Duke Will Try to Slow Down Georgia Tech’s Surging Triple-Option

Duke (6-4, 3-3) at Georgia Tech (5-5, 4-3), 3:30 PM, ESPNU

Duke spent its open date last weekend trying to heal up from the grind of ten straight games, resting comfortably while the rest of the Coastal Division contenders fell. Most of the Blue Devils even got to watch arch-rival North Carolina get humiliated at home, 68-50.

But they couldn’t even enjoy that as much as they normally would, because now it’s their turn to try to slow down Georgia Tech’s explosive offense. Head coach David Cutcliffe said that his wife told him he seemed irritable as he watched Georgia Tech scored one of its many touchdowns live. “Well, why not?” he shot back. “Yeah, I am getting irritable.”

Linebacker Nick Sink said he watched every second of it live on Saturday and twice since on film. When asked what he thought of the pointsplosion, he laughed and shook his head, shrugging. “I was shocked to see an option offense put up 68 points,” Sink said, “and I’m shocked Carolina allowed 68 points.”

Cornerback Ross Cockrell watched the game with his father, who fell asleep. The senior, who learned through trial and (mostly) error as a young player, felt empathy for Duke’s biggest rival. “I know how they feel,” he said, shaking his head. “I understand what’s going on on that sideline and how tough it is to be part of a game like that. For some reason or another, you just can’t get a stop. I sympathize more with the defense than worry about the offense.”

You often hear about the responsibilities of the front seven when it comes to slowing down the triple-option – everyone has player to tackle, regardless of whether or not they have the ball. But where Georgia Tech is the most dangerous is when it can throw the ball, because the opposing cornerbacks also have to help out in run defense. And if a defensive back guesses wrong about whether it’s a run or pass play? “You’re in trouble,” Cockrell said.

“During the course of a game, you get so locked into the run, so keyed into the run and then on first down, they hit you with a pass,” Cockrell said. “On like 3rd and 8, they usually don’t pass the ball, but it’s 1st and 10 and right when they begin the drive. That’s what makes it hard is you get passes at times that you wouldn’t normally expect it.” When Cockrell was asked if Duke would win if its offense scored 50 points, Cockrell hesitated, grinned and said, “I would hope that we would win, but judging by last week, we just have to wait and see.”

Sink said that the 68 points don’t scare them, but it’s in the back of their minds. And it benefitted them to watch the mistakes that North Carolina’s defense made. “You have it in the back of your mind that ‘okay, they just put up 68 points. We cannot do that.’ It’s a little worrying, but we’re not worried about it,” Sink said. “When we watched the film and watched the game, we saw a lot of missed assignments and busted defenses and huge, explosive pass plays, which we focused on all last week preparing for it. Then we saw it happen on Saturday.”

And if Duke can slow down that offense, the Blue Devils only have to win their final two games to win the Coastal Division. And all they had to do is not play last week for that to happen.

For the most part, Duke has won the games it could have won and lost the games it was expected to lose, save perhaps the upset win over North Carolina. These final two games are like that one – fairly evenly-matched. Duke could still potentially win the Coastal with a loss this weekend, but it would be more difficult. Of course, Duke would much rather be in this position in November than where it has been in the past, hoping for moral victories.

“Handling a big game is an art,” Cutcliffe said. “People talk about pressure. Pressure is when you haven’t won one all year long. Then you’ve got all kinds of issues right now. So I don’t view this as pressure. I really view this as the most fun part of what we do. And I hope our team takes that mentality into this game.”

Moments in Duke-Georgia Tech history: Georgia Tech leads the series 48-30-1 (27-12-1 at home), and Duke’s last win there came in 2003. But it was a convincing one: Duke pounded Georgia Tech 41-17. Reggie Ball went Reggie Ball with three interceptions (not to mention averaging 5.3 yards per attempt), and Duke’s Chris Douglas almost literally carried the Blue Devils to victory with 30 rushes for 218 yards. Duke’s quarterbacks combined to complete 8-of-15 passes for 141 yards. That was Duke’s only win in the series since 1994.

David Cutcliffe loves to fake punts, and this one worked.

Also….this happened to Duke last year. At least now, because of how improved Duke is this year, we’re laughing with the Blue Devils.

Thankfully for Duke, Georgia Tech doesn’t have a wide receiver as good as Demaryius Thomas was.

This is mesmerizing.


Prediction: Georgia Tech, 44-31. Duke has had a week to prepare, and they’re more than capable of winning this game against a Georgia Tech team that has been fairly pedestrian for most of this season. And it’s possible Georgia Tech will come in feeling too good about itself after gashing an awful North Carolina defense. In the end, though, there’s just too little of a margin for error against this offense, and with Durham native Vad Lee playing the way that he is, it’s difficult to see Duke – or most other ACC teams, for that matter – slowing him down.

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