Off to their worst start since 2006, the Duke Blue Devils are going on the road to try and earn their first win of the 2020 college football season when they head to Upstate New York to take on the Syracuse Orange. Following last week's 38-31 home loss to Virginia Tech, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe stated, "We have enough playmakers to win football games... It's the most unique time in college football, most unique time in my career, so I don't know what you have to do step by step. It's different what we're dealing with. You have to fight and you have to fight together."
The Blue Devils (0-4, 0-4 ACC) actually led the Hokies, albeit briefly, in the third quarter, 14-10. The painful refrain for Duke fans was the inability to finish the game, as the home team was outscored 28-17 the rest of the way.
Syracuse (1-2, 1-2 ACC) comes into this game well-rested, with its last game coming on Sept. 26 when the Orange beat Georgia Tech 37-20. It was Syracuse's first win after losing the first two games to North Carolina and Pittsburgh by a combined score of 52-16. The Orange more than doubled that output with their 37 points against the Yellow Jackets.
Following the win against Georgia Tech, Syracuse head coach Dino Babers stated, "Do we need to get better? Yes. Are there areas we need to improve in? Yes. But going three games and getting our first win and now having the opportunity to heal up with a bye. Our opponents are all real, there are no gimmes. This bye is coming at a good time."
Duke at Syracuse
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 10 at 12:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Duke -2.5
When Duke Has the Ball
For the first time this season, the Blue Devils were able to run the ball effectively. Against Virginia Tech, Mataeo Durant (11 carries for 86 yards) and Deon Jackson (15, 68 plus two rushing touchdowns) powered the running game. Quarterback Chase Brice was able to bounce back with a decent game, going 22-for-39 for 271 yards, a touchdown, and an interception against the Hokies. But he was sacked seven times and finished the game with negative rushing yards (-15 on 11 carries), so Duke would be wise to let the running backs do most of the heavy lifting and try to control he clock to limit the possessions for Syracuse's up-tempo offense.
Duke has been plagued with turnovers this season (-7 margin, second to last in ACC), so grinding out methodical drives with conservative play-calling may be the best strategy to try and pick up a much-needed road win. The Orange are No. 1in the ACC in turnover differential (+6) and feasted on Georgia Tech in that department with four interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and a fumble recovery helping fuel the 37-20 win on Sept. 26. For the Blue Devils, an effective check-down option in their passing game could be tight end Noah Gray, who recorded six catches for 51 yards and a touchdown in the loss to the Hokies.
When Syracuse Has the Ball
The Orange put together their best game of the season in the win against Georgia Tech. On offense, the star was Sean Tucker, a freshman running back who went for 112 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. Syracuse's ability to run the ball effectively will be critical, especially considering the inconsistent play of quarterback Tommy DeVito (50 percent completion rate, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) thus far. DeVito has been sacked 15 times in three games already, so that's another reason for the Orange to try and run the ball against a Duke defense that is last in the ACC at 194 rushing yards per game and just gave up 324 on the ground (and four TDs) to Virginia Tech.
Senior wide receiver Nykeim Johnson is a big-play threat for Syracuse through the air, averaging 12 yards per reception. He turned four catches into 87 yards and a touchdown, (43-yard play) against the Yellow Jackets. Taj Harris also had a 46-yard touchdown catch in that game.
Something has to give in this contest, as both teams have struggled offensively. Duke has been solid in the first halves of games but has been unable to finish. The Blue Devils also have struggled with turnovers, although they had just one last week against Virginia Tech. If Duke can take care of the football, tighten up its rush defense, and find a way to make a few big plays through the air, this may be the game that finally gets the Blue Devils in the win column.