Duke and Army West Point are set to meet by the banks of the Hudson River in New York Saturday in a non-conference clash of two teams headed in different directions. After opening the season 4-0, the Blue Devils have lost five in a row, including a stretch of three ACC losses by a single possession before falling 24-3 at Virginia Tech two weeks ago. David Cutcliffe’s team is coming off a bye week and needs a win over the Black Knights to build some late-season momentum and perhaps salvage a bowl bid.
Army was the first team to book its ticket to a specific bowl destination when the Black Knights accepted a bid to the Armed Forces Bowl after beating Temple 31-28 in overtime two weeks ago. Jeff Monken’s team followed that win with a dominant showing against Air Force last weekend, winning 21-0 on the road — without attempting a single pass — to stretch its win streak to five.
Duke at Army West Point
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 11 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Duke -3
Three Things to Watch
Army quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw doesn’t throw much, and he doesn’t have much success when he does. The senior has completed just 10 of 35 pass attempts (28.9 percent) for 190 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions. Nevertheless, Bradshaw is the impact player for the Black Knights on offense. Bradshaw leads the team and ranks 10th nationally with 1,132 rushing yards. Only one FBS quarterback (Navy’s Zach Abey) has more. Bradshaw, who gained 245 yards on the ground last week against Air Force and has surpassed 100 rushing yards five times, also has averaged 7.97 yards per carry and scored eight touchdowns.
He’s not as quick as Bradshaw, but Duke quarterback Daniel Jones (above, right) is no statue. Jones’ 282 rushing yards rank third on the squad and he ran for 108 yards and two touchdowns against Northwestern in Week 2, but he operates in a more traditional offense and therefore hasn't head near the rushing attempts as his Army counterpart.
After a solid freshman campaign last season, Jones has completed 168 of 314 pass attempts (53.5 percent) for 1,752 yards and eight touchdowns with seven interceptions this year. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound sophomore got off to a terrific start, completing 64.8 percent of his passes and averaging 234 yards with four TDs and just one interception in non-conference play, but has struggled in conference games. Against ACC opponents, Jones has completed 47.8 percent of his passes for 1,050 yards (175.0 yards per game) with four touchdowns and five interceptions.
2. Can Duke stop the run?
Bradshaw has been terrific running the football, and he’s not alone. Army leads the nation in rushing offense with 365.4 yards per game, ranks among second in the FBS in rushing touchdowns (34), and fourth in both rushing attempts per game (58.3) and yards per carry (6.26).
Despite Army’s gaudy rushing statistics and the unique challenge that comes with defending the option, there’s hope for the Blue Devils. After all, Duke has been quite good against the run this season, ranking sixth in the ACC in at 142.1 yards per game and third in yards per carry (3.88) allowed. Both of those numbers also place the Blue Devils among the top 40 teams in the nation. However, it's worth pointing out that they have gotten progressively worse in this department over the course of the season.
Duke allowed a total of 143 rushing yards in three non-conference wins over FCS opponent North Carolina Central, Northwestern and Baylor to start the season — holding those three teams to 47.7 rushing yards per game and just 1.8 yards per carry. The Blue Devils also had success stopping the run in their first three ACC games, limiting North Carolina, Miami and Virginia to 128.3 rushing yards per contest and 3.63 yards per attempt. But over the last three games, the Duke defense has surrendered an average of 250.3 yards per game on the ground alone to Florida State, Pitt and Virginia Tech. Those three teams combined to average more than five yards per carry (5.18) against the Blue Devils. Needless to say, Duke probably isn't too excited to face Army's triple option.
3. Rushing the passer
In a normal game, the Duke defense would have an advantage in the front seven, and especially in the pass rush. The Blue Devils have tallied 25 sacks this season, which ranks third in the ACC and among the top 25 teams in the nation. Duke pass rushers have recorded one sack for every 11.5 times an opponent drops back to pass.
The problem, of course, is Mike Ramsay (4.5 sacks), Joe Giles-Harris (3.5 sacks), and Drew Jordan (3.0 sacks) might not get many opportunities considering Army has attempted 56 passes all season, just 6.2 per game. The Black Knights' offensive approach essentially neutralizes the Blue Devils' best defensive asset. Meanwhile, Duke has surrendered 21 sacks, or one every 16.6 pass attempts. The Army pass rush 17 sacks thus far — one every 14.3 pass plays — and has recorded multiple sacks in eight of its nine games.
The Blue Devils have averaged just 11.4 points per game during their five-game losing streak and 14.0 per contest against ACC opponents. Therefore, this late-season, non-conference matchup could be a blessing. On the other hand, the Army triple option could pose a major problem for a run defense trending in the wrong direction while neutralizing the Blue Devils’ potent pass rush.
Army is coming off a big win over one of its top rivals and already has its postseason plans set. Duke has its backs against the wall, fighting to reach a bowl game. The home-field advantage is important for Army, but expect David Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils to find a way to escape West Point with a win.
Prediction: Duke 21, Army 20
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, a member of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.
(Top photo courtesy of @ArmyWP_Football)