Third and goal: Limiting Vidal, defensive depth essential for Duke football against Troy in the Birmingham Bowl

Duke's front seven will be key to stopping Troy's rushing attack.
Duke's front seven will be key to stopping Troy's rushing attack.

The Blue Devils face Troy Saturday in their final contest of the season. The Blue Zone is here to provide three keys to a Duke victory:

Lean on Moore

Duke had a season full of ups and downs, but one up was abundantly clear by season's end: Jordan Moore is a star at wide receiver. The junior finished the regular season exceptionally strong, and he will likely have to post another big performance if the Blue Devils want to win the Birmingham Bowl.

The Loyola Blakefield product ended the 2023 campaign with 794 yards and eight touchdowns on 59 receptions, with the majority of his biggest games coming with freshman Grayson Loftis under center. Duke fans likely remember Moore’s impressive showing against rival North Carolina, where the wideout hauled in three touchdowns, including a stop-and-go late in the fourth quarter to keep the Blue Devils alive in Chapel Hill. Moore cleared 100 yards in the last two games of the season while hauling in at least eight receptions, showing his value as the go-to guy in the Duke offense.

With redshirt senior Jalon Calhoun declaring for the 2024 NFL Draft after the season, Saturday in Birmingham will be Moore’s chance to cement himself as one of the ACC’s best receivers entering 2024. 

Building for the future

When next fall rolls around, Duke football will undoubtedly look much different after an offseason that has already been chalk full of changes, with head coach Mike Elko leaving for Texas A&M and several key players announcing their intention to transfer. As a result, many younger Blue Devils may get their opportunity to get a fresh start with the new coaching staff led by Manny Diaz, and the bowl game will be their first audition. 

Duke was already faced with the pending graduation of an impactful senior class that includes standouts DeWayne Carter, Jacob Monk and Porter Wilson, and the transfer portal only exacerbated these depth problems for next season. However, there are many Blue Devils who both made contributions this season and will be back next year, giving Duke a solid foundation regardless of which transfers and potential draft opt-outs decide to play in the game.

Expect some less experienced Blue Devils to get their shot against the Sun Belt champions, allowing them to develop in conjunction with the elder statesmen, who will get one last sendoff as one of the most influential senior classes in Duke history.

Vital to stop Vidal

Troy is no slouch, as the Trojans finished the season 11-2 after knocking off Appalachian State in the Sun Belt championship. The engine for Troy is undoubtedly running back Kimani Vidal, and Duke will have its hands full containing him Saturday.

The Blue Devils have had variable success this season stopping elite running backs, with talented backs like Will Shipley and Jawhar Jordan largely having their way on the ground. Based on statistics, Vidal will be the toughest task of the season for the Duke defense, as the junior had a monster season, garnering Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year honors along the way. The Marietta, Ga., native racked up an astounding 1,582 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground, while also adding 198 yards receiving. Simply put, Vidal is a gamebreaker, evidenced by his 233 yards and five touchdowns in the Sun Belt title game. 

Duke has a talented defensive line led by Carter and graduate student Ja’Mion Franklin, but depending on who all plays, some second-string players will have to come up big one more time if the Blue Devils want to have a chance to neutralize Vidal and the Trojan offense.


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