College football is entering week 4 of the 2017 season. There have been a few surprises as usual across the nation at this point in the season, and the ACC is no different. Only 4 teams in the ACC are still undefeated at this point (not including Miami at 1-0). One of those teams with an unblemished record is Duke, and as a result, they are this week’s ACC Spotlight here on InsidetheACC.com.
Is this 3-0 record a huge surprise for the Blue Devils? Well, maybe not a huge surprise, but I would argue it’s a surprise to most of the media folks who didn’t give them much attention in the preseason ACC voting. A 3-0 record is not something to ignore at Duke. In fact, it’s the first time since 2014 they’ve started the season with three straight wins and only the second time in David Cutcliffe’s tenure in Durham. So their start is something to take notice of at this juncture in the season.
How have the Blue Devils gotten to this point? It’s been a well-balanced attack on both sides of the ball that has carried them in getting two non-conference Power-5 wins over the first three weeks.
First, the offense has had success through the air with highly-touted quarterback, Daniel Jones. He’s been efficient in running the offense and taking what the defense gives him. However, the Blue Devils’ running game is what should catch opponents’ attention at this point. They have had a productive two-headed monster at running back in the form of Shaun Wilson and Brittain Brown. The duo represents the # 1 and #2 running backs in the ACC in yardage. They’ve combined for 528 yards so far, which leads the ACC. They’re accomplishing that by going for 6+ yards-per-carry. Last week against Baylor they had touchdown runs of 50 yards, 65 yards and 34 yards to help in the win. Teams will now have to account for them as well as Daniel Jones who did a little bit of everything in their week 2 win over Northwestern. So far teams are failing at that as the Blue Devils are averaging 45 points per game, which is good for #1 in the ACC.
Next, we have to look at a defense that is playing better than expected and raising eye brows across the ACC. Once again, like the offense, the Blue Devils’ defense has been effective in multiple ways in helping rack up three wins so far. Up front, Duke has managed to lead the ACC in rush defense, only giving up 2 yards-per- carry for a whopping 48 yards per game. They’re also #2 in the ACC in sacks with 11, which trails only Clemson in that category. This has helped hold opponents to a 12% success rate on third downs. Don’t think this means the secondary is getting off easy. They’re carrying their fair share as well as they lead the ACC in passes defended with 6 interceptions and 16 pass breakups. That interception total includes a couple of touchdown returns as well. So the defense has not only kept opponents out of the end zone, but they’ve added to the team’s point production as well.
This week points to the next big test for the Blue Devils. They travel to rival North Carolina in the battle for the Victory Bell. A win would do a lot for Duke’s season. It would give them a road win in the Coastal division to start their conference schedule, which will be important to putting them into the division title conversation. A win would get them to 4-0 and a chance to break into the Top 25. A win in Chapel Hill would also give them the Victory Bell in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2013. Duke is the favorite on the road because at this point in the season, they’ve earned their standing in the ACC.