No. 17 Duke is back in action at Wallace Wade Stadium this weekend against one of its North Carolina rivals, N.C. State. Before the Saturday contest, the Blue Zone provides three keys to victory for the Blue Devils:
Run the ball
On Duke’s last offensive play against then-No. 11 Notre Dame two weekends ago, star quarterback Riley Leonard suffered an ankle injury, making it unlikely he will suit up for Saturday’s game. With redshirt freshman Henry Belin IV likely to start in his place, it will be critical for the Blue Devil offense to establish a run game early on to alleviate some of the pressure for their quarterback. Running the ball early and often is crucial given that Belin has only attempted 14 passes in his three-game college career. Duke has created a run game easily this year, averaging close to 200 yards per contest. Conversely, the Wolfpack have allowed less than 100 yards per game on the ground themselves. As a result, the battle in the trenches will be a deciding factor in the outcome of the matchup.
N.C. State has an 82% success rate in the red zone this season, and it even scores touchdowns on close to 68% of its drives past the 20-yard line. The Blue Devils’ defense, however, has been a stalwart when the rubber meets the road. Duke has given up a touchdown on only seven of its opponents’ 13 red-zone appearances in five games played.
Sustaining these numbers will be incredibly difficult when facing N.C. State’s potent offense. The Wolfpack averages over 350 total yards per game, meaning it will be hard to consistently keep them out of the red zone. As such, turning N.C. State touchdown drives into field goal ones will be crucial for Duke if it wants to win this contest.
Minimize the yellow flags
The Sept. 30 showdown against the Fighting Irish ended in a frustrating manner for the Blue Devils, losing their lead in the final minute of the game after a hard-fought comeback. Following a bye week, Duke could come out of the gates with too much emotion, leading to bad penalties and easy yards for the Wolfpack. Thus far, the squad from Durham has only amassed 22 penalties for 172 yards over five games, a testament to head coach Mike Elko’s tutelage. On the other sideline, N.C. State has had a rough go of things in terms of flags this year, averaging 54.2 yards per game given up to opponents on penalties.
Any time there is a rivalry at stake, tensions can arise quickly on both sides, leading to unnecessary penalties that the Wolfpack and the Blue Devils will look to avoid. Keeping emotions tame and focusing on football will be crucial to a victory for Duke Saturday in order to keep its ACC Championship aspirations alive.
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