When the calendar turns to November, championship contenders make themselves known and the pretenders melt away under the pressure of being at the top and the competitiveness of conference play. If Miami wants to prove that it is truly competing for a national championship in 2018, they will need to win games like this one. When you play at home, against a team you are 100% more talented then, you need to leave a W in the game column.
Miami has a four game winning streak versus Duke and since Mark Richt has taken over, the Canes have been especially effective in dispatching their Coastal rivals. In Richt’s first year, Miami dominated at home en route to a 40-21 victory in the season finale. Last season, in their first game versus an ACC opponent, Miami took care of the Blue Devils in Durham, 31-6.
2018 figures to be a little different, since Duke ought to be a tougher team with another year of their starters being together and a host of impact players at several positions. Playing Duke won’t be your ordinary trap game – if Miami wants to win, they will have to show the same tenacity they played with in the last two meetings between these teams.
Duke On Offense
The Blue Devils have one thing that Miami doesn’t; an established QB who can make plays consistently. He may not have much hype now but Daniel Jones is the real deal and has a chance to be a top 50 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Here is a brief scouting report that I’ve written up regarding Jones.
Duke struggled for most of the season, hitting the skids during a six game losing streak that the Canes kicked off. But with two games left in the regular season, they scored 43 and 30 points on their way to a bowl berth, a 36-14 beat down of Northern Illinois. They return a majority of their offensive starters and figure to look to duplicate their late season success and continue to prove themselves as an explosive offense.
The Blue Devils have a wealth of talent at their skill positions, especially wide receiver. Duke has three starting wideouts returning this season, including T.J. Rahming who finished last season with 65 receptions, 792 yards and 2 TDs. Senior starting tight end Daniel Hem is also back for 2018.
Duke’s starting runningback will be new for this coming season but sophomore Brittain Brown seems up to the challenge. Brown has an intriguing combination of speed and physicality and actually tied for the team lead in touchdowns last season with seven. Brown, despite not starting, also had the better yards per carry average, racking up 5.4 per carry compared to Shaun Wilson’s 5.0.
Duke will have some new players at tackle this season but the interior of their line is still pretty solid. It seems like the Blue Devil’s offensive success will live and die with how well their line performs. Seem familiar?
Duke On Defense
The Blue Devils are going to have one of the tougher defenses in the Coastal this season, led by an All-ACC Cornerback and a ferocious front seven. Any discussion of the Dukie defense should start with CB Mark Gilbert, a playmaking cover man who grabbed six INTs in 2017 and looks poised to be another Blue Devil headed to the NFL. Gilbert is big, long and athletic and should be a great challenge for Ahmmon Richards later on in the season.
Although the rest of the secondary isn’t nearly as experienced or talented as Gilbert, especially with safety Jeremy McDuffie potentially out for all of 2018, Duke more than makes up for their blemishes elsewhere with a talented collection of front seven players. They are led by inside linebacker Joe Giles-Harris, who is the anchor of the Blue Devil middle of the field defense. Despite playing as an off-ball linebacker, Giles-Harris was second on the team in sacks, with 4.5, to go along with 125 tackles and 11.5 TFLs.
Fellow LB Ben Humphreys and pass rushers Tre Hornbuckle and Victor Dimukeje will also look to keep the running game stuffed while being able to pressure the QB. Dimukeje played as a true freshman and was especially promising, the edge rusher able to generate 7.5 TFLs in 13 starts.
There are a lot of ifs still to be figured out with Duke and chances are, we will know what kind of team they are by the time these two meet up. Will Duke have a high scoring offense and shut down defense? Or will the offense remain inconsistent with a leaky back seven, despite Mark Gilbert’s excellence? That remains to be seen.
The bottom line is that this team has tremendous potential, and with all of Virginia Tech’s defensive losses, it could be Duke challenging Miami for the ACC Coastal title. Miami is better than this Duke team, even if the Blue Devils reach their potential ceiling. But Miami cannot hope to bring 50-60% effort to Hard Rock Stadium and leave victorious.
Duke will look to attack Miami with a quick passing, rhythm offense, to mitigate the Canes’ pass rush while also utilizing their playmakers as best they can. On defense, they will try to force Malik Rosier to beat them. But as long as the Hurricanes take cues from their last game against Duke, grind it out on the ground and bring pressure to the QB all game long, Miami should extend the streak to five.