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Duke vs. Miami: What to Watch For

Credit:Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

When:  Saturday, November 26, 2016.  3:30 PM.

Where:  Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida

Television: ESPN2

Line:  Duke +15

Last Time: No. 22 Duke 27, Miami 30.  Last season’s Halloween matchup of Duke and Miami won’t be soon forgotten.  The Hurricanes won on a controversial, 8 lateral kickoff return for a touchdown as time expired.  The game winning score was allowed after a mind boggling series of embarrassing officiating gaffes.  The entire on the field officiating crew and the booth replay official were suspended the following week after a review by the ACC.  The botched replay was a huge reason for the ACC adopting a centralized review system for this season.  Duke’s trio of running backs Shaq Powell, Jela Duncan, and Shaun Wilson combined for 128 yards and 1 touchdown on 24 carries.  Thomas Sirk ran for 51 yards and a touchdown and threw for 258 yards and a touchdown.  His rushing touchdown and subsequent 2 point conversion run left only 6 seconds on the game clock, but that was enough time for the unthinkable to happen and then happen again.  The loss sent Duke into a 4 game spiral after a 6-1 start before season saving victories over Wake Forest and Indiana.

What to Watch For:

Careful on Offense.  The Hurricanes have had an up and down season, but for the most part their defense has been up to the task.  The Hurricanes rank in the top 20 nationally in opponent yards per play and points per game, as well as yards per pass.  Daniel Jones has taken care of the football recently and that must continue if Duke has any chance of pulling out a win on the road.  Corn Elder is a great defensive back with a future as a pro.  He only has 1 interception on the year, but don’t let that mislead you.  Jones would be smart to pick his battles carefully when Elder is in coverage.  TJ Rahming has had back to back 100 yard receiving games, but the matchup against Miami isn’t great.  The Hurricanes are going to play physical on defense.  Rahming can’t get frustrated and has to stay focused, as he is Duke’s biggest receiving threat.  The Blue Devils will most likely be forced into a lot of underneath routes and tunnel screens as they have yet to show a consistent ability to get open down the field.  That kind of offense may not prove to be very fruitful against the Hurricanes, but staying turnover free would be one step towards making it an effective strategy.

Bounce Back on Defense.  The Duke defense was trounced last week against Pittsburgh.  The Blue Devils had no answer for James Conner, Quadree Henderson, or Nathan Peterman.  Conner and Henderson combined for 174 yards and 3 touchdowns on just 19 carries.  Peterman reached 237 passing yards on just 11 completions and 18 attempts.  Pitt had 3 passing plays go for over 45 yards each.  There were no bright spots for the defense outside of Bryon Fields pick 6.  Miami will provide a bounce back opportunity for the defense.  The Hurricanes have struggled a bit on the offensive line this year.  Their rushing stats and sack percentage rank in the bottom half nationally.  Ben Albert’s defensive line has been really good this year and Saturday will provide a good opportunity to generate some pressure and create some opportunities for turnovers and help out in the field position battle.  It won’t be easy for the secondary.  Brad Kayaa is a good quarterback and has a ton of experience.  Miami has no shortage of talented playmakers on offense and when given time, Kayaa is dangerous.  If the secondary can hold their coverage long enough, the defensive line should be able to get into the backfield and cause some havoc.

Last Chance.  This is it for Duke.  Their last chance to make the most out of a trying, yet promising season.  The Blue Devils currently sit at 4 wins on the season.  Due to their excellent APR scores the Blue Devils would be first on the list of 5 win teams to play in a bowl game, provided all available slots can’t be filled by 6 win teams.  Duke has been to four straight bowls, a program record.  That streak is in real danger.  As a 15 point underdog no one is expecting the Blue Devils to even keep it close.  Miami is certainly a talented team and Duke is young amd injured.  But can the Blue Devils find enough motivation and win with sheer will.  Duke has so much to play for: a fifth straight bowl game for the program, a win in the last game for all the seniors (many of whom are out with injury), and revenge for last season’s win that wasn’t.  Even with a loss Duke would go into 2017 with a lot of promise, but a win would bring so much more.