Duke is used to being an underdog in big games on the road. Just ask Notre Dame how that worked out for them. But Louisville presents a lot more challenges than the Irish did, as the Blue Devils will tell you.
“This is every bit as good a team as we’ve played since we’ve been at Duke, if not the best team we’ve played,” said ninth-year Duke coach David Cutcliffe of the Cardinals.
Duke (3-3, 0-2 ACC) is making its first trip ever to No. 7 Louisville (4-1, 2-1 ACC) on Friday night.
Duke has upset a ranked team in each of the previous three seasons, but the Blue Devils have never won on the road against any team ranked as high as the Cardinals.
Blue Devil linebacker Joe Giles-Harris sees it less as a challenge than an opportunity.
“There’s something different about playing under the lights,” Giles-Harris said. “When you play at night, there’s a whole different atmosphere. You feel a little like it’s a movie.”
“It’s going to be loud; it’s going to be crazy. It’s going to be a fun game,” Duke defensive end Dominic McDonald said. “We’re really looking forward to it.”
This year’s Louisville team is far better than the 2002 Cardinals who beat Duke 40-3 in Wallace Wade Stadium and finished 7-6. The 2016 Cardinals have hopes for an appearance in the College Football Playoffs pinned on quarterback Lamar Jackson, considered a top Heisman candidate.
Ranking in the nation’s top 10 for both rushing yards per attempt (7.48) and yards per pass completion (9.56), Jackson is perhaps the nation’s most explosive player. He’s helped the Cardinals become the nation’s top team in scoring (58 points a game) and total offense (659.2 yards a game).
“He’s definitely their ‘X’ factor,” McDonald said. “He’s making plays that no one else in the country is making.”
Cutcliffe stressed that “assignment football” is the only way to stop Jackson, with every Blue Devil focused on his one-eleventh of the defense on every play.
“Eleven people is all they’ll let us play with,” Cutcliffe said. “We could use 14.”
Injury report: Duke’s top rusher, Jela Duncan (70.8 ypg), and center Austin Davis are listed as probable for Friday’s game, despite suffering leg injuries in last Saturday’s 13-6 win against Army. Defensive tackle Edgar Cerenord (hand) also is probable. Linebacker Tinashe Bere (leg), safeties DeVon Edwards (leg) and Javon Jackson (foot), defensive tackle Zach Morris and quarterback Thomas Sirk are out for the season.
Noteworthy: Friday’s game would have been the fifth meeting of the two teams since 2002, however Duke pulled out of the games scheduled for 2007-2009. Louisville, not then a member of the ACC, sued for breach of contract, but Duke prevailed after the courts ruled in 2008 that Louisville had plenty of time to find a replacement that was as good or better.
Duke at Louisville
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, Ky.