Duke’s open week allowed the Blue Devils to hit the reset button for a five-game run that will determine their bowl chances.
They’ll next play against Georgia Tech, which also took this week off.
So the Blue Devils, who are 3-4 overall and 0-3 in ACC play, get extra time to prepare for the Yellow Jackets and their spread-option offense. Georgia Tech gets time to prep for Duke as well, but since Duke plays a conventional offense, it appears the Blue Devils will gain more by the extra time.
Duke spent a large part of its open week practicing for a Georgia Tech-specific game plan. The schemes were fresh since the Blue Devil defense just faced Army on Oct. 8.
“We just played Army and we are a very systematic defense,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “Since we’ve been at Duke we play Army, we play Navy, we play Georgia Tech every year so we will remain within our system. We are working it right now and familiarity helps.”
Duke has turned in two consecutive strong defensive performances in beating Army 13-6 on Oct. 8 and losing 24-14 at No. 7 Louisville on Oct. 14.
No team has held the Cardinals — and star quarterback Lamar Jackson — in check like the Blue Devils did. Even though the Army game was played in Hurricane Matthew’s strong winds and heavy rain, Duke benefitted just as much from its players being in position to stop Army’s rushing attack.
So the Blue Devils bring confidence into the Georgia Tech game.
“Obviously we wanted to win that game at Louisville,” Duke linebacker Ben Humphreys said. “We were in it until the end. That was probably one of the best defenses that I’ve ever seen be a part of this program. It was a real big confidence booster. We know that if we can compete at that level that at the end of the year we should be able to grow more and more as a team.”
Duke has also cleaned up its mistake-prone offense over the last eight quarters. The Blue Devils have just one turnover during that stretch. That’s after having 18 over the previous five games.
Playing good defense while not turning the ball over on offense are two traits the Blue Devils must show consistently over their final five games if they want to achieve bowl eligibility for the fifth consecutive season.
After playing Georgia Tech, Duke has Virginia Tech and North Carolina at home before finishing the season on the road at Pittsburgh and Miami. The Devils need three wins to get six and assure bowl eligibility. Given Duke’s APR, the Blue Devils would be first in line for a bowl bid if they are 5-7 and there aren’t enough teams 6-6 or better to fill all the bowl slots.
Regardless of all that, Duke will play the rest of the season without starting punter Austin Parker and, most likely, wide receiver Anthony Nash.
Both players suffered broken collarbones in the Louisville game.
Parker won’t play again this season, having already undergone surgery. Nash has yet to have surgery, but the broken bone would have to stay in place and heal quickly for him to play again this season.
Nash certainly won’t play for Duke at Georgia Tech.