There are several ways Duke hasn’t quite matched up with its Coastal Division counterparts.
It hasn’t won an ACC contest this season.
Entering Georgia Tech Saturday, the first game since Duke’s 24-14 loss to Louisville on Oct. 14, the Blue Devils are last in the division.
But Duke (3-4, 0-3 ACC) has accomplished something no other team in the ACC has done. It hasn’t allowed a fourth-down conversion all year, first in the conference in opponent fourth downs (0-of-8).
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Georgia Tech, on the other hand, enjoys a fourth-down challenge. The Yellow Jackets (4-3, 1-3) have completed 57.1 of their attempts in that area, collecting eight of 14.
“Not very many defensive people can react that quickly to all the different things they may see from Georgia Tech on fourth down,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said between snapping his fingers. “It requires a lot of really keen, decisive, fast play, and that’s why they go for it on fourth down. The team is difficult to stop because of the array of different things they can run.”
Cutcliffe praised Duke’s secondary, saying it leads to good play up front to stop teams on fourth down.
Duke linebackers Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris enter Georgia Tech with a team-best 55 tackles apiece, and they’re ranked 12th in the ACC with 7.9 tackles a game.
Cornerback Breon Borders has 12 career interceptions, and he has two this year.
Duke’s entire defensive unit limited Louisville, which scores more than 50 points a game, to 24.
Not very many defensive people can react that quickly to all the different things they may see from Georgia Tech on fourth down.
“We can definitely build on it,” Duke cornerback Byron Fields said. “We blended well that game. Everybody played well, and we bought into the scheme.”
Duke has a plan for Georgia Tech’s passing game, but Cutcliffe said the team emphasized preparing for the running game in practice this week.
“If it’s fourth down and 2 and you pack it in – and we have this history with them – you pack it in to stop the fullback, they’re gonna toss the sweep on you,” Cutcliffe said.
Defense was key in Duke’s 34-20 win over Tech last year in Durham.
Duke is 14-5 on the road since 2013, but it is 1-2 on the road this season, including a 38-37 victory at Notre Dame on Sept. 24.
Saturday marks Tech’s homecoming, where it is 14-6-1 against Duke on homecoming. In the Yellow Jackets’ 35-24 win over Georgia Southern, they averaged eight yards per play.
“I’m going to give all the credit to coach (Jim) Knowles and his staff,” Humphreys said. “His schemes and the way they prepare for a game like this is unlike anyone else. It’s pretty special what he does and the kind of person he is and the way he prepares. His schemes for Army and Georgia Tech and all these triple-option teams seem to work.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan
Duke at Georgia Tech
When: Noon Saturday
Where: Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta