DURHAM — In searching for answers to improve the running game, Duke coach David Cutcliffe has identified "blocks at the point of attack" as a major problem.
Whether the Blue Devils are man blocking or zone blocking, the results have often been the same: running backs go nowhere.
"We're struggling with both schemes," Cutcliffe said. "We're just having to block the line of scrimmage better and get started. And once we've gotten started on runs, we've been decent."
Time and again last week against North Carolina, Duke running backs were cut down at the line of scrimmage, managing a season-low 12 yards. The Tar Heels prevailed, 19-6, holding the Devils without a touchdown for the first time this season.
If the Devils are to upset No. 7 Georgia Tech, they will have do so with the ACC's second-best passing offense. But a successful passing game is usually complemented by a workhorse running attack.
On the whole, the Devils have been ineffective on the ground, averaging just 68.2 rushing yards per game. They rank 119th among NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision teams, just in front of last place Bowling Green, which is averaging 60.1 yards per game.
Duke's running backs - senior Re'quan Boyette, sophomore Jay Hollingsworth, redshirt freshman Patrick Kurunwune and freshman Desmond Scott - have faced setbacks due to injuries this season. Boyette and Hollingsworth, the most experienced of the group, have dealt with the most serious leg injures.
Despite those setbacks, Cutcliffe said his running backs have the ability to move the chains, though he said their confidence might have suffered as a result of injury and inactivity. Scott leads the team with 44 carries for 174 yards.
Duke offensive linemen say they are determined to create the necessary push at the line of scrimmage.
"We've focused a lot on improving our technique," sophomore Kyle Hill said. "We haven't really changed anything. The main emphasis is on keeping that fire going and wanting to play with the most energy."
The Devils have scored just five rushing touchdowns this season, including three by senior quarterback Thaddeus Lewis.
"Duke will run the football eventually," Cutcliffe said. "How well we run the football remains to be seen. I think that's somewhat of a challenge for us with the ingredients that we're playing with right now. But we can run it better than we are running it."
Notes: Duke senior defensive tackle Vince Oghobaase was listed as doubtful with a leg injury. If he misses Saturday's game, the Devils could be without the linchpin to their defensive line. He leads the team with 6.5 tackles for losses.
Others listed as questionable are LB Abraham Kromah (leg), OG Mitchell Lederman (foot), LB Vincent Rey (leg), K Will Snyderwine (leg).
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