The Duke Blue Devils did not have a good 2021 season. Actually Duke was one of the few teams which had just as bad (if not arguably worse) a season as Georgia Tech. Duke had 3 wins early in the year against Northwestern, NC A&T, and Kansas; but then proceeded to end the season on an 8 game losing streak which left them winless in ACC play.
I have some sympathy for Duke fans. Like GT duke football had seen some success prior to the 2019 season. Since 2019 though Dook has looked more like you would expect. Duke went 5-7 in 2019 and 2-9 in 2020. Fair to say Duke was fed up and has since parted ways with coach David Cutcliffe; this makes way for Mike Elko to step in.
Mike has been a D-Coordinator across the college landscape, but most recently spent time at Wake Forest, Notre Dame, and Texas A&M. Mike has consistently held defenses in the top 50 ranks of college football for yards given up. This will be a new challenge for Elko, given that he won’t have the same talent to work with at those previous programs, he is currently trying to improve the defense that ranked 127th in points given up per game last year, and he is losing most of the offensive tools Duke had last year. Can he turn around Dook football? Well probably not in his first year, lets look at what he’ll have to work with.
QB Gunnar Holmberg
Starting QB from last season. Gunnar wasn’t incredible, he was about middle of the road in passing yards per game finishing the season with 237.9 pass yds per game which put him at 64th in the nation at that stat. While Gunnar wasn’t amazing the loss of your field general is always a tough problem for a team to deal with.
RB Mateo Durant
Possibly the biggest loss for Duke. Mateo finished the 2021 season with 1241 total rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. The Duke offense essentially flowed through Durant with the passing game mainly used to open up things for Mateo on the ground. Losing Mateo will require the whole offensive strategy for Duke to be re-evaluated.
WR Jake Bobo
The final Jenga piece in Duke’s collapsing offense from last year is Jake Bobo. While Jake didn’t have many opportunities on the field he was still a leading receiver for Duke who ended the season with 794 receiving yards. Jake has since moved on to UCLA, which leaves the Duke offense short handed going into next year.
QB Riley Leonard and Jordan Moore
I list both these players, because right now there hasn’t been a formal decision to who will take the starting job between these two. Last year Riley played 153 snaps while Jordan played 80. Jordan was mainly used for RPO opportunities, but both players show talent with their legs and can open up an extra avenue to move the ball through quick runs. At the moment I expect Riley to start, but this could change depending on how Mike Elko decides to run the offense.
DT DeWayne Carter
Carter was one of the few bright spots on defense for the Blue Devils last year. DeWayne had 4.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles on the season last year. The line around DeWayne also shows plenty of talent, but Carter is definitely one of the focal points for the defense.
LB Shaka Heyward
Shaka led the Blue Devils in total tackles last year with 97. Shaka tended to do better in pass defense than defending the run. Heyward is going to be one of the leaders on defense this year and will be expected to motivate the players around him despite Duke’s poor defensive performances as of late.
CB Datrone Young
A transfer from Iowa State, Datrone will be expected to step in and make an immediate impact in a weak secondary. At Iowa State Datrone accumulated 22 solo tackles and 1 interception last year.
Duke is in a total rebuild this year. They are trying to create a totally new offense and build upon a defense that was one of the worst (if not the worst) in the NCAA. The good news for new head coach Mike Elko, is that this means there are low expectations on the season. Don’t expect that to mean he won’t try for some big wins though, this is Elko’s first Head Coaching gig so he has everything to prove and nothing to lose.
This is a game the Jackets should win... and frankly that terrifies me. Dook has a tendency to surprise GT, probably because they smell blood in the water while playing us. There is a real potential that both GT and Dook will look at this game as their best opportunity to win an ACC game on the year. Georgia Tech should have the talent to overcome the Blue Devils, but don’t expect it to be a walk in the park just because Dook is in the middle of a rebuild. I still expect us to win, but if Geoff Collins doesn’t get the team up for this game it could be a nauseating roller coaster ride of a game.
How do you see Georgia Tech vs. Duke playing out?