The Blue Devils have been killed by injuries over the last handful of years and 2016 is no different. Devon Edwards was an outstanding player last season with 101 tackles and 7 passes defensed. He was also unreal as a return man with 3 return touchdowns. Following the tradition of impact players being lost to season ending injuries, Edwards was lost for the year. Edwards was one of only a few returning starters and Duke was already struggling to replace All-American Jeremy Cash and now they're starved for playmakers on the defensive side of the ball.
The Blue Devils haven't had a lot of success on the scoreboard but the defense has done pretty well in a few areas. That's especially true when it comes to getting after the quarterback. the Blue Devils are among the national leaders in sacks as well as tackles for loss and A.J. Wolf is keying those numbers. Wolf is a long time starter and is one of the better defensive tackles in the conference. With Louisville struggling against Clemson's tackles last game, Wolf will be a key player for Duke. The rest of the line for the Blue Devils haven't done much at all this year and I think this will lead to the defense really struggling to stop Lamar Jackson. They don't have the athletes to contain him like Clemson and even Marshall did (to a degree) so they may have to scheme to help them.
Duke runs a true 4-2 nickel defense and their two linebackers have been very productive but they are very young. Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris have been responsible for over 20% of the team's tackles this year and both have made a handful of plays behind the line and caused a few turnovers. Humphreys played in every game last year as a redshirt freshman so he might be able to keep his composure a little better but I don't think that Giles-Harris will handle all of the misdirection and speed that Louisville hits teams with.
The secondary for Duke has been the strong point for the past couple of years but the loss of Edwards has made it somewhat of a weakness. Corbin McCarthy has taken over for Cash at the "Strike" Safety spot which is responsible for playing closer to the line and blitzing. McCarthy leads the team with 6.5 tackles for loss which isn't far off the pace of 18 which is what Cash finished with last season. The other safeties Deondre Singleton and Alonzo Saxton are experienced players but only Singleton has been an impact player.
Breon Borders is one of the best corners in the conference and the experienced corner has really stepped up this year with teams testing the secondary often. Borders is second in the country in passes defended with 1.83 a game. He's picked off two passes and broken up nine so far. He's also a very good tackler in space and has zero problem coming up in run support. While he's not a unbelievable athlete like some others, he makes a lot of plays which is all that matters. On the opposite side, Bryon Fields is having a solid year with two forced fumbles to his credit. Duke has given up more than their fair share of big plays this year but they're only allowing a 48% rate so far.
KEY PLAYERS: DT A.J. Wolf, CB Breon Borders, SS Corbin McCarthy, ILB Ben Humphreys, WLB Joe Giles-Harris