Duke’s defense has consistently shined this season.
It has held the nation’s top scoring offense to 24 points, nearly coming away with one of the biggest upsets of the year.
It’s also found success against option teams, defeating Army, 13-6, on Oct. 8 in a must-win game for Duke.
But Georgia Tech is no Army.
“No offense to Army: Georgia Tech is a little bit more athletic than they are,” said Duke linebacker Ben Humphreys, who, along with his roommate Joe Giles-Harris, leads the team with 55 tackles.
“They have a lot more skill guys that can run, that can beat you by themselves, individually,” Humphreys said Tuesday. “They’re going to try to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers, and we have to try and stop them.”
Duke (3-4, 0-3 ACC) will visit Atlanta Saturday for its 84th straight meeting with the Yellow Jackets (4-3, 1-3) – Duke being Georgia Tech’s third-most common opponent behind Auburn and Georgia. Both teams are coming off a bye.
The Blue Devils are seeking their first conference win and have defeated Georgia Tech in the last two games of the series. Coach David Cutcliffe is hoping the confidence from his team’s effort against No. 5 Louisville (52.6 points per game) two weeks ago will carry over against a Yellow Jackets squad seeking bowl eligibility. Duke’s five remaining games are all Coastal Division opponents.
“It’s a great challenge game for us,” Cutcliffe said. “For us to be successful against Georgia Tech: To begin with, you can’t make very many mistakes. They’re a team that maximizes a game in their favor if you do. We can’t turn the ball over; we know that.”
Duke has 18 turnovers this season, including eight in the first two games and six in a 34-20 loss to Virginia on Oct. 1. The only time Duke didn’t turn the ball over was in that impressive showing against Louisville two weeks ago.
Cutcliffe joked that Duke reached its turnover max against Virginia and said the growth at quarterback has mitigated the giveaways. Redshirt freshman Daniel Jones, who stepped in this season to replace injured Thomas Sirk, has thrown for 1,584 yards, good for seventh in the ACC in total offense.
Leading up to Georgia Tech, Duke’s defense is focusing on limiting explosive plays. It gave up a couple against Louisville that could have made the difference in the game.
The Blue Devils understand the challenges of containing Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense, led by quarterback Justin Thomas and back Dedrick Mills. Mills ties for second in scoring in the ACC, averaging 10 points a game with 10 touchdowns on the year. Who’s first? Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, a Heisman Trophy consideration.
Georgia Tech is third in the ACC with 234.3 rushing yards a game, 22nd in the nation. It will be the third straight game Duke faces a team averaging at least 230 rushing yards. Army was the nation’s leader in rushing yards when the teams met Oct. 8.
“We did play well (against Army),” Cutcliffe said. “When you watch Georgia Tech, no offense to Army, Army is not Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech’s personnel is better. Georgia Tech runs and does what they do better, just to be real honest with you. I think our players immediately see that (when watching film). Ben’s right. We’re going to have to elevate everything that we’re doing to have success against this team.”
None of Duke’s four losses this season have been by more than 14 points. In each setback, Duke possessed the ball in the fourth quarter with a one-score game.
Cutcliffe’s remedy if it comes to that Saturday: be ahead.
“Your habits have to be great when you’re tired,” he said. “We’ve been very close in games that we didn’t win. The best way to avoid that is be ahead in the fourth quarter and let them worry about that.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan
Duke at Georgia Tech
When: Noon Saturday