Duke vs. No. 7 Louisville: What to Watch For

Credit:Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

When:  Friday, October 14, 2016.  7:00 PM.

Where:  Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, Kentucky

Television: ESPN

Line:  Duke +35

Last Time:  Duke 3, Louisville 40.  The Cardinals dominated the only matchup between the two football programs back in 2002 at Wallace Wade Stadium.  The Louisville defense completely shut down the Duke offense allowing just 22 rushing yards on 26 carries.  The Blue Devil defense intercepted 2 passes and recovered 2 fumbles, but the offense simply couldn’t manage anything.  A field goal by Brent Garber just before halftime prevented the shutout.  Duke basketball legend Reggie Love caught 2 passes for 25 yards in the loss.  This matchup was supposed to be the first of four games between the two teams, however Duke would pull out of the 2007-2009 meetings.  They were sued by the Cardinals for breach of contract but won the suit because the courts ruled that Duke was so bad at football any team would be a reasonable replacement on the schedule.

What to Watch For:

Turnover Margin.  The biggest obstacle for Duke this season has been their inability to hold onto the football.  Part of that comes with the territory when you start a freshman quarterback, but Jones and the rest of the Blue Devils can and must do a better job of keeping the football.  The Duke offense hasn’t been able to move the ball and score consistently enough to give away possessions.  Against a team as talented and dynamic as Louisville that concept is even more important.  The Cardinal defense is in the top 10 nationally in takeaways per game, not a particularly good stat for the Blue Devils.  Ball security on offense is priority number 1 for this young team.  The Duke defense may have some opportunities to take possessions from Louisville.  The Cardinals average about 2.5 turnovers a game, one of the worst teams nationally.  The Duke defense ranks in the top 20 nationally with just over 2 takeaways per game.  The Blue Devils could have an opportunity to generate possessions and gain some momentum with turnovers, but they can’t give the ball back on offense.  It won’t be enough to break even in turnover margin.  Duke will have to win the turnover battle and turn those opportunities into points.

Underdog Mentality.  The Blue Devils have already entered one game this season as a multiple touchdown road underdog.  Duke won that game outright.   The fact of the matter is Louisville is much better than Notre Dame on both sides of the ball.  So while the spreads are similar, Duke faces a much tougher task on Friday night than what they encountered in South Bend.  The Blue Devils will have to find a way to turn the doubt into motivation.  Duke can’t get caught up in the hype surrounding the top ten Cardinals.  Instead they need to focus on executing their game as flawlessly as possible.  Duke has performed better on the road under Cutcliffe than they have at home.  There are several factors that play into that stat, but one is the ability of the staff to get the players to focus on the task at hand and feed off the energy of opposing crowds.  A Friday night game on ESPN will make for an exciting environment.  It’ll take every ounce of focus and execution to pull out a victory over the Cardinals.

Short Week.  Playing one day early might not seem like a big difference compared to a normal game week, but routine is a big part of getting a college football team prepared to play, particularly when you have a young and inexperienced team.  It complicates things further when that short week also includes a road game.  The team has to shorten the practice week and travel a day earlier than normal for a road game.  Duke is coming off a physical game against Army played in ridiculous weather conditions while Louisville is coming off of their bye week.  The Cardinals have had the opportunity to rest up and prepare and coming off a bye, the short week won’t have as much of an impact on them.  Duke is also battling some injuries to major contributors.  Starting running back Jela Duncan and center Austin Davis both suffered leg injuries against Army.  Both are consider probable to play against Louisville as is DT Edgar Cerenord.  The extra day of recovery for them, as well as the normal game to game recovery for the rest of the team is certainly impacted by the short week.


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