ATLANTA — Duke coach David Cutcliffe points to the Blue Devils’ two straight wins over Georgia Tech as evidence the program is on the rise.
A third straight win in the series on Saturday would be particularly reassuring to Duke fans, since the Blue Devils have lost their first three Atlantic Coast Conference games this season and are last in the Coastal Division — just ahead of the Yellow Jackets.
Duke (3-4, 0-3 ACC) should enter the game with good background in the triple-option plays in Georgia Tech’s spread-option offense. The Blue Devils beat Army, which runs a similar scheme, on Oct. 8.
“A lot of it is guys buying into that scheme, and playing assignment football, playing disciplined football,” said Duke cornerback Bryon Fields.
Cutcliffe said playing Army was only an introduction to Georgia Tech’s version of the spread option.
“Army, in all due respect, is not even close to what Georgia Tech is from a weapons standpoint offensively,” Cutcliffe said. “I think our players do realize that. … It’s really hard to simulate the speed that Georgia Tech has on offense.”
Georgia Tech (4-3, 1-3) has lost three straight ACC games but ended its losing streak by beating Georgia Southern 35-24 on Oct. 15.
Coach Paul Johnson said losses to Duke the last two years are not a sign his option offense is becoming easier to defend by well-rehearsed conference opponents.
“I think last year they just beat us,” Johnson said. The year before we turned the ball over a bunch down here. … They have had our number the last couple years, so we’re looking forward to having a chance to seeing if we can’t play a little better than we did the last two times we played.”
In 2014, Georgia Tech outgained Duke 483-373 but was hurt by three second-half turnovers in a 31-25 loss. Last season, Duke held the Yellow Jackets to 173 yards rushing beat in a 34-20 win.
“We’re a better football team than we’ve been,” Cutcliffe said, adding the improvement “is the big part of having an opportunity to beat a Georgia Tech program that’s just been consistently a winner.”
INJURY REPORT: Duke wide receiver Anthony Nash, second on the team with 29 catches, and punter Austin Parker are out, each with collarbone injuries. Fill-in Danny Stirt has only one punt, for 41 yards, this season.
TD MACHINE: Georgia Tech freshman running back Dedrick Mills has 10 touchdowns, including nine rushing, in only six games. He also leads the team with 446 yards rushing. “I think he’s got a bright future,” Johnson said, adding Mills is “pretty hard to tackle and has got good vision.”
TAKE IT AWAY NOW: Georgia Tech is last in the ACC and 119th in the nation with only six takeaways. Another problem has been third-down defense. Opponents have been successful on almost half of third downs (50 of 101).
BALL SECURITY: The Blue Devils have taken much better care of the ball in their past couple of games. They’ve turned it over just once in their last two games after giving it away a season-worst six times in a loss to Virginia on Oct. 1. Quipped Cutcliffe: “We used the quota up that day, and then some.”
EXTRA PRACTICE: Following the win over Army, Duke coaches intentionally postponed their internal review of the game because they were facing Louisville on a short week. They then picked that up during the extra preparation time after the 24-14 loss to Louisville and during their week off. Georgia Tech also was off last week.