I’ve been a Duke fan since I was eight years old. I love everything about the Blue Devils and all their teams, and I vehemently defend them whenever anyone attempts to downplay or insult the teams. That said, I’m also a realist, and I understand the weaknesses and shortcomings of their respected squads. It is because of this understanding that I’ve yet to become overwhelmingly excited about the chances of Duke’s football team making it to the ACC Championship Game. Yes, I’m ecstatic about the direction of the program, and I really believe that if Cutcliffe sticks around for a few more years, he will turn this program into one of the better ones in the ACC. This year has been loads of fun, but, while they’ve showed significant improvement, their 6-4 record is largely a result of a weaker schedule, the second weakest schedule Duke has faced since Cutcliffe took over as head coach, according to sports-reference.com.
Regardless of reality, Duke still finds themselves in a position to win the ACC Coastal Division and their road to the ACC Championship Game features one somewhat winnable game and one very winnable game. First up, they have the somewhat winnable game against the Georgia Tech Yellowjackets. What are they going to have to do to pick up their first, crucial victory?
Run The Ball
The Blue Devils get a healthy Juwan Thompson this week, which is just about the best news this offense could ask for heading into a duel with Georgia Tech’s elite rushing attack. The high-octane passing attacks the Duke defense has been facing lately have been brutal, but they’re nothing compared to what a rushing attack can do to a defense. A successful rushing attack, which is the least you could say about Georgia Tech’s offense, can wear down a defense incredibly fast. There will be numerous times on Saturday where you see Duke’s defense, which is allowing the third most rushing yards per game in the ACC, completely exhausted, complete with heavy panting and hands on the hips.
What does this have to do with Duke’s rushing game? They need to keep the Georgia Tech offense off the field, along with Duke’s probably very tired defense, for as long as humanly possible and they won’t be able to do this running an air assault offense. Getting back their most talented running back will help tremendously in this aspect, and I expect the Blue Devils to run early and often, even if they’re going up against the ACC’s fifth best rushing defense. Obviously, they are going to get most of their scoring done through the air, but Duke isn’t going to win this game if Renfree is throwing 40+ passes. Unless the offense plans on scoring fifty or more points, a running game must be established.
Turn The Turnovers Into Points
One of the few things Duke’s defense has been great at this season is forcing turnovers, as they currently own the 22nd best turnover ratio in the nation. Even against an elite offense like Clemson’s in their last game, the Blue Devils managed to force four turnovers. There was just one problem: Duke managed to convert the turnovers into zero points. If they’re going to defeat Georgia Tech, they have to make the Yellow Jackets pay for their mistakes. Even if the Blue Devils can only manage a field goal off of their takeaways, it’s better than nothing.
Look, it’s miraculous that Duke is still in a position to win the Coastal Division, and I don’t believe anyone would hold it against them if they lost to a slightly more talented and experienced Georgia Tech team. If Duke is going to hang around in this game, they’ll need to get risky on a couple occasions. In a 4th-and-one on Georgia Tech’s side of the field? Go for it. Is the game starting to get away from Duke a little? Try a fake punt, an onside kick, or anything to get the momentum back on your side.
I’m not saying they need to go all Playstation-style Madden on us and start going for it on every 4th down and running fake punt runs on every 4th and short, but some risks are going to have to be taken, more than likely. Last weekend, I watched the St. Louis Rams hang around with the San Francisco 49ers because of their willingness to risk it: converting two fake punts, one of them coming from their own end zone. Don’t be afraid to get risky, Cutcliffe.