When Duke takes on Miami Saturday night it will be hoping to keep pace in the ACC Coastal Division race currently lead by rival North Carolina.
All the trends seem to be leaning toward a Duke-North Carolina showdown for the Division title, however, the Blue Devils face a struggling Miami team and like a weakened animal they can be dangerous.
While Duke is a fairly big favorite playing at home against a team that is without its starting quarterback and a program that just fired its head coach, Miami still has athletes and will probably be more than a bit motivated to come out and put their 58-0 loss last week to Clemson out of their mind.
For those reasons alone, Duke needs to match the intensity of the Hurricanes and defend their home field. Another reason for some concern for Blue Devil fans is the mounting pressure they face as the race for the Division tightens.
With Pitt’s loss Thursday to North Carolina, the Panthers fall behind the Tar Heels making every game for Duke going forward that much more important. A loss to Miami would make Duke’s goal of winning a second Coastal Division Championship in three years extremely difficult with games consecutive games coming against those two teams that are ahead of them in the standings.
For Duke to get the win they will need a consistent performance from quarterback Thomas Sirk who had perhaps his best game as signal caller for the Blue Devils in last week’s four-overtime thriller in Blacksburg.
Duke will also need to find its running attack beyond Sirk, as they have struggled running the ball against Power 5 conference opponents. Duke’s defense which has been its strongest unit all year looked vulnerable against a down Virginia Tech program, giving up a season high 43 points.
If Miami makes this game a shootout the pressure will mount even more for the Blue Devils who haven’t, despite their recent successes, always handled the pressure very well.
There is a lot of talk of a pending showdown between Duke and North Carolina, and while not a national obsession in football, it would be a big deal regionally, it still is two games away, two games the Blue Devils must win to make the chance of that game’s increased importance and reality.
Every indicator seems to hint that Duke is poised to keep rolling against a struggling Miami program, however, this game has many reasons to suspect that something strange will happen and it has nothing to do with it being on Halloween.
Duke’s defensive let downs last week should be a reason for concern. I suspect those struggles may continue against a weaker, but still athletic Hurricanes squad who will be playing with something to prove.
If Duke defense does struggle to slow down the Hurricanes the pressure mounts on the offense and that hasn’t been a strong suit for the Blue Devils.