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Heel Tough Blog: Duke Preview

After suffering one of the most disappointing losses in recent memory on Saturday to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, the Tar Heels will look to rebound with a third straight win over the rival Duke Blue Devils when they host them in Kenan Stadium on Saturday afternoon. In order to do that, the Tar Heels need to find some consistency on both sides of the football and eliminate the turnovers that have plagued them in the two losses this season. If they can beat the Blue Devils, that would be a nice start to an important three-game sequence that will determine if the team will be around for the home stretch of the season.

Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

If the Tar Heels want to get this season back on track, they need to avoid the stumbling blocks that have seemed to repeatedly pop up in the losses over the past couple of years. Offensively, the improvement needs to start up front with an offensive line that has simply been a letdown so far this season. At least, the group needs to be able to provide some sort of push in the run game and be able to protect quarterback Sam Howell for this team to have any chance for success. To have that success, the Tar Heels need to put the best five out there which will likely mean moving some longtime starters out of starting roles. If that unit can finally get right, that should allow this offense to produce the way that they need to for this team to win. Howell has looked tremendous in the two games where his protection, but when he has faced pressure, he has really struggled. Phil Longo needs to help his quarterback by drawing up plays to get the football out quickly and allow some of the playmakers like Josh Downs and Khafre Brown, who thrive best with the football in their hands. The emergence of Kamari Morales at tight end is also a big development for this offense that is still looking for reliable options that can help a team who is struggling a bit to move the chains on third down. The Tar Heels have to be able to run the ball at a high level for the offense to move the ball the way they want to. Ty Chandler has struggled to run the ball in the Tar Heels two losses, but if the line can open up the holes, he has proved that he can carry the load for this Tar Heel running game, something he’ll have to do with both of his backups having dealt with injury issues so far this season.

The defense was expected to take a major step forward this season, but so far that hasn’t been the case. The secondary, primarily the corners, has underperformed this season, as they simply haven’t been able to consistently win the 50/50 balls, something that has allowed opposing offenses to hit big plays down the field. The lack of a consistent pass rush hasn’t helped that secondary, but the good news is that guys have flashes along that front line, now they just need the consistency to start showing up. At linebacker, Eugene Asante hasn’t been nearly what many thought he could be alongside Jeremiah Gemmel, but Cedric Gray has taken over the starting role and has been solid so far. The Tar Heels simply need to execute better than they have so far if this team wants to rally and win the Coastal.

The special teams unit, as a whole, has certainly elevated themselves so far this season. The punt block unit got home once again last weekend and the return units have shown some promise in the first couple of weeks of the season. Punter Ben Kiernan continued his strong start to the season on Saturday night and is a weapon that the Tar Heels are hoping they won’t have to use that often going forward and Jonathan Kim continues to be a great weapon for this team on kickoffs. The one area of concern for this unit is the kicking spot where Grayson Atkins has been up and down once again to begin the season, something that is concerning for a team who may find themselves in some close games before the season is over.


The Blue Devils have looked like a much different team than the one that lost their season opener to the Charlotte 49ers in the past three weeks led by a dynamic offense that could cause this Tar Heel defense some issues. Running back Mateao Durant is one of the country’s top statistical running backs this season and helps lead one of the nation’s top rushing attacks. Quarterback Gunnar Holmberg has been the other issue for teams, as he provides some mobility out of the quarterback spot and has been a problem for teams in the redzone. The Blue Devils passing offense is also off to a solid start behind the arm of Holmberg and a group of veteran receivers led by Jake Bobo and Jalon Calhoun. The Duke offensive line is one that has had a strong start to the season in both aspects, but like the rest of the offense, the big question is about the level of competition that they have faced so far and how it relates to the Tar Heels.

The Blue Devils defense is not off to the strongest start to the season. It start up front for a group that had to replace so much from a year ago and has combined for just three sacks all season. The Tar Heels of course shouldn’t read much into that after allowing a struggling defensive front for Georgia Tech to tee off against them last Saturday, but this is an area of weakness that they need to attack. In the middle of the defense is the linebacker combo of Shaka Heyward and Dorian Mausi, a group that has struggled to stop the run so far this season. The secondary looks to be the strength of this unit, but they have allowed a lot of yards through the air to begin the season. Still, veterans like Lummie Young IV and Leonard Johnson make this the strength of the team.

The special teams unit is off to a pretty solid start this season for the Blue Devils. The placekicking duties are in the hands of Charlie Ham, who has only missed one of his six field goals to begin the season and punter Porter Wilson has had some nice success punting the ball, as well. In the return game, Josh Blackwell is a weapon as a punt returner, but Jaylen Stinson has been a bit quiet as a kick returner to start the season.

Team Stats

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 37.5 (29th)

Off. PYPG: 306.8 (19th)

Off. RYPG: 200.5 (34th)

Off. TYPG: 507.3 (T-14th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 46.5% (T-33rd)

Def. PPG: 29.5 (T-95th)

Def. PYPG: 236.3 (83rd)

Def. RYPG: 146.0 (74th)

Def. TYPG: 382.3 (75th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 40.0% (T-82nd)

Sacks: 6.0 (T-98th)

Interceptions: 3 (T-54th)

Turnover Margin: -3 (T-106th)


Off. PPG: 38.8 (T-20th)

Off. PYPG: 297.3 (24th)

Off. RYPG: 248.3 (13th)

Off. TYPG: 545.5 (7th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 57.6% (4th)

Def. PPG: 26.0 (T-81st)

Def. PYPG: 240.8 (88th)

Def. RYPG: 180.7 (100th)

Def. TYPG: 421.5 (100th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 45.2% (106th)

Sacks: 5.0 (T-108th)

Interceptions: 5 (T-21st)

Turnover Margin: 0 (T-67th)

Keys To The Game

Limit First and Second Down Yardage

The Tar Heels defense has struggled in both of their losses at stopping the opponents on first and second down and that needs to be a major of focus for this team against the Blue Devils on Saturday. With the success that Duke has had on the ground this season, their goal will be to get into 3rd & short situations that will keep this Tar Heel defense on its feet. The Tar Heels need to be able to get this Duke offense into third and long and obvious passing down situations, which will allow Jay Bateman to pin his ears back and get after the quarterback.

Win Up Front Offensively

For this offense to have anywhere near the success that they will need to win this game, the Tar Heels have to be able to win up front on the offensive line. This is a Duke defense that is struggling to come into the game and it should allow this offensive line to settle in and create running lanes and solid pockets to throw from throughout the game.

Feed Into the Rivalry Aspect

This is the perfect matchup for the Tar Heels to have following the major letdown loss to Georgia Tech where nothing seemed to go their way. A rivalry game always carries a little bit of extra juice and is a week that naturally sees guys go harder in practice to get prepared for the game. The Tar Heels need to feed into that rivalry game mindset in this one as they look to forget about what happened in Atlanta and get this season back on the tracks.

Injury Report

Tar Heels

OUT- Tyrone Hopper (undisclosed)

DOUBT- Beau Corrales (sports hernia)

QUEST- British Brooks (undisclosed), Storm Duck (lower body), Caleb Hood (upper body)

PROB- Brian Anderson (lower body), Joshua Ezeudu (undisclosed), D.J. Jones (undisclosed), Jordan Tucker (undisclosed)

Projected Starting Lineups

Tar Heels Offense

QB# 7 Sam Howell, Jr.

RB#19 Ty Chandler, Sr.

WR# 0 Emery Simmons, Jr.

WR# 3 Antoine Green, Sr.

WR#11 Josh Downs, So.

TE#84 Garrett Walston, Sr. OR #88 Kamari Morales, So.

LT#72 Asim Richards, Jr.

LG#75 Joshua Ezeudu, Jr.

C#68 Brian Anderson, Sr.

RG#73 Marcus McKethan, Sr.

RT#74 Jordan Tucker, Sr. Defense

END#25 Kaimon Rucker, So.

NOSE#51 Raymond Vohasek, Jr.

TACKLE# 8 Myles Murphy, So.

OLB#12 Tomon Fox, Sr.

OLB#17 Chris Collins, Jr.

ILB#44 Jeremiah Gemmel, Sr.

ILB#33 Cedric Gray, So.

CB#20 Tony Grimes, So.

FS# 4 Trey Morrison, Jr.

SS# 0 Ja’Qurious Conley, So.

CB#1 Kyler McMichael, Jr.

NB# 2 Don Chapman, Jr. Special Teams

K#17 Grayson Atkins, Sr.

KOS#95 Jonathan Kim, Jr.

P#91 Ben Kiernan, Jr.

LS#61 Drew Little, Jr.

H#91 Ben Kiernan, Jr.

KR#19 Ty Chandler, Sr. OR #21 Elijah Green, RFr.

PR#11 Josh Downs, So.

Duke Offense

QB#12 Gunnar Holmberg, Sr.

RB#21 Mataeo Durant, Sr.

WR-X#19 Jake Bobo, Sr.

WR-Z# 6 Eli Pancol, Jr.

WR-Y# 5 Jalon Calhoun, Jr.

TE#88 Jake Marwede, Sr.

LT#62 Graham Barton, So.

LG#71 Maurice McIntyre, Jr.

C#50 Jack Wohlabaugh, Sr.

RG#63 Jacob Monk, Jr.

RT#70 John Gelotte, So. Defense

DE#93 Ben Frye, Sr.

DT#90 DeWayne Carter, So.

DT#58 Gary Smith III, So.

DE#94 R.J. Oben, So.

MIKE#42 Shaka Heyward, Jr.

WILL#35 Dorian Mausi, So.

BCB#33 Leonard Johnson, Sr.

SS#32 Jalen Alexander, Jr.

BS#29 Nate Thompson, Jr.

RS# 9 J’Marick Woods, Sr. OR #23 Lummie Young IV, Sr.

FCB#31 Josh Blackwell, Sr. Special Teams

K#44 Charlie Ham, So.

KOS#44 Charlie Ham, So.

P#98 Porter Wilson, So.

LS#57 John Taylor, Sr.

H#37 Jackson Hubbard, Sr.

KR#16 Jaylen Stinson, So.

PR#31 Josh Blackwell, Sr.



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