Duke-North Carolina Central: Banged-Up Blue Devils' Rare Opportunity
When Duke takes to the field this Saturday, they will have the chance to do something they normally don't.
The Blue Devils face the cross-town North Carolina Central University Eagles for the first time in their history and, hurt or not, they have enough talent to dominate the game.
Yes, I said dominate the game.
They will be favored to win for probably the last time this season and need to take advantage.
That isn't to say that a Duke win is a sure thing. When it comes to Blue Devil football, nothing is sure.
Duke should be bigger, stronger, and even with some key players likely out due to injury, they still should be able to control this game from the opening kickoff.
The Devils should also be able to work out some kinks, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
Starting tailback Re'quan Boyette is out and backup Jay Hollingsworth is doubtful. That leaves true-freshman Desmond Scott as the top healthy back.
The good news is that Scott was a star coming out of high school and is talented enough to contribute.
The bad news is that this will be his first opportunity to play all season, so there will likely be some rust to shake off.
Still, if he can help the offense by taking some pressure off of the passing game, then the Duke may be able to put together some nice drives and do something they haven't done much this year: score.
The quarterback situation is still in flux despite head coach David Cutcliffe's insistence that the Blue Devils aren't incorporating a two-quarterback system.
Thad Lewis is going to need to start showing his healthy self again in this game; otherwise he may lose his starting job to Sean Renfree.
Central should provide a good opportunity for Lewis. The 0-3 Eagles have been equally as bad on offense and their defense has given up more than 30 points twice this season.
But unfortunately for Duke, games aren't won on paper or by comparing statistics. After all, on paper Duke should be 2-1 right now, not 1-2.
Central still can be dangerous with the large emotional and historical scope of the occasion, at least for Durham. If they can ride that wave of momentum and Duke can't gets it legs on offense, anything could happen.
Prediction: Duke 31 NCCU 13
Keys to the game for the Blue Devils: Do what has worked. At times Duke has been so focused on trying to get the running game going they have abandoned the creative passing scheme that allowed for Lewis to throw for more than 300 yards in the season opener.
They can't force things with the running game. Instead they need to let Scott and whoever else is healthy enough to find some holes.
If the offensive line for Duke can't hold off the Central defensive line, expect another long day for the Blue Devils.
Keys to the game for the Eagles: Play like you have nothing to lose. They really don't. A loss doesn't reflect poorly on them, it only shows how much further they have to come to adjust to Division I competition.
A win, however, gives the team some confidence along with community bragging rights that will linger long after this season is over.
If they can play with a reckless abandon and put pressure on Duke's suspect offensive line, then the Eagles could be flying high come Sunday morning. It won't take much scoring from their offense if Duke's fails to produce points.
A lot to lose: There is more pressure on Duke to win this game despite the Eagles' winless record. If Duke loses this game, their season is essentially over.
While a win doesn't help in their quest for bowl eligibility, it doesn't hurt either. A loss means Duke's chances of winning another game, even against the likes of Maryland or Virginia, are less likely.
That doesn't even take into consideration the fact that the fan base will all but ignore the Blue Devils until they attend the football game that coincides with the basketball team's Blue and White game.
Duke needs this game to prove something to itself and get the offense moving in the right direction. If they don't, Coastal Division foes Miami, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina won't show the Devil's any sympathy.
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