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Opponent Breakdown: Duke Blue Devils Defense

Notre Dame v Duke Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Mike Elko made a name for himself by fielding stingy defenses that created havoc for offenses. That hasn’t changed as he’s moved into a head coaching role as Duke has one of the top defenses in the country this season. Elko’s defense has given offenses fits and Duke will look to do the same against a Louisville offense that struggled in their last outing.

Duke’s defense is strong up front with a litany of veteran defensive linemen. DeWayne Carter is the most accomplished player in the group. Carter is an active defensive tackle who has done well playing the run and getting after the passer over his career. Carter and Aneas Peebles have done a good job this year to get penetration and make plays in the backfield.

The front for Duke plays relentlessly in pass-rushing situations but they are also very good at executing the calls. They do a lot of stunts and loops and some of those are run calls to free up a lineman to fill a gap. R.J. Oben and Anthony Nelson have both had plays this year that have stood out to me because of how they pursue the ball. Oben has also improved as a pass rusher on the edge. Pitt had four sacks two weeks ago with pressure coming from everywhere. UofL can’t let that happen again this weekend.

Duke’s linebackers are fairly unremarkable but they get the job done. They rack up tackles and make plays in the open field. They don’t make a lot of havoc plays but that’s not really what their role is in this defense. The defensive line is tasked with blowing things up and letting these guys clean up. While they don’t make a lot of highlight plays, they execute their role very well.

Duke’s secondary has made a drastic improvement since Malik Cunningham ran through them like they were standing still a few years ago. Two starters remain in Jeremiah Lewis and Jaylen Stinson but they’ve also added some talent in Al Blades Jr. from Miami and Myles Jones from Texas A&M. The upgraded talent and scheme has led to a secondary group that is one of the stingiest in the country.

Blades and Jones team up with Chandler Rivers to make up a very good corner group. Rivers had a pick-six last weekend off of a tipped pass and Blades and Jones are big corners who can contest any pass thrown their way. The Duke defense hasn’t given up a play of 40 or more yards this season and this group gets the majority of the credit for that.

Stinson is a very undersized safety but he is on his way to another season as one of the top tacklers on the team and one of the top tacklers in the ACC from the safety position. Lewis is no slouch either as he is averaging five tackles per game. I hyped up Notre Dame’s safeties before that game and they were a non-factor. If Jeff Brohm can do the same with his game plan this weekend, UofL will have a major advantage in the game.