The Duke Blue Devils open their season Friday night in familiar territory (on the road), as they have the last 3 seasons (Notre Dame and Alabama at Mercedes Benz arena). This time they’ll face UNC Charlotte – a team they handled pretty easily (53-19) last season. Coming off a 2-win season, Duke looks to rebound fast in the win column against a 49ers team they will certainly not overlook.
Duke, who heads to Charlotte Friday night, is a -6.5 favorite.
Keys to a Win
Depth will be huge
Duke finished their fall camp and both scrimmages with limited injuries, meaning they will be fully loaded to compete at a high level with not just depth, but experienced veterans on both sides of the ball.
Balanced offensive attack
The Blue devils pounded the run 52% of its plays a year ago, and that trend looks to carry over to this season with Mataeo Durant, a Maxwell award finalist, looking poised and ready to put the team on his back as a starter. Leading the squad in rushing a season ago with 817 yards, which came off the bench, he’s due for a heavy workload against the 49ers.
Since coach David Cutcliffe has been in Durham, not a single running back has passed the 1,000 yard threshold. This trend could change with Durant – a game changer within the trenches who has breakaway speed once he hits the secondary.
First year starter Gunnar Holmberg will have to be efficient in the pocket and not get happy feet. Gunnar, whose known as a dual threat quarterback, at times will have to extend plays outside of the pocket – specifically on 3rd down where his number one target, Jake Bobo, looks to lead the receiving core again in yards per catch (12.4). Jake led all receivers last year for the Blue devils.
Keep an eye on starting tight-end Jake Marwede, who replaces Kansas City Chiefs rookie Noah Gray, on early down situations. Holmberg becomes the fourth starting quarterback in four years under David Cutcliffe, so building that chemistry early is paramount. If the offensive line can keep Gunnar upright, it may be a long day for the 49ers. The 49ers only totaled 5 sacks in a covid depleted season last year.
Turnovers have doomed Duke over the last three seasons, with the Blue Devils leading all division one teams in turnovers, at 67, in that period. Producing cohesiveness within this unit will start at QB.
This Duke team will go as far as Gunnar Holmberg takes them.
What to Expect
Friday night the 49ers host their first ever power five opponent at Jerry Richardson stadium. Having multiple games canceled last season and losing 53-19 to Duke last year, the 49ers will come out assertive with guns blazing. Duke just has too much firepower on the offensive end, specifically at tailback with Mataeo Durant looking to put the entire ACC on notice that last year wasn’t a blemish.