A considerable factor in Saturday’s game that may go a little hidden is Duke being without punter Austin Parker, who broke his collarbone in the Blue Devils’ last game, a loss to Louisville. He is out for the game for Duke along with wide receiver Anthony Nash, who also broke his collarbone.
Parker also had kickoff duties. He’ll likely be replaced by senior walk-on Danny Stirt, who had never played in a game in his career until this season. His kickoff and punt against Louisville were the first of his career. There’s no telling what that will mean, but it figures to be a benefit for Tech in the kicking game.
Duke has a net punting average of 37.3 yards, 70th in the country. (Tech is 93rd at 36.0 yards.) The Blue Devils, however, are very good on kickoffs, averaging 17.2 yards per opponent return, 14th in the country.
“Right now, they’re down a punter, so we’re not really sure which direction they will go with their protection unit or with their punt team and with their punter, but we’ll adjust as the game goes,” said A-backs coach Lamar Owens, who also coordinates special teams.
Tech is averaging 15 yards per punt return, all by Brad Stewart. Is this the week that Tech returns a punt for a touchdown for the first time since 2009?
Good news/bad news
Duke is tied for 124th with 18 turnovers in seven games, with 11 lost fumbles and seven interceptions. The Jackets, who are tied for 119th with six takeaways, can use whatever help offered.
However, 17 of the 18 turnovers occurred in Duke’s first five games. The Blue Devils have turned the ball over just once in the past two games, a fumble, and that was in a game against Army played in Hurricane Matthew.
A noteworthy quote from Johnson about pass-rush pressure:
“If you’re sending five-man pressure, and you’re not having any success, then it needs to be six, and if you’re not having any success, it needs to be seven. You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over and hope it’s going to change.”
Tech ranks 119th nationally in sack percentage at 2.89 percent (sacks/sacks plus pass attempts), according to teamrankings.com. (Only includes FBS competition)
Slim to none
Virginia Tech’s win over Pittsburgh Thursday night most likely reduced Georgia Tech’s tiny chances of gaining a share of the ACC Coastal title even further. The Hokies are now 4-1 in ACC play. Beating Pitt on the road was a big step forward for the Hokies to get back to the ACC title game for the first time since 2011.
Just to gain a share of first place, the Jackets would have to run the table, including a win over Virginia Tech on the road Nov. 12 and then have the Hokies lose one of their other two remaining ACC games, against either Duke or Virginia. North Carolina (4-1), Pittsburgh (2-2) and Virginia (1-2) would also need to take a third loss, as well.
ESPN gives the Hokies a 73.4 percent chance to beat Duke and an 89.8 percent chance to beat Virginia.
Had Tech been able to pull out the win over Pittsburgh Oct. 8 – a narrow-margined defeat – the Jackets would control their own destiny. Then again, if the Jackets had not converted a 4th-and-19 against Boston College, they would be 0-4 in the ACC.
Those watching the game from home will be treated again to the play-by-play work of Tech hall of famer Wes Durham. Regional sports networks (including Fox Sports South) picked up the Tech game for the second game in a row. Durham will call the game with Ray Farmer (analyst) and AJC alumnus Jenn Hildreth on the sidelines. Farmer was most recently the general manager of the Cleveland Browns before he was fired at the end of the 2015 season. Farmer was also a scout for the Falcons 2002-06.
Among other things, he played at Duke and holds the NCAA record for most career blocked point-after tries with eight.