When: 3:00 p.m. (EST)
Where: Wallace Wade Stadium
Line: Duke -11
Duke and Troy head into Saturday’s game both looking to bounce back after two very different but equally tough losses. Duke lost a heartbreaker to Pittsburgh after a huge fourth quarter comeback fell short, while Troy was embarrassed by Mississippi State on the road 62-7. Both teams have lots of room for improvement, especially on the defensive side of the ball. I expect the game to be a shootout and another long week for each secondary.
Offensively, outside of a few mistakes from starting QB Brandon Connette, Duke has been very sharp so far this season. Wide receiver Jamison Crowder has been the obvious standout, averaging 10 receptions per game and almost 400 yards already. Jela Duncan is the starting RB but splits the carries with Juwan Thompson and Josh Snead, although Duke’s most effective runner might be their quarterback. Connette has 169 yards rushing and four touchdowns in just 2 ½ games for Duke this year. If Connette can limit his poor decision making in the passing game, Duke should have an easy time moving the ball against Troy. While Duke’s offense has been potent, the defense has been the exact opposite. After performing well in their first two games against supremely inferior opponents, Duke has struggled mightily, especially against the pass. Last week against Pittsburgh, they made Tom Savage look like Tom Brady, giving up 424 yards passing and six touchdowns. It has not just been solely the secondary, as Duke’s front seven has underperformed in their last two games as well, giving up almost 700 yards. Their biggest problem is what Duke coach David Cutcliffe calls “explosive plays”, which by his definition means plays of 25 yards or longer. They gave up 17 against Pittsburgh, totaling 423 yards. Senior cornerback Ross Cockrell thinks it may have something to do with players not following their assignments. “We just have to understand the game plan”, he said, “When we’re playing deep zone, play deep zone. When we’re playing man-to-man, play man-to-man. It’s that simple. And don’t get caught up trying to do more than your job.” Duke’s defense will need to play better to take the pressure off having to score each time you touch the ball off the offense.
Troy comes into this game boasting one of the top passing games in the country, led by quarterback Corey Robinson. Back-up QB Deon Anthony will enter into the game sparingly, mostly as a runner. Robinson has an excellent completion percentage at almost 73% and can throw the ball a mile. Running backs Jordan Chunn and Brandon Burks have split the load so far this season, each compiling over 100 yards this year with an average of 4.0 yards per carry. Eric Thomas is Troy’s best receiver with 6 touchdowns on the season already, but they share the wealth at the position. Bryan Holmes and Chandler Worthy each have over 100 yards receiving while combining for 3 touchdowns. Like Duke, Troy’s biggest flaw is their secondary. It has been injury prone all season and hasn’t been able to stop the big play. Trailing just 10-7 against Miss State after a quarter, the defense gave up multiple big plays in a 35 point 2nd quarter that blew the game open. The defensive line has been better than expected, with Shermane TeArt and Antonio Gillespie leading the way. I expect Duke to test the secondary early and often against the Trojans.
On paper, these teams look very similar. Both are very potent offensively and neither can stop anyone on the defensive side of the ball. I believe Duke is better at the skill positions and will be able to move the ball with absolutely no resistance from Troy’s defense. The difference will be the turnover battle, whichever team turns the ball over less will win this game. I believe Duke’s offense with prove too much for Troy to handle, and the defense will play just well enough to get the job done. I have Duke winning this game, 44-31.