Duke vs. Boston College: What to Watch For

Ryan Smith with the punt return against NCCU / Duke Blue Devils / Photo by Chris Summerville
Ryan Smith with the punt return against NCCU / Duke Blue Devils / Photo by Chris Summerville

When: Saturday, October 3.  3:30 pm

Where: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, North Carolina

Television: Fox Sports South, RSN

Line: Duke -7

Last Time: Duke 20, Boston College 19.  The Eagles jumped out to a 19-7 lead, but Duke scored to end first half, and after a scoreless third quarter, a Sean Renfree 1 yd run gave Duke the lead for good.  Renfree completed 41 of 53 passes for 368 yards and 2 touchdowns, both to Conner Vernon.  Vernon had 6 catches for 116 yards.  Duke and Boston College played in back to back seasons in 2010 and 2011, splitting the two games, but Saturday will mark the first meeting between the two teams since.

What to Watch For:

Take the Under.  The Blue Devils and Eagles have been two of the premier defenses in the ACC and the country through the first third of the college football season.  The Boston College defense gives up an average of 3.2 yards per play (1st in the country), Duke gives up 3.7 (4th).  Eagles give up an average of 1 offensive touchdown per game (2nd) , Duke 1.3 (9th). Both teams are top 10 in opponents passing yards a game and top 15 in opponents yards per rush.  Both teams have already shown well against touch offenses this season.  Just last week, Duke shut down the triple option attack of Georgia Tech.  Two weeks ago Boston College only gave up one offensive touchdown to Florida State in a 14-0 loss.

The strong defenses alone are enough reason to expect a low scoring game, but neither team’s offense has been particularly dangerous either.  The Eagles dropped 76 on Howard, but have lost quarterback Darius Wade for the season due to a broken ankle.  Lead running back Jon Hilliman suffered a broken foot during last week’s win over Northern Illinois.  While Duke has put up a fair amount of points, except against Northwestern, the Duke offense has not appeared very dynamic.  Just last week, Duke struggled to get first downs in the second half and needed a DeVon Edwards return touchdown and a late breakaway run by Shaq Powell to hold on against Georgia Tech.  Duke has just one offensive touchdown in the second half over their last two games.  Duke has ran the ball fairly well, but hasn’t been able to develop a consistent passing game against the better teams they have faced this season.  Saturday has the feel of a real defensive struggle.

The Stable.  For the first time this season Duke has their full set of running backs.  Jela Duncan made his return from a torn pectoral muscle last week.  Duncan was on the field for a couple series, logging 23 rushing yards and one catch for 5 yards.  Duncan broke off a nice run for a gain of over 20 yards on his second handoff, but the play was called back for holding.  Joseph Ajeigbe has been deemed healthy and has seen the field on special teams.  Shaquille Powell has a total of 5 rushing and receiving touchdowns on the season and is averaging 5.5 yards per rush.  Shaun Wilson has shown some explosive running off the edge.  Duncan brings even more strength and power to the Duke running attack.

The lack of a consistent passing game combined with the likelihood for even more rain this weekend should call for a healthy dose of running Saturday.  Duke should lean on their stable of backs to try and wear down the defense and keep the down and distance manageable for Thomas Sirk.  With what should be an effective run game, Duke can cut down on the number of carries (and hits taken) by their quarterback and let him focus on progressing through his reads and moving the ball through the air.  Sometimes all the passing game needs is a little more of the run game.

Early Momentum in the ACC.  With a win Saturday, Duke would get off to an important 2-0 start in conference play, including a win over the defending champion. This weekend’s game against Boston College is Duke’s last conference game before their bye week.  The Blue Devils play Army next week before taking a break at the halfway point of the college football season.  The middle portion of Duke’s conference schedule includes a potentially difficult set of games featuring a Halloween game against Miami sandwiched between road games against  Virginia Tech and North Carolina.

Duke started 0-2 in the Coastal in 2013, before going on a six game winning streak to capture the division crown. Last season, Duke started 1-1 before a faltering in back to back November games against the Hokies and Tar heels.  Getting off to a better start would not only give the team a boost of confidence, but they would have a little more margin for error, statistically, as the season goes on.  Saturday’s game is also the last of a four game homestand for Duke.  Five of Duke’s seven remaining games are on the road, making the game against the Eagles even more important for generating some energy to carry on the road for the stretch run of 2015.

All team stats and rankings from TeamRankings.com