Duke vs. No. 20 Georgia Tech: What to Watch For

Photo by Chris Summerville

Photo by Chris Summerville

When: Saturday, September 26. 12:00 pm

Where: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, North Carolina

Television: ESPN2

Line: Duke +7.5

Last Time: Duke 31, No. 22 Georgia Tech 25.  The Blue Devils forced the usually efficient Yellow Jackets into three turnovers to snap a 10 game losing streak to Georgia Tech.  Josh Snead led the way with 104 rushing yards and a touchdown and Thomas Sirk added two short touchdown runs.  Justin Thomas threw 2 interceptions, one to Zavier Carmichael deep in Duke territory and the other to Jeremy Cash on the sideline in the fourth quarter.  The latter set up the Sirk touchdown that gave Duke a 31-12 lead before a couple late Georgia Tech touchdowns made the score more interesting.  Ryan Smith recovered 2 onside kicks to help preserve the victory.  The game was delayed almost an hour and a half because of lightning during halftime.

What to Watch For:

Mistake Free Football.  Duke is coming off a very uncharacteristic game that featured three Blue Devil turnovers.  The Duke defense came up with two big interceptions, but still managed to lose the turnover battle, which ultimately may have been the difference in the game.  Thomas Sirk was deflected and intercepted on a pass to the flat deep in Northwestern territory.  Shaun Wilson followed with a fumble on the next Duke possession that set up a Wildcat field goal.  Ryan Smith fumbled a punt in the fourth quarter with Duke set to get the ball around midfield.  Duke is known for taking care of the ball and playing especially well on special teams.  For whatever reason, that wasn’t the case against Northwestern.  However, with better execution here and there Duke still could have won the game.  That won’t be true against Georgia Tech.  The Yellow Jackets run a highly efficient ball control offense.  Offensive possessions will be at a premium as is, so the Blue Devils simply can’t afford to hand the ball over to Georgia Tech and waste valuable possessions on offense.  Thomas Sirk has been efficient so far this season.  His interception Saturday was his first of the season, and his second turnover so far.  The Duke running backs are usually sure handed and, in an effort to control the time of possession, the staff will probably elect to try and establish their own run game early, if possible.

Keeping Assignments.  You’ve probably heard this before, but anytime you play an option team like Georgia Tech, defending it is all about assignment football.  You can’t waste time and energy thinking about where the play might go.  There is a lot of misdirection involved with the triple option.  The key is knowing your assignment and making the tackle.  Trusting your teammates is also key.  You have to believe that everyone on the defense is going to stay on their man.  If you get caught helping off your assignment it can be the difference in a tackle for a loss and a long run for the opposing offense.  The Blue Devil defense is built on speed and tackling ability and has shown a real knack for getting to the edge and stringing out run plays.  Jeremy Cash, DeVon Edwards, and Deondre Singleton are great tacklers and play well in space.  Cash, in particular, has made his presence felt all over the field so far this season.  Through three games he has already accounted for 5.0 tackles for a loss.  His style of play is the perfect counter to what Georgia Tech likes to do.  The addition of athletic linebackers Tinashe Bere and Ben Humphreys will only help Duke defend the triple option.  If the defensive line can hold their own and not give up too much ground up the middle and force the Yellow Jackets to look outside, the Duke defense could give Georgia Tech a really hard time.  As a whole, the Duke defense has been excellent this season, but the rush defense has been a real surprise.  Duke is only giving up an average of 2.7 yards per carry, but they will receive their biggest test yet on Saturday.

Offensive Game Plan.  The biggest criticism from last week’s loss to Northwestern was how uncreative and predictable the Duke offense was.  Simple observation saw play after play result in checkdowns to the running backs for little or no gain.  This was not the plan.  The majority of the passing plays had the goal of getting the ball down the field.  Northwestern’s solid defense combined with some indecision from Thomas Sirk resulted in an offense that struggled to move the ball and convert third downs, two things that are essential for beating Georgia Tech.  I expect Duke to come out and try to establish the run, as they have so far this season.  That’s not to say they won’t try to stretch the field, but there is no need to overreact to last week’s outcome.  Against Georgia Tech it’s more important to stay ahead of the down and distance and avoid third and long.  If Duke burns the early downs trying to hit the deep pass they could find themselves in tough to convert situations, forced to give the ball back to an exhausting Yellow Jacket offense.  The Blue Devils don’t need to make any drastic changes yet.  Just stay focused and execute.

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