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Week 9 Preview: Duke Blue Devils

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On homecoming weekend, Tech looks to beat the struggling Blue Devils, who have bested the Jackets the last two seasons.

NCAA Football: Georgia Southern at Georgia Tech Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

Duke Season So Far

Besides a road win against Notre Dame, the Duke season certainly has not gone how they wanted it to so far. Their only two other wins have come against FCS opponent NC Central and service academy Army, a 13-6 game where they were only able to muster 189 yards of offense (in their defense, the game did take place during Hurricane Matthew). Accompanying those three wins are four losses, two at home to Wake Forest and Virginia and two on the road against Northwestern and Louisville. The result? A 3-4 Blue Devils team that is winless (0-3) in the ACC. Duke fans might say their team is trending in the right direction after giving playoff contender Louisville a scare two weeks ago, but we’ll have to wait until Saturday to find out if that game was a sign of a trend for the Blue Devils or just a fluke.

After Duke lost QB Thomas Sirk in the preseason, they turned to freshman Daniel Jones. Jones is a dual-threat QB who has filled in fairly admirably, completing 63% of his passes, although he is only averaging 6.8 yards/attempt. On the ground, Shaun Wilson and Jela Duncan have mostly split carries, even though Duncan has been more effective, averaging 5.1 yds/carry compared to 3.3. Leading receiver Anthony Nash broke his collarbone against Louisville and is most likely out for the season, a big blow to the already struggling Duke offense.

Offseason Preview (link)

Who’s gone? S Jeremy Cash, LB Dwayne Norman, OLs Lucas Patrick & Matt Skura, WR Max McCaffrey, K Ross Martin, and P Will Monday.

Who’s back? QB Thomas Sirk, RBs Jela Duncan & Shaun Wilson, OLs Gabe Brandner, Casey Blaser, & Tanner Stone, DBs Breon Borders, DeVon Edwards, & Deondre Singleton.

Who’s new? WR Scott Bracey, DB Dylan Singleton, and K A.J. Reed.

The biggest difference Tech fans will notice on Saturday is the lack of safety Jeremy Cash in the Duke secondary. Cash consistently played outstanding against the Jackets and was last years ACC defensive player of the year. Duke is also dealing with the losses of first team All-ACC C Matt Skura and third team All-ACC LB Dwayne Norman.

Matchup Preview

After mostly dominating the head to head series, particularly since the 90’s, the Jackets have lost back to back games against Duke. Over the last two years, the Blue Devils have been a kryptonite of sorts for Tech. In 2014, they were the Jacket’s first loss of the season and the first of back-to-back losses (Tech’s only two regular season losses that year). Last season, after losing to #8 ND, Tech traveled to Duke the following week and lost by 14 points, which led to three more losses in a row and only one win the rest of the season. The Jackets will desperately want to end the Blue Devils win streak on Saturday.

Duke has been no stranger to injuries this season. As mentioned earlier, QB Thomas Sirk was lost for the season before ever playing a game and leading WR Anthony Nash is most likely out for the year as well. Additionally, against Notre Dame, Duke lost senior captain and elite kick return specialist Devon Edwards when he went down with a torn ACL and MCL, an awful way to end his college football career. Georgia Tech has had their own share of injuries, especially on the offensive line. On Thursday night, Tech fans got some more bad injury news when we learned that senior linebacker PJ Davis and sensational freshman RB Dedrick Mills will both be out on Saturday. Marcus Marshall, who has had limited work behind Mills, but is averaging nearly six yards per carry, will get the start in his place.

After turning the ball over like crazy early in the year (five turnovers vs NCCU and six vs UVA is all you need to know), Duke has switched to a very conservative offense, especially over the last couple weeks. Against Louisville, Duke ran the ball 39 times, which resulted in them having 37 minutes of possession. If they try that same tactic against the run-heavy Jackets, we may see a game with an absurdly low number of plays. In that case, turnovers could be deadly both ways, an issue which cost Tech dearly in the 2014 matchup (-3 turnover margin).

Both teams should look fresh on Saturday coming off of their bye weeks. The bye weeks come at the exact halfway mark of the season and allows both teams to rest up and prepare for the rest of the year.

Vegas Line

Open: GaTech -8.5
Current: Gatech - 6.5

Prediction

While many Tech fans aren’t thrilled with how this season has gone so far, this team is just a few plays away from being 5-2 or 6-1. While the chances of a coastal title appear slim, this team can still have a very successful season and it starts with Duke. The defense appeared to play more aggressive against GSU and after playing some of the nations top run defenses in the first half of the year, the offense should be able to open up a bit in the second half. While I am a little concerned about how well Cutcliffe has prepared for the Jackets in the past, Tech is no question the more talented team and has the advantage of the home crowd on homecoming weekend. Georgia Tech wins 31-21.

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