Last week, we gave you 5 players to watch in the game against NC Central. Our player at the top of the list, Breon Borders, grabbed an interception in his very first collegiate game. The rest all played significant snaps as Duke threw a shutout for the first time since 1989.
Memphis poses a taller task as the Tigers return 16 starters to a team that closed out the season with three straight wins and had the top defense in CUSA. They are led by two fierce defensive linemen in Martin Ifredi and Johnnie Farms. They’ll also be starting a redshirt freshman QB in Paxton Lynch, who beat out incumbent starter Jacob Karam.
Memphis utilizes a power running game and a stingy defensive front, an entirely different set of tactics from Central. In order to win on the road at the Liberty Bowl, Duke will need these five players to shine:
1) Sydney Sarmiento – Memphis will pound, pound, pound the rock into the heart of the Duke defensive line and Sarmiento will be a big factor in closing those gaps and disrupting the running lanes. Against Central’s option offense, the line was spread, often putting Sarmiento in decisive positions. Memphis will allow him to attack off the snap.
2) Issac Blakeney – The converted tight end offers Duke a (literally) big size advantage over the smaller Memphis corners. Minimal utilized last week by Duke, Blakeney was still able to convert his lone reception for a 19 yard touchdown. This week offers a much more opportune matchup for the 6-5 wideout and could have a big day against an inexperienced secondary.
3) Takoby Cofield – You don’t see offensive linemen getting called on like this very often but Cofield will most likely be targeted by 2nd Team All-CUSA defensive end Martin Ifredi. I expect head coach Justin Fuente to line Ifredi up against the weaker tackle and try to break him down. How Cofield holds up could indicate how well the Duke offense rolls.
4) Jela Duncan – The sophomore established himself as the top back on the roster last week but will still split carries with Shaq Powell, Josh Snead, Brandon Connette, and Juwan Thompson. Duncan, however, was the most effective last year and that carried over to the Central game. If Duke is going to run on this Tiger front seven, Duncan will be the one to do it.
5) Jeremy Cash – The Ohio State transfer did not disappoint in his debut and was often found near the point of tackle. Cash is listed as a safety but he isn’t used in the traditional sense. You’ll see him lined up with the linemen, as a third linebacker, and occasionally man to man on receivers. He’s shown himself to be a dynamic defensive force already and Duke will need him to pick up support in run stoppage.