Duke 2019 Capsule
2018: 8-5 overall, 3-5 ACC, No. 6 in the Coastal Division
Returning Offensive Starters: 4
Returning Defensive Starters: 8
In 2018 Duke took a step forward, winning eight games under David Cutcliffe for the first time since 2015. Cutcliffe has made the Blue Devils competitive over the last few years, going to a bowl in six out of his last seven seasons. Before that stretch, Duke had not been to a bowl game since 1994.
Duke’s season began with a hot start, winning four straight games, including back-to-back wins over eventual postseason Top 25 opponents in Army and Northwestern. However, the Hokies ended that streak with a 31-14 win in late September down in Durham. Duke added a few other good wins on the road against Miami and Georgia Tech, but finished their regular season with a 59-7 loss at home to Wake Forest.
S&P+ Offense: No. 52
Total Offense: No. 65
The Blue Devils lose a majority of their passing attack entering the 2019 season. After quarterback Daniel Jones declared for the NFL Draft and went 6th overall, offensive coordinator Zac Roper will have to look to his backup, Quentin Harris, to lead the offense.
Harris is a redshirt senior with solid game experience, so Duke shouldn’t see too much of a drop off in quarterback play. Last season in relief of Jones, Harris threw seven touchdowns and rushed for five in very limited opportunities. In two starts last season, he threw six touchdowns and led Duke to 95 total points against Baylor and NC Central.
His options at receiver will be almost all new this season as well. The four options who had the most receptions last season are all gone from the Blue Devil roster. This includes top receiver T.J. Rahming and leading tight end Daniel Helm. Redshirt senior Aaron Young is returning from a hamstring injury that forced him to miss all but two games last year. However, the rest of the receiving corps will be almost completely made up of inexperienced sophomores and freshmen.
The good news for the Blue Devils is that they are returning three offensive linemen and top running back Deon Jackson, who had over 1100 yards from scrimmage last season. Therefore, the rushing offense shouldn’t take much of a hit. However, Duke will need Harris to elevate this novice group of wide receivers for the offense to be successful.
S&P+ Defense: No. 46
Total Defense: No. 77
With Duke returning almost their entire defense, including the entire secondary, the Blue Devils should be able to limit offenses and give the inexperienced offense a chance. The back end of the defense is led by Mark Gilbert, who is returning from a hip injury he suffered early last season. In 2017, his last full season, he snagged six interceptions, good for second in the ACC. He was also named first-team All-ACC that year. He should be able to lock down one side of the field for the Blue Devils for most of the season.
He’ll be backed up by a group of three safeties who all are returning as starters for the 2019 season. It is headlined by Michael Carter II, who is a candidate for the Thorpe Award, annually presented to the best defensive back in college football.
Although the secondary is set up for success in 2019, the linebacker group loses both starters, Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys. Giles-Harris led the team in total tackles with 81, and Humphreys was not far behind in fourth with 67. The good news for Duke is that there are two veteran players ready to step in. Koby Quansah and Brandon Hill are both entering their fourth year in Durham and should take the reins from the former duo. They may not be as experienced, but Cutcliffe has to be pleased that he doesn’t have to plug in freshmen in the middle of the field.
Finally, on the line, the Blue Devils look solid. Although they don’t have anyone with huge sack numbers returning, the whole line will help improve the pass rush in 2019. Victor Dimukeje led the team in sacks with 3.5 in his sophomore season and should take another step forward as a junior. This defense is similar to Bud Foster’s group. They struggled at times last year, but bringing back so many key players, the stop troops should step up in 2019.
Why This Game is Important
Duke: The Blue Devils start their season with a tough matchup, to say the least, against Alabama in Atlanta. After two games against non-Power Five teams, Duke starts a five-game stretch against Coastal Division rivals starting with the Hokies. Starting that stretch off with a win is crucial if the Blue Devils want to be in contention to play in the ACC Championship late in the season.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies dropped all but one ACC game in Lane Stadium last year. If they want to contend in the Coastal, beating teams like Duke at home is necessary. Coming off of a bye week, starting off their Coastal slate with a win over a beatable Blue Devils team seems like a must-win.