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UM at Duke: Matchups to Watch

UM at Duke: Matchups to Watch

By David Villavicencio
HurricaneSports.com

 
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – After a 21-day layoff between games 1 and 2, the Miami Hurricanes will wait just six days to play their ACC opener against Duke.
 
Miami carries a commanding 12-2 all-time lead in the head-to-head series with Duke, winning three straight dating to 2014. The Hurricanes won in their last trip to Duke in 2015, defeating the Blue Devils, 30-27, with the eight-lateral “Miracle in Durham” kickoff return for a touchdown as time expired.
 
The 15th matchup in this series features a pair of unbeaten teams, as the No. 14/13 Hurricanes (2-0) will face a talented Duke (4-0, 1-0 ACC) team that is receiving votes in both the Associated Press and Coaches polls at 7 p.m. on Friday night at Wallace Wade Stadium.
 
Here are three matchups to watch in Friday’s game.
 
Miami running back Mark Walton vs. Duke’s run defense
 
The Hurricanes have one of the top runners in the country in Mark Walton, who is leading FBS with 13.04 yards per carry. The junior running back has scored 28 touchdowns in 28 career games, including 26 rushing scores, and enters Friday’s game fresh off a career-high 204-yard performance against Toledo. Walton, who had a rushing touchdown and a career-long 82-yard run against the Rockets, had the seventh 200-yard rushing performance in Hurricane history and he did so while missing a significant portion of the game with an injury sustained in the second quarter. Walton returned late in the game and finished the contest against Toledo. After diligent rehab and monitoring during this week’s practices, Walton is cleared to play Friday against the Blue Devils.

“He did most everything,” Miami head coach Mark Richt said. “I think Coach [Thomas] Brown’s antenna was up on just watching him every single rep, in regards to ‘How did he look? Did he tweak it? Did he have a problem?’ We probably subbed him out just a little bit more in practice than normal, but not a lot more. If you weren’t paying close attention, you would see no difference.”
 
Walton will face his toughest task to date this season when he steps on the field at Wallace Wade Stadium. Duke’s defense has been outstanding over their first four games, ranking second in FBS in rushing defense at 65.3 yards per game and allowing just 2.33 yards per carry. The Blue Devils are the national leader in third down defense, holding teams to a 14 percent conversion rate, and are active behind the line of scrimmage with 8.8 tackles for loss to rank fourth in the country in that statistical category. Linebacker Joe Giles-Harris is the leading tackler for the Blue Devils with 34 stops (17 solo), and he is tied for the team lead with six tackles for loss. Giles-Harris will play a key role in the Blue Devils’ plan to stop Walton.
 
Miami’s Defense vs. Duke quarterback Daniel Jones
 
The Hurricanes’ defense entered the season with high expectations after an outstanding 2016 campaign that saw them become one of the most disruptive defenses in the country. Miami’s defense has shown flashes of disruption over two games this season, ranking third in the ACC with 8.0 tackles for loss. Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz knows that disruption will be a key factor in success at Duke, as the Blue Devils feature one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country.
 
Daniel Jones has been a major spark for the Blue Devils’ offense, throwing for 904 yards and five touchdowns and rushing for 141 yards and three scores this season. While Jones’ statistics are impressive, it’s not his arm or legs that are most impressive to Miami’s defensive coordinator.”
 
“The first thing that defines him is his toughness,” Diaz said. “And if your quarterback is tough your offense is tough. The offense takes on the personality of its quarterback. He doesn’t slide. He can take a hit. He took some hits in our game a year ago. He’s taken some hits this year, but when you see him lower his shoulder and get a first down, I imagine that gets everyone on their football excited to play because they know that he’s tough and he doesn’t flinch. Certainly, they’ve got weapons. With what he presents to us as a runner, you know quarterback run game will be really in play this week for the first time. It really wasn’t as much the first two weeks. Really the first dual-threat guy we’ve gone against. We knew going in that really, he’d be one of two returning starters we’d face this year at quarterback. That’s what I think gave Duke confidence, I think you see that in the way they started the year and I think a lot of that comes back to knowing who they got in the driver seat.”

Miami quarterback Malik Rosier vs. Duke’s defense

Malik Rosier returns to the location of his first career start, a 30-27 victory in 2015 in which he completed 20 of 29 passes for 272 yards and a pair of touchdowns against at Duke. A week ago Rosier had his best performance as a Hurricane, tying a career-best with three passing touchdowns and running for one more against Toledo. Now a redshirt junior, Rosier leads an unbeaten Miami team into Durham to face a Duke defense that has proven to be stingy through four games.

Miami’s offense is second in FBS with 8.95 yards per play, while Duke’s defense is allowing just 4.9 yards per play this season. Rosier has gotten excellent protection thus far, as Miami’s quarterback has been sacked just twice. But Duke has a pair of disruptive rushers in defensive lineman Mike Ramsay and defensive end Drew Jordan, who have combined for six sacks on the year. The Blue Devils also have a ball-hawking corner in Byron Fields Jr., who was named the ACC defensive back of the week after a 61-yard interception returned for a touchdown a week ago against North Carolina. Their pass defense has been excellent, ranking 23rd in opponent passer rating and picking off seven passes while allowing just five passing touchdowns.
 
“Defensively, the numbers are very, very impressive,” Richt said of Duke. “They’re not even giving up 300 yards per game. I think giving up maybe 16 or 17 out of 50 third-down conversions. People are rushing for 60 or 70 yards…sometimes rushing is really low because you throw for 400 [yards] on them-type defense, and it’s not that. They’re not giving up a lot of yards passing either. The thing that I saw as I turned on the tape was just great fundamental defense – guys taking on blocks and defeating blocks, guys tackling very well in space. When you think about it, they’ve played four games. It’s not like a one-game or two-game stat we’re talking about. We’re talking about four games. We’re talking about playing Northwestern, Baylor and North Carolina. It’s very impressive what they’re doing on defense.”

Kickoff against the Blue Devils is set for 7 p.m., from Wallace Wade Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN.