Duke (9-2, 5-2 ACC) returned four starting offensive linemen and its top four running backs from its 2012 team that averaged 125.2 rushing yards per game on 3.7 yards per carry. Those statistics have improved this fall to 179.3 yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry.
The Blue Devils have been consistent throughout their schedule, exceeding 120 rushing yards in all but one of their 11 contests thus far. Duke rushed for 213 yards against Pittsburgh and 358 against Miami 12 days ago.
“That's really the No. 1 thing for us is to stop the run, and that's been every week we've talked about it, and that's going to continue to be the No. 1 thing going into this game,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said on Wednesday. “They did a really nice job of running the football against us last year. That was the difference in the football game. And I would say they are much better on the offensive line this year than they were last year.”
UNC associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning agreed, saying that the Blue Devils’ offensive line plays with a pad level that not many teams play with.
Duke is also able to run a variety of tailbacks into the game. Jela Duncan leads the team with 521 rushing yards on a 5.3-yards-per-carry average, while Josh Snead has total 482 yards on a 6.6-yards-per-carry mark.
Six different Blue Devils have rushed for 179 or more yards this season, including both quarterbacks – Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette. Five of those six weigh in at 205 pounds or more, including three above 225.
“They’ve got 220-pound guys,” Koenning said. “They’ll pound your [butt]. You’re going to have to brace yourself and have more than one guy that can make the tackle.”
Duke gashed UNC early in last season’s 33-30 victory at Wallace Wade Stadium before the Tar Heels limited its ground gains in the second half. And with the back seven having its hands full with wide receiver Jamison Crowder and the passing portion of head coach David Cutcliffe’s offensive attack, UNC’s defensive line will have to be effective up front.
“We just have to control the line of scrimmage,” senior defensive end Kareem Martin said. “That’s going to be a big key for the defensive line. We have to create a new line of scrimmage. In doing that we have to come off the ball hard every play. They go through the whistle; they play hard. We have to play harder than them. Everybody has to fit their holes and just play perfect football.”
While Duke has the size in its offensive line to play a physical game, Cutcliffe utilizes a variety of different looks to create running lanes.
“It’s spread you and shred you,” Koenning said. “The offensive line does a great job. They’ve got so many different schemes with the pulls and counters and the quarterback power reads and flying sweep motions and it just keeps going on and on.”
The Blue Devils, winners of seven consecutive games, have gradually improved as the season draws to a close. In November, Duke is averaging 200 yards per game on a 5.1-yards-per-carry clip with eight rushing touchdowns.
If UNC intends to prevent its rivals from making the trek to Charlotte next weekend for the ACC title game, it has to be effective in stopping the run and making the Blue Devils one dimensional.