Friday’s game in Durham, North Carolina, will be the Hurricanes’ first taste of ACC action. This match could be a defensive battle, as the Blue Devils are ranked in the top half of many defensive categories in the nation. That said, Miami can prove to be a challenge. Here are some key matchups for the game that will decide the Coastal division champion.
1 vs. 1 Matchup
Duke LB Ben Humphreys (six foot two, 225 pounds) vs. Miami RB Mark Walton (five foot nine, 205 pounds)
In the 2016 season, Mark Walton rushed for 100 or more yards in the first few matches, but went through a five-game drought in which he did not surpass 100 yards. He also rushed for 60 yards on 13 carries with a 4.62 yards-per-carry average against Duke. This season Walton has come out of the backfield like a man on fire. He has gone over the century mark in both games, and he had a career-best 204 yards against Toledo. We are intrigued by Walton’s game last week and will be watching to see if he can follow up that incredible performance.
The challenge for Duke’s front seven, led by LB Ben Humphreys, will be to keep Walton’s streak of rushing for 100 or more yards to just two games. Duke has stifled opposing run games to just 65.25 yards per game, ranking first in the ACC and second in the nation in that category. Prior to Friday’s contest, Duke has only surrendered three rushing touchdowns in four games. With Miami averaging 285.5 rushing yards per game, something will have to give.
Duke’s Front Seven vs. Miami’s Offensive Line
Friday night’s game will be won in the trenches. The Blue Devils’ defense is ranked at the top of several categories. They lead the nation in third down conversions, with opponents converting just 7 of 50 attempts on the money down. They are also tied for fourth in the country in tackles for loss (35 tackles for loss in four games for an average of 8.8 per game) and have 15 sacks. The defensive line, featuring DE Mike Ramsay and freshmen Drew Jordan and Victor Dimukeje, could disrupt Miami’s offensive attack. Duke has forced nine turnovers (seven interceptions and two fumble recoveries). Its defensive unit does a solid job of getting into the backfield and forcing quarterbacks into terrible decisions.
Miami’s offensive line will need to provide Malik Rosier with enough time to make the throw and create holes in the run game. TE Christopher Herndon IV and the running backs could stay in to help with pass protection if the line struggles with the pass rush. The Hurricanes offensive line will need to impose their will on their opponent in order for the offense to succeed.
Caneseye Players to Watch
The most obvious answer should be QB Daniel Jones, a dual-threat quarterback who serves as the first true test to the ’Canes defense. I’m intrigued to see how defensive coordinator Manny Diaz accounts for Jones as a run threat. The Blue Devils run a potent read-option that’s dangerous because Jones is a capable runner when he keeps the ball (42 attempts, 141 rushing yards, 3 touchdowns). Miami’s defensive line will need to keep gap integrity in order to reduce Jones’s potential to scramble. I know there is concern regarding Miami’s quality of play in the secondary. However, if communication and alignment are sound in the back half of the defense, ’Canes defenders will be able to create negative plays against the Duke offense.
The player to watch will be RB Brittain Brown for Duke. The freshman plays second fiddle to RB Shaun Wilson, but Brown has broken some big runs to start the season. Although he rushed for 325 yards, 24 yards less than Wilson, he has a better yards-per-carry average (6.25). He also has six receptions for 84 receiving yards (for an average of 14 yards per catch).
For the Hurricanes, this game falls on Malik Rosier. While Miami will lean on the run game, Rosier’s decision making will make or break the game. Although you can apply that logic to any game, this point will become even more important against Duke. This Duke defense is disciplined and opportunistic. The Blue Devils have returned three interceptions for touchdowns so far this season, two of them by CB Bryon Fields Jr. While we were willing to overlook the late game interception last week against Toledo, Rosier and the offense cannot afford to make decisions like that a trend. This game will come down to discipline.
One Last Thing . . .
Speaking of discipline, Miami needs to cut down on the penalties. In just two games, the Hurricanes have amassed 16 penalties. In contrast, Duke has been called for 18 penalties in four games. Gone are the days when Miami could spot Duke a lead and easily make a comeback. Miami does not need to help out the Blue Devils on Friday. If they do, Miami might find themselves looking for a late miracle to pull out a win in Durham.