DURHAM, NC - SEPTEMBER 29: Daniel Jones #17 of the Duke Blue Devils against the Virginia Tech Hokies during their game at Wallace Wade Stadium on September 29, 2018 in Durham, North Carolina. Virginia Tech won 31-14. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images

5 questions with a Duke beat writer

Georgia Tech plays Duke Saturday for the 86th time for its homecoming game. The Blue Devils have been by far Tech’s most frequent homecoming opponent, with this being the 23rd occasion. (Tulane is second with seven).

For more pertinent information about Duke, we turn to Steve Wiseman of the Herald-Sun of Durham, N.C. He has covered the Blue Devils since 2010. You can read his coverage here and follow him on Twitter here.

Q: Statistically, this might be the best Duke defense that Tech has faced with Paul Johnson at the helm. What do the Blue Devils do well on defense?

A: They are active and have depth on the front end. Ben Albert came to Duke after coaching strong defensive lines at Boston College. He's improved that group with better recruiting and coaching. The Blue Devils win battles at the line of scrimmage far more than they did in past seasons. This doesn't apply to Georgia Tech as much, but Duke is able to pressure quarterbacks on passing downs without blitzing as much. 

Q: David Cutcliffe said something Tuesday along the lines that this team might be in the worst injury shape of any of his teams. Where is Duke weakest on that front?

A: The defensive secondary was hit hard. Mark Gilbert, a first-team all-ACC cornerback, dislocated his hip against Northwestern on Sept. 8. He's out for the season. That means Josh Blackwell, a redshirt freshman, is now starting. Michael Carter, a sophomore cornerback, sprained a knee against Baylor on Sept. 15 and hasn't played since. Myles Hudzick has played cornerback the last two games. Virginia Tech found success beating Duke's corners.  

Q: Aside from quarterback Daniel Jones, who on Duke’s offense could give Georgia Tech a lot of trouble?

A: Running back Brittain Brown, when healthy, is the best back Duke has had since I've been on the beat (starting in 2010). He's big, quick and shifty. But he's been slowed by a number of ailments. Banged-up, as the coaches say. Sophomore Deon Jackson has filled in and is a good player, too. Wide receiver Johnathan Lloyd has become Jones' top target. Elsewhere, keep an eye on tight end Noah Gray. He's a sophomore who often lines up as a wideout. He's a playmaker. 

Q: Duke has obviously made a ton of progress in Cutcliffe’s 11 seasons. Like any coach, though, I’m sure he wants more. What’s his competitive vision for what Duke can be?

A: His goal early on was to get Duke back to respectability. That's been accomplished. He's turned Duke into a team that should make a bowl every year and, if not, be very close. Now the goal is to make the Blue Devils Coastal Division contenders. That means losing to Virginia Tech at home, when the Hokies should have been vulnerable, can't happen. Also, Duke has only defeated Miami once in ACC play. So there's work to do. 

Q: Do you think the scheduling of Army and Navy has had anything to do with Georgia Tech (as they run similar offenses)?

A: It's not the main driver, but it does enter in to the thinking. The service academy teams have regularly been part of Duke's scheduling even prior to Cutcliffe. Army's current athletic director, Boo Corrigan, came from Duke in 2011 so there is a relationship there that leads to games.

Whenever it comes time to play an option team, Cutcliffe always mentions all the games his staff has coached against Army, Navy and Georgia Tech and says it's a strength. As we saw last weekend at Louisville, a staff that's not as familiar coaching against the option can be exploited and made to look very bad. Duke won't be in that situation.

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