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Duke vs. No. 15 North Carolina: What to Watch For

Credit:Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

When:  Thursday, November 10, 2016.  7:30 PM.

Where:  Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, North Carolina

Television: ESPN

Line:  Duke +11.5

Last Time: Duke 31, No. 21 North Carolina 66.  The Blue Devils went to Chapel Hill trying to shake off a controversial loss to Miami the week before, but we’re no match for the Tar Heels.  UNC jumped out to a 21-3 lead and never really looked back.  The Duke defense showed little focus from the start and we’re no match for the big play seeking rivals.  Thomas Sirk had one of his worst days as a passer, completing under 50 percent of his passes and throwing 2 interceptions.  He did have 2 touchdowns on the ground.  Jela Duncan had 115 yards and a touchdown on just 13 carries and Shaq Powell added 98 rushing yards in the loss.

What to Watch For:

Complete Game on Defense.  The Duke defense has been the subject of plenty of questions after a strong start to the season.  The last two games have been puzzling.  Against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech the Blue Devils gave up a total of 49 points in the first half, but just 13 points in the second, including just 3 second half points to the Hokies.  Duke has had a chance to win each of these games, but couldn’t get enough stops late in the game.  The Blue Devils will have to put together a complete game on defense to have a chance against North Carolina.  The Duke defense has gotten up for a seemingly impossible matchup once already this season against Louisville.  The Tar Heels aren’t that dangerous, but are a tough task nonetheless.  The secondary will have the toughest task trying to keep up with Ryan Switzer and Bug Howard.  The defensive front could do them a huge favor by generating some pressure on Mitch Trubisky.  The UNC offensive line hasn’t been too Mitch in recent weeks and will be the closest thing to an edge the Blue Devils have on defense.  If Trubisky has time in the pocket it will be a long night for the Blue Devils, he is too good and the receivers are too talented.

Calling All Playmakers.  While Duke has looked better on offense in recent weeks, they still haven’t been able to find any explosiveness.  They have reduced mistakes, cutting down on turnovers and penalties, but still haven’t looked like a strong offense.  Duke is going to need plenty of points to upset North Carolina.  While controlling the ball and staying conservative may give Duke a slight edge, winning the time of possession won’t be enough to get the victory.  Shaun Wilson is expected to play Thursday after taking a hard hit to the head against Virginia Tech.  Wilson provides the biggest big play threat Duke has, both on offense and special teams.  Duke’s receivers and tight ends have played ok this season, but no one has stood out as a playmaker, someone who can stretch the field or come up with a game changing play when its needed the most.  Anthony Nash was the closest thing to a go to guy on offense Duke had, but he is still dealing with a broken clavicle.  Daniel Jones has shown an increased ability to make plays running the ball lately, will the freshman be the playmaker Duke needs or will someone else step up and take the lead?

Nothing to Lose.  The Blue Devils come in to this game losers of three straight and still winless in the ACC.  With just three games remaining Duke needs to win two of them to have a chance at a fifth consecutive bowl game.  They need to win out to ensure themselves a bowl bid.  At this point no one expects them to get one conference victory, much less make a bowl game.  So what do the Blue Devils have to lose?  No one will give them a chance to upset North Carolina so why not come out with a little extra motivation.  The staff has mapped out a very conservative game plan in the last month to cut down on mistakes.  Maybe Thursday is the right time to open things up a bit and take some chances.  Duke will need quite a few things to break their way to get the victory.  With nothing to lose and everything to gain and their backs truly against the wall, why not play that way?