weaknesses again. Duke’s defense will already have its hands full with Jordan and it’s unclear how mobile Leonard can be to ignite the Blue Devil offense and spice up the passing game with his ability to escape pressure. I think Duke can keep it tight, but as the second-straight road game against a higher-ranked opponent, I think the Blue Devils may be in trouble and could face back-to-back losses and put a damper on their ACC title game hopes.
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Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity senior and was previously a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.
Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Andrew Long is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.