Duke and Middle Tennessee have had similar starts to 2019. Both played elite Power 5 opponents in Week 1 and held up for a little while before getting squashed. In Week 2, they both fell behind FCS foes early and then rallied for comfortable wins.
This week, the Blue Raiders host the Blue Devils, and it is always a big deal when a Power 5 team comes to Murfreesboro. Middle has played several ACC schools in recent years, but this will be the first time the Raiders have ever hooked up with Duke.
Duke at Middle Tennessee
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 14 at 7:00 p.m. ET
Available On: Facebook
Spread: Duke -6.5
When Duke Has the Ball
It was predictable that Quentin Harris would struggle in Week 1 against Alabama in his first start as the permanent replacement for current New York Giant Daniel Jones. Bama presents problems for every quarterback outside of Clemson, S.C. But Harris rebounded very well in Week 2, albeit against FCS member North Carolina A&T, by throwing for 345 yards and four touchdowns.
But watch this week for a possible explosion by the Duke running game, led by Deon Jackson. Through two weeks, MTSU is 121st in rushing defense after allowing 233 rushing yards to Michigan and 207 to FCS opponent Tennessee State. Jackson and Brittain Brown — if healthy — will get their carries, but the Raiders will also have to watch out for Harris, who has 96 rushing yards in the two games.
When Middle Tennessee Has the Ball
The pass defense was considered a strength for Duke coming into the year, while Middle has averaged over 300 yards passing in their first two games, making this a battle to watch. Asher O’Hara won the quarterback job in camp, and against Tennessee State, he became the first Blue Raider signal-caller to pass for over 300 yards and rush for over 100 in the same game. Chaton Mobley also ran for north of 100, giving Middle some balance on offense.
But the Blue Raiders have also turned the ball over twice in each game and have allowed two sacks in each game as well. That must be cleaned up this week. Duke has not gotten into the opposing backfield that much this year, but safety Dylan Singleton, linebacker Koby Quansah and end Victor Dimukeje will be looking to force MTSU into some mistakes.
Duke is the second of three Power 5 teams on Middle Tennessee’s schedule. The Raiders opened with Michigan and next week head up to Iowa City to play the Hawkeyes. They hung around with Michigan for a little while in Week 1, and I expect they will be in the game a little longer at home against Duke. But Deon Jackson and the Duke ground game will eventually open things up for Quentin Harris, and the Blue Devils will secure the victory with a solid second half.
Prediction: Duke 31, Middle Tennessee State 20
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.