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Syracuse football 2019 opponent preview: Duke Blue Devils

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Unfortunately, this just reminded me that the Giants picked Daniel Jones in the top 10, and now I want to vomit.

NCAA Football: Duke at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we took a look at the “dudes” of Boston College, and how they’d match up against the Syracuse Orange this year despite losing most of their offensive line and the players that made their defense reasonably good last year. Steve Addazio always seems to find a way to win exactly seven games, but it maybe a challenge for the Eagles to even hit that number this year.

Perhaps you’re just now starting to entertain looking at this year’s opponents, since it’s only June. But since Syracuse football won 10 games last year, and I run this place, we’ve been at this for weeks (months) already. The Orange have plenty of challenges ahead — some of those greater than others. Today, we take a look at SU’s week 11 foe:

Duke Blue Devils

School: Duke University

Mascot: Blue Devils

#BRAND Slogan(s): #BullCityProud and #DukeGang

Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: #DukeNukem OR “Renting Space in Your Mind ‘Til Hoops Season”

Recommended Blog: Duke Basketball Report

Conference: ACC

Coach: David Cutcliffe, 12th year. The Alabama grad’s been at this a long time, but miraculously hasn’t made too many stops along the way. Cutcliffe was on staff at Banks High School in Alabama from 1976-81, before joining the Tennessee staff as an assistant in 1982. He worked his way up to QB coach by 1991, and coached passers and served as offensive coordinator through 1998 before he got the Ole Miss job. Despite five bowl games and two top-25 rankings (plus a No. 1 overall pick in Eli Manning), he was out after 2004. Cutcliffe rejoined the Tennessee staff for a couple years, then got the Duke job. Though it took a few years, Cutcliffe’s turned the Blue Devils into consistent winners with a “Stanford East” vibe. He won the Coastal in 2013, and has led Duke to six bowls in the last seven years.

2018 Record: (8-5) (3-5)

Recapping Last Season:

With a future first round pick under center in Daniel Jones, Duke seemed to surpass expectations yet again, winning eight games including a 56-27 demolition of Temple in the Independence Bowl. The team started 4-0 on the year, despite Jones being out for the final two of those contests, then went 2-4 over the next six, though pulled off tough road wins at Georgia Tech and Miami. Though blowout losses in the final to games — to Clemson and Wake Forest — take some of the shine off the year, you’ll still take the bowl win, Jones’s high selection and last year’s reasonably effective offense any year.

Speaking of that offense, they ranked 52nd overall in S&P this past season, performing about average (mid-60s) in both the run and pass games according to the metric. Despite a pass-centric attack, the Blue Devils rushed for over 2,000 yards behind Jones, lead-rusher Deon Jackson and Brittain Brown. Jones threw for 2,674 yards and 22 scores (vs. nine picks) while his backup, Quentin Harris, was pretty impressive picking up 437 yards and seven scores through the air in limited action. TJ Rahmming closed out a quietly great career in Durham with 75 catches for 822 yards and eight touchdowns to lead the team in all three categories.

While there were some exceptions — giving up 59 to Wake Forest and 54 to Pitt, in particular — Duke’s defense was a pretty good group last year at 46th in S&P+. They were average against the rush, but excellent (29th) against the pass thanks to a secondary that allowed fewer than 200 yards per game on 54.8% completions. Duke didn’t defend a lot of passes, but they managed to cover well down the field to prevent those throws from ever getting made. They finished tied for sixth in the country with just four passing plays of 40 or more yards allowed on the year.

NCAA Football: Duke at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

2019 Season Outlook:

For starters, there’s no Jones this year, but Harris seemed like a pretty capable replacement in his two starts. He’ll put that experience to use in 2019 behind a fairly experienced line replacing two of five starters (though that’s the entire left side). The top four pass-catchers from last year’s team are all gone as well, which should make Harris’s job a bit tougher. Jackson, the running back, is the top returning receiving option with 26 catches last year. Aaron Young is the top veteran receiver, though he’s caught just 34 balls in his career at Duke. More than most years, the emphasis could be on the run game, as both Jackson and Brittain return after a combined 1,216 yards last year.

The defense, on the other hand, won’t have to replace a ton. Basically all of last year’s depth chart returns on the line, which could mean a big uptick from last year’s TFL total of 79. The top two linebackers, Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys, depart but there’s some experience to take their place. And if it’s slow coming along, the secondary brings back seven of the top eight guys. Senior corner Mark Gilbert missed pretty much all of last year with a hip injury, but in 2017 he had 14 pass break-ups and six picks.

Scheduling wise, Duke is paid no favors here. An opener against Alabama and a road game at Virginia Tech book end a September played largely away from home, and they get Notre Dame, Syracuse, Wake Forest and Miami in four consecutive weeks to close out the year. Even just accounting for those, it could be six losses. Bowling’s certainly a tall order, even if Duke’s about as good as last year.

Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, November 16

Location: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, N.C.

Odds of Orange Victory: 45 percent

Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse:

This defense will be carrying them as far as they can, though Harris could be a surprise if the offensive line holds up. Where they’re young, they won’t be by the time this November game rolls around. The key will be how banged up they (and the Orange) are by this point in the year. I’m tempted to say this is a game that could jump up and bite even a great SU team, as Duke should be able to shut down the deep ball better than most Syracuse opponents. Don’t be surprised to see this one end up in the loss column, even if just by a hair.