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What To Watch For: Duke Blue Devils

Duke v Florida State Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images


Mike Elko is a defensive-minded coach but he has coached with a few different types of offensive coaches in his history as a defensive coordinator. Dave Clawson has a high-speed offense that relies on a big passing game. Brian Kelly has a fast offense with some balance and Jimbo Fisher has an outdated offense that is pretty slow and methodical. Elko brought in Kevin Johns to run his offense after he spent a few years in “Air-Raid” style offenses.

You would think that would mean Duke would be running a ton of plays this season but it’s been the exact opposite. Duke has run fewer plays than any team in the country but Kentucky. Johns will do anything possible to slow this game down and build long drives on offense. The other side is how Duke makes you work for everything as a defense.

Duke has only allowed one play of 40 or more yards on the season. That’s with them playing games against Clemson, Notre Dame, and FSU so far. They make you drive the ball and convert third downs and even if you get to the red zone, they’re the second-best team at stopping scores in the red zone. Louisville has to be efficient this weekend.


UofL is a home favorite this weekend with a defense that has held three straight teams under 5 yards per play. They only lost one of those three games and in that game, they were -3 in turnover margin. It was the first game this season that Louisville lost the turnover battle and it ended with a bad loss to Pitt.

The thing that stood out to me over the last week as I rewatched UofL’s season is that the defense forcing turnovers has been much more important than the offense turning it over. UofL is well ahead in points off of turnovers which is very important but Louisville doesn’t beat NC State without forcing three turnovers. They maybe lose to Georgia Tech as well if the defense doesn’t get the ball back to the offense. Duke doesn’t give it away all that often. It will be on the Louisville offense this week to value the football.


Duke’s offense struggles to put up a lot of yards and a lot of points but one thing they do well is run the ball. This is spear-headed by their running backs but a major part of their success comes from Riley Leonard running the ball via read option plays. The misdirection is a big part of creating space for the run game and if Leonard can’t be effective as a runner it will allow the UofL defense to focus on the running backs and take their chances against a very average passing game.

With Leonard being less than fully healthy you have to ask the question if Duke wants to put him at risk as a runner. Leonard was re-injured in the fourth quarter last weekend on a sack but he did look comfortable running the football on a designed run earlier in the game. I wonder if the Duke staff will be cautious this week early in the game until they feel the need to use his legs. If the running backs have success, I’d imagine they look to protect their quarterback.


As exciting as the Notre Dame game was, this one is just bigger. Louisville has a shot at a conference championship but they did themselves no favors when they lost to Pitt. They were tied for the conference lead in the standings entering that game and they blew their chance to control their own destiny.

This game is much bigger than the Notre Dame game because it’s an opportunity to hold on to a spot in the championship game. Duke is tied for second place in the conference along with Virginia Tech. UofL could win two games and find themselves alone in second place if UNC falters.

This is also another opportunity to get a ranked win. UofL has not had many ranked wins in the last decade. Getting two ranked wins in a season would be a huge step in continuing the positive trend of the program. While wins are all that really matter, getting the big wins in big games is what really makes a program. With Miami and UK likely being games against unranked opponents, this is a key game for a number of reasons.