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Heel Tough Blog: Duke Preview`

The Tar Heels will enter Saturday’s meeting with the rival Duke Blue Devils coming off of one of the more disappointing losses in recent memory this past weekend against a struggling Virginia team. The Tar Heels will enter the game in Durham looking for their second straight victory over the Blue Devils following the dramatic 20-17 victory a year ago and their first win on the road in this matchup for the first time since 2014. In a season with such lofty expectations, that are still achievable at this point, this game is a must win for the Tar Heels.

Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

Saturday was a big step backwards for this team as a whole following an awful performance from two of the three units on this team. The defensive and special teams struggles are undermining what has just been a fantastic start to the season offensively led by the ground game. The combination of Michael Carter and Javonte Williams has drawn a lot of eyes so far this season, with some national media pundits even giving them the title of the top running back duo in the country, one they’ve earned while averaging 267.0 scrimmage yards as a duo per game so far. Quarterback Sam Howell has definitely shaken off some early rust and has played at an elite level in seven of his last eight quarters of football. The receiving corps took a bit of a blow when Beau Corrales went down with an injury in the loss against Florida State and unfortunately it doesn’t appear that he will be returning to the lineup anytime soon. Dyami Brown stepped up in a big way against Virginia with one of the best performances in all of college football this season and Dazz Newsome stepped up in that game as well on Saturday, as he knows he has to play a bigger role the rest of the way. Expect Khafre Brown, Emery Simmons and even tight end Garrett Walston to have their flashes as they continue to take steps forward in the offense. The offensive line continues a crazy season that has seen week-to-week fluctuations in it’s performance and will enter Saturday’s game off a game where they struggled to protect the quarterback with Jordan Tucker out of the lineup. Tucker is expected to return to the lineup this Saturday and will hope to help this unit reverse the performance that they had a week ago.

The Tar Heel defense is searching for answers after arguably their worst overall performance of the season against Virginia. Once again, a running quarterback was able to have a big night on the ground and this defense has got to start finding some ways to counter if the team is hoping to still achieve the lofty goals that they set before the season. It starts up front, where the defensive line and pass rushers haven’t been able to get any sort of consistent push up front from a group that has some talent, but has been banged up a bit and played a lot of reps all while being undersized. Behind them, the linebacking corps hasn’t been nearly as consistent as they were a year ago, especially Chazz Surratt, who has put himself in bad positions a few times in each game ever since his strong start to the season against Syracuse and Boston College. The secondary hasn’t been nearly as effective in run defense as it has been in the past couple of seasons, as both Don Chapman and Cam’Ron Kelly have had some growing pains in that department as they’ve taken over the starting jobs. Myles Wolfolk’s departure, which was downplayed a bit immediately after, seems to be looming much larger as the season has gone one. The Tar Heels pass coverage has been the bright spot here, but the secondary, and primarily the cornerback group, has been hit hard once again by injuries. The good news, though, is that even with injuries to Storm Duck and Kyler McMichael, you still have veterans that are playing well in both Patrice Rene and DeAndre Hollins.

The special teams unit has been the biggest hinderer to this team’s success throughout the season. Grayson Atkins is starting to settle in a little it appears, but he has still missed at least one field goal in each game this season. The return games have been rather unimpressive once again so far this season after struggling to make much of an impact year ago and the coverage, when they’ve had to make plays, simply hasn’t. Punter Ben Kiernan is having a solid sophomore campaign and Jonathan Kim is one of the top kickoff specialists in the country, saving this unit from being a complete disappointment.


The Blue Devils have not been nearly as competitive as many thought they could be this year, but they will come in motivated to pull the upset. Quarterback Chase Brice was supposed to be an upgrade at the position after they added him in the offseason, but he has really struggled so far this season. He has struggled under pressure and his offensive line hasn’t done him many favors, as they are one of the worst pass protection units in all of college football, having allowed 24 sacks. He has a decent group of wide receivers to throw the ball to, with four guys already over 200 yards, but none have reached the 300 yard mark so far this season seven games in. The strength of this offense is it’s running game, led by Deon Jackson and Mataeo Durant, a duo that has combined for over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns so far.

On the defensive side of the football, the defensive line leads the way for the unit as was expected. Defensive ends Chris Rumph and Victor Dimukeje headline the group that has headmanned the efforts for a team that already has 26 sacks this season. The linebacking corps has been solid with Shaka Heyward leading the way in the middle. The secondary is led by its safety trio of Marquis Waters, Lummie Young IV and Michael Carter II and is having a decent start to their season, as well.

The Duke special teams unit has performed pretty well overall, but has had their areas where they are still looking to answer some questions. Placekicker Charlie Ham has had a phenomenal start to his year, hitting on all but two of his 13 attempts this season, while punter Porter Wilson has looked good so far. The returns games are where the concern for the Blue Devils is, as they have yet to find full time options at both kick and punt returner.

Team Stats (rankings are amongst 113 FBS teams to play a game in 2020)

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 38.3 (17th)

Off. PYPG: 309.0 (T-20th)

Off. RYPG: 223.0 (T-14th)

Off. TYPG: 532.0 (5th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 48.5% (25th)

Def. PPG: 28.2 (53rd)

Def. PYPG: 239.8 (58th)

Def. RYPG: 142.2 (50th)

Def. TYPG: 382.0 (47th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 36.1% (40th)

Sacks: 18.0 (T-12th)

Interceptions: 6 (T-21st)

Turnover Margin: 0 (T-55th)


Off. PPG: 25.9 (76th)

Off. PYPG: 234.3 (57th)

Off. RYPG: 167.1 (59th)

Off. TYPG: 401.4 (58th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 40.6% (60th)

Def. PPG: 29.0 (T-56th)

Def. PYPG: 237.9 (57th)

Def. RYPG: 155.1 (59th)

Def. TYPG: 393.0 (55th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 39.1% (53rd)

Sacks: 26.0 (3rd)

Interceptions: 6 (T-21st)

Turnover Margin: -10 (110th)

Keys To The Game

Lean on Your Running Game

The Tar Heels offense had plenty of success in Saturday’s game against Virginia, but with how quickly the success came, it put your defense, who was struggling to come up with stops as it was, on the field more than you probably would have liked. Running the football well could help the Tar Heels to control the pace of the game and limit the amount of times the wavering defense on the field. It also doesn’t hurt that the Tar Heels have had plenty of success on the ground and by leaning on the run game, you will have a chance to prevent the Duke pass rush from being able to tee off on quarterback Sam Howell.

Find a Way to Create Turnovers

The Tar Heels have simply not been able to create turnovers at a high level since that extremely successful 2015 season, but this defense is going to need to start to force some if this defense is going to continue with the struggles that they’ve had in the last four games. Turnovers were a big reason that the Tar Heels were able to slow down the NC State Wolfpack a couple of weeks ago, and while they may not need to create four turnovers in this game, creating a few would help to neutralize the recent problems. Duke has been turnover prone this season, so there should be some opportunities out there on Saturday.

Cut Down of the Costly Mistakes

The Tar Heels made too many mistakes to overcome on Saturday and it was the case in the game against Florida State, the team’s other loss this season. Eliminating these mistakes completely is a lot to ask, but cutting down on the unnecessary penalties and the untimely offensive brain cramps is important for this teams success, especially in a rivalry matchup like this.

Injury Report

Tar Heels

OUT- Kedrick Bingley-Jones (leg), Beau Corrales (upper body), Storm Duck (lower body)

QUEST- Kyler McMichael (undisclosed)

PROB- Ja’Quirous Conley (undisclosed), Patrice Rene (undisclosed), Jordan Tucker (hand)


OUT- Josh Blackwell (knee), Jaylen Coleman (achilles), Marvin Hubbard III (achilles), Will Taylor (knee)

QUEST- Leonard Johnson (undisclosed)

Projected Starting Lineups

Tar Heels OffenseQB# 7 Sam Howell, So.

RB# 8 Michael Carter, Sr.

WR# 2 Dyami Brown, Jr.

WR# 0 Emery Simmons, So. OR # 1 Khafre Brown, RFr.

WR# 5 Dazz Newsome, Sr.

TE#84 Garrett Walston, Sr.

LT#72 Asim Richards, So.

LG#75 Joshua Ezeudu, So.

C#68 Brian Anderson, Jr.

RG#73 Marcus McKethan, Jr.

RT#74 Jordan Tucker, Jr. Defense

NOSE#51 Raymond Vohasek, Jr.

DT#56 Tomari Fox, So.

OLB#12 Tomon Fox, Sr.

ILB#44 Jeremiah Gemmel, Jr.

ILB#21 Chazz Surratt, Sr.

OLB#42 Tyrone Hopper, Sr.

CB#15 Ladaeson Hollins, So.

FS# 2 Don Chapman, So.

SS# 9 Cam’Ron Kelly, So.

CB# 5 Patrice Rene, Sr.

NB# 4 Trey Morrison, Jr. Special Teams

K#17 Grayson Atkins, Sr.

KOS#95 Jonathan Kim, So.

P#91 Ben Kiernan, So.

LS#60 Trevor Collins, Sr. (K) #61 Drew Little, So. (P)

H#96 Cooper Graham, Jr.

KR# 8 Michael Carter, Sr.

PR# 5 Dazz Newsome, Sr.

Duke Offense

QB# 8 Chase Brice, Sr.

RB# 4 Deon Jackson, Sr. OR #21 Mataeo Durant, Jr.

WR#19 Jake Bobo, Jr.

WR#85 Diamond Philyaw-Johnson, Jr.

WR# 5 Jalon Calhoun, So.

TE#87 Noah Gray, Sr.

LT#78 Casey Holman, So.

LG#67 Rakavius Chambers, Sr.

C#62 Graham Barton, Fr.

RG#63 Jacob Monk, So.

RT#72 Devery Hamilton, Sr. Defense

DE#51 Victor Dimukeje, Sr.

DT#54 Derrick Tangelo, Sr.

DT#93 Ben Frye, Jr.

DE#86 Drew Jordan, Sr.

MLB#42 Shaka Heyward, So.

WLB#43 Rocky Shelton II, So.

BC#26 Michael Carter II, Sr.

S(S)#30 Jalen Alexander, So.

S(B)# 0 Marquis Waters, Sr.

S(R)#23 Lummie Young IV, Jr.

FC#39 Jeremiah Lewis, So. Special Teams

K#44 Charlie Ham, RFr.

P#98 Porter Wilson, RFr.

KOS#38 Jack Driggers, Sr.

LS#57 John Taylor, Sr.

H#37 Jackson Hubbard, Sr.

KR#85 Diamond Philyaw-Johnson, Jr. OR #16 Jaylen Stinson, Fr.

PR#19 Jake Bobo, Jr. OR #1 Jontavis Robertson, Fr.

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