Duke and football didn't really mix all that well in the past, but David Cutcliffe has completely changed the Blue Devil football program since he arrived on campus. Duke is not only a tougher school to get into than most, but they don't have the tradition, fan support, or facilities needed to attract top recruits. Cutcliffe has been able to land a handful of really good players and transfers as well as develop quarterbacks like he always has and that has been a good recipe for success for him. The issue he's faced this season is the injury bug. Senior quarterback Thomas Sirk was injured before the season and Duke has been forced to rely on redshirt freshman Daniel Jones in his place.
Jones is a very talented kid and it showed early in the season that Duke wouldn't be completely lost on offense. Jones has great size and is plenty athletic enough to avoid pressure and pick up a first down or two when needed. He's also shown the ability to deliver deep passes with touch and accuracy that most young players struggle with. Unfortunately, he also turns the ball over a lot. Like a whole lot. Jones has turned the ball over 13 times on his own. That's worse than all but 14 teams in the entire country. Jones doesn't yet know how to make pre-snap reads to see blitzes coming and he gets rushed at times which has led to interceptions. Todd Grantham's pressure defense won't make Friday very easy for him.
Jela Duncan is Duke's leading rusher and most felt very good about the fact that the running game would be fine even if the quarterback position struggled. However, Duncan has been dealing with a leg injury for the last few weeks and he had to leave the game last week after getting his ankle/leg rolled up on. Cutcliffe hasn't said if Duncan will play Friday but I would be surprised if he did based on how the injury looked. Duke will go to backup, Shaun Wilson without Duncan. Wilson is one of the few guys on Duke's roster that could take off into space and run away from the defense. He's a speedy guy that also returns kicks but he's only averaging 3.7 yards per carry on the year.
The Duke receivers are not very deep but their top two receivers and tight end are more than capable of making plays. T.J. Rahming is the smaller and quicker of the two receivers who fits into the Jamison Crowder mold for this offense. Crowder was a dynamic receiver for the Blue Devils and now plays for Washington in the NFL. Cutcliffe uses Rahming in a similar fashion as a do-it-all guy but he hasn't gotten as many targets this year as I expected. I'm not sure if that's due to the quarterback change or Rahming not being the route runner he needs to be, but I think their offense would be improved by getting him the ball more.
Anthony Nash is a big target at 6-5 but he's not really a burner so he's not a big-time deep threat. Nash is a long strider and is a good hands catcher but I haven't seen him do much damage down the sideline so far this year. The offense also doesn't seem to really press the issue. Erich Schneider is a strong tight end for the Blue Devils. He has great size and does well as a safety valve for Jones. Nash and Schneider could both be red zone issues for Louisville's defense with their size.
The Duke offensive line has also been bit by the injury bug with center Austin Davis likely missing the game. Davis has started every game and the line has already struggled with him. Duke is in the bottom half of the country in sacks allowed, tackles for loss allowed, rushing yards per game, and rushing yards per carry. Duke will be facing a defense that was embarrassed by Clemson's offense two weeks ago so the line will have to play at a completely different level if they want to move the football.
KEY PLAYERS: QB Daniel Jones, WR T.J. Rahming, WR Anthony Nash, TE Erich Schneider