Both North Carolina A&T and Duke will be looking for their first victories of the year after suffering losses in Week 1. With a strong tradition of winning on the FCS level, any defeat is hard to swallow for Aggie fans, and going down to Furman is no exception.
Duke’s loss at Charlotte was especially deflating. After scoring a touchdown with 1:44 remaining to take a 28-24 lead, the Blue Devils could not stop the 49ers from going 75 yards in 1:11 and fell in Charlotte 31-28.
In the only other meeting between the two programs, Duke beat A&T 45-13 in the second game of the 2019 season.
North Carolina A&T at Duke
Kickoff: Friday, Sept. 10 at 8 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
When North Carolina A&T Has the Ball
In Week 1, the Aggies relied heavily on quarterback Jalen Fowler. The redshirt junior completed just 14 of 29 passes, but his throws resulted in 268 yards and two scores. Ron Hunt and Korey Banks each caught five balls with Hunt’s grabs totaling 146 yards.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the loss to Furman was the lack of a consistent running game. The Aggies return star tailback Jah-Maine Martin, who rushed for 1,446 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2019. But the Purple Paladins held Martin to just 33 yards on 12 carries last Saturday. Obviously, North Carolina A&T’s offensive line will have to do a better job this week to create more offensive balance.
Though getting Martin in the flow is important, the Aggies will continue to throw the ball this week because that is where Charlotte hurt Duke the most last Friday night. Quarterback Chris Reynolds passed for 324 yards and three scores for the 49ers. The Blue Devils allowed 13 pass plays of more than 10 yards, the worst among all ACC teams in Week 1. Those totals occurred despite some pressure from the Duke front, especially R.J. Oben, who had a sack and 2.5 tackles for lost yardage.
When Duke Has the Ball
The strength of the Duke offense was obvious in their first game. Mataeo Durant had touchdown runs of 55 and 59 yards among his three scores against Charlotte and totaled 255 yards on 29 carries. With quarterback Gunnar Holmberg still gaining experience, head coach David Cutcliffe will continue to get Durant plenty of touches. A&T did a good job holding down the Furman running game, but this week will be a completely different situation.
Despite his inexperience, Holmberg was effective in the Devils’ opener, going 20-of-29 for 228 yards and a score. However, Cutcliffe had a pretty simple pass game plan that didn’t give Holmberg many chances to stretch the field. That could change this against the Aggies, but Duke receivers Jake Bobo, Eli Pancol, and Jalon Calhoun are more of the move-the-chains type of pass catchers.
A&T will put extra emphasis on defending those receivers because stopping the pass was a problem versus Furman. The Paladins’ Hamp Sisson threw for 362 yards, including an 87-yard touchdown connection to Ryan Miller. The Devils will have to keep an eye on linebacker Joseph Stuckey, who had 12 tackles last Saturday, and defensive end Robert Porcher, a Virginia Tech transfer that registered a sack of Sisson.
The history of North Carolina A&T is deep, as they are considered one of the powers of the HBCU ranks. In 2019, they pulled off a big upset when they won at East Carolina. But they showed some vulnerability in their loss to Furman this past week. Duke didn’t exactly light the world on fire at Charlotte, but the Blue Devils have enough weapons to make life difficult for the Aggies. The Duke passing game may not pick up big chunk yardage, but it will be difficult for A&T to completely shut down, which will open up more running lanes for Durant. North Carolina A&T will hang around for a while before Duke widens the margin a bit in the second half and cruises to victory.
Prediction: Duke 31, North Carolina A&T 17
Podcast: Week 2 Preview, Predictions and Picks Against the Spread
— 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.