By Johnny Falduto
Duke Football Scouting Report
With Clemson set to kick off in less than a week on the road at Duke, here is everything you need to know about the Blue Devils.
Led by former Wake Forest defensive coordinator and first-year head coach Mike Elko, Duke was among the most improved teams in college football last season. After winning a combined ten games over the previous three seasons, they won nine games in 2022, and their four losses to Kansas, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Pitt came by a combined total of just 16 points.
Offensively, the Blue Devils improved their scoring output from 22.8 points per game in 2021 to 32.8 in 2022 behind the breakout performance of dual-threat QB Riley Leonard, who was one of just three FBS QBs throw for 2,900 yards and rush for over 695 yards, and one of two to throw for 20+ TDs and run for 13+ TDs.
Defensively, Duke improved from allowing 516.8 yards and 39.8 points per game in 2021 to 378.2 yards and 22.1 points per game in 2022, good for the 31st best scoring defense and 68th best total defense in the nation. They also ranked seventh in the country with 27 takeaways.
Scouting Duke’s Offense
The Blue Devils return every major contributor from their highly productive receiving corps and running back room along with second-year starting quarterback Riley Leonard in 2023, which equates to about 82% of their total offensive production from a season ago.
Two of Leonard’s top targets in the passing game, Jalon Calhoun and Jordan Moore, return at the wide receiver position after combining for 1,529 yards and nine touchdowns on 122 catches in 2022. Sahmir Hagans, who burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman last season, will get the bulk of third receiver reps following an injury to fifth-year senior Eli Pancol that will keep him out of most of the season, and Jontavis Robertson is a senior receiver to keep an eye on as he works his way into the mix early in the season.
Another name to keep an eye on in the passing game is Nicky Dalmolin, who totaled 21 catches for 170 yards and four touchdowns from the tight end position for the Blue Devils last season. Second-year offensive coordinator Kevin Johns’ previous offenses have found productive roles for tight ends in the passing game, so expect Dalmolin to look for targets in the open field against Clemson’s defense in week one.
Quarterback Riley Leonard may have led the Blue Devils’ rushing attack in 2022 with 124 carries for 699 yards and 13 touchdowns, but the returning running back room is one of the deepest in the ACC heading into 2023.
Jordan Waters led all Duke running backs with 123 carries for 566 yards and eight touchdowns last season, trailing only Leonard in each of those three categories. Junior Jaquez Moore totaled 508 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground and added seven catches for 81 yards in the passing game, and fifth-year back Jaylen Coleman accounted for 480 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 102 carries.
Together, the trio of backs provide a ton of versatility and complimentary football to Riley Leonard and the passing game, and the ability to keep all three backs fresh with heavy rotations will immediately test the depth of Clemson’s defensive line room to begin the season.
The offensive line returns three veterans from the group that led the ACC in sacks allowed and TFL allowed in 2022, including fifth-year seniors Jacob Monk and Maurice McIntyre on the interior and All-ACC and projected first-round NFL Draft pick Graham Barton at the left tackle spot. 6-foot 7, 317lb. Justin Pickett and 6-foot 5, 300lb. Stanford transfer Jake Hornibrook was listed as the two other starters on the line for the Blue Devils to open up against Clemson.
Scouting Duke’s Defense
Duke returns 60% of its production on the defensive side of the ball after losing their top two tacklers and three total starters from a season ago.
One position group that did not lose any of its regular contributors was the defensive line. The group returns Preseason All-ACC First Team DT DeWayne Carter, sixth-year DT Ja’Mion Franklin, and fourth-year DT Aeneas Peebles on the interior along with fifth-year DE RJ Oben, fifth-year DE Anthony Nelson, and second-year DE Vincent Anthony on the outside.
As a unit, the defensive line fueled Mike Elko’s defense to finish first in FBS in fumbles recovered (16) and 23rd in sacks per game (2.8), and their combined total of 36 sacks was the most of any Blue Devil defense since 2008.
Returning linebackers Cam Dillon, Tre Freeman, and Dorian Mausi all have starting experience, and Nick Morris and Jeremiah Hasley provide depth at the position in the Blue Devils’ 4-2-5 defensive scheme.
In the secondary, Duke brought in sixth-year CB Al Blades, Jr. from Miami, seventh-year CB Myles Jones from Texas A&M, and brought back S Jeremiah Lewis after he spent a season at Northwestern following his first four seasons at Duke. All of these additions will seemingly make an immediate impact on the team’s defense in week one against Clemson, along with returning starters Chandler Rivers, Joshua Pickett, Jaylen Stinson and Brandon Johnson.
Clemson Keys to Victory
- Control the line of scrimmage on offense. DeWayne Carter and Ja’Mion Franklin lead a versatile and deep Duke defensive front that will be one of the more challenging units that the Clemson O-Line faces all season, so winning at the line of scrimmage and giving Cade Klubnik time to feel things out in his first piece of game action in Garrett Riley’s offense will be critical.
- Get to Riley Leonard on defense. Force him to make quick decisions and create opportunities for Clemson’s loaded defensive back room to make plays on the football in the air while also taking away his ability to make plays on the ground.
- Make Jake Briningstool a factor in the open field against the 4-2-5 defense. With just two linebackers occupying the middle of the field and five smaller defensive backs on the field at once, there will be opportunities to find the 6-foot 6 TE in the middle of the field. If you find him enough and force the Duke defense to make some adjustments, you open up more opportunities for other receivers in the passing game and get a glimpse of just how creative and dynamic a Garrett Riley-led offense can be.
Kickoff between Clemson and Duke is set for 8:00 PM on Monday, September 4th at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, North Carolina. For complete pregame coverage, live play-by-play coverage and postgame reaction, tune in to 97.5/105.5 in the Upstate, right here on theroarfm.com, or on The ROAR mobile app.