It has been an uphill battle for the Duke Blue Devils this season, and it does not get any easier with the Louisville Cardinals coming to town Thursday night (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Duke has not beaten a conference opponent at home since their 2019 regular-season finale against Miami.
As 20-point underdogs, per the sports betting market Wednesday, it does not look good for the Blue Devils this week.
NCAAF · Thu (11/18) @ 7:35pm ET
|Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, NC|
Louisville Cardinals (5-5 SU, 5-5 ATS)
Louisville had a solid offense in 2020, averaging over 400 yards and around 30 points a game. But it could have been better had it not been one of the more turnover-prone teams in the nation with 24, 15 of which by Malik Cunningham.
This season has seen that number cut in half (12 through 10 games; zero in their last two). Much of that is due to Cunningham’s improvement. He’s thrown just five interceptions this season, and his only fumble was recovered by his team.
While the Cardinals offense has been productive all year, their problems have been on defense, especially in the fourth quarter. In all three conference losses, the Cardinals went into the final quarter with a lead only to see the defense surrender 21 points to Virginia and North Carolina State and 13 to Clemson.
Duke has a capable offense, so the Cardinals may be dancing with danger if the game is close heading into the fourth quarter. But if the offense can take advantage of Duke’s dreadful defense, Louisville may have nothing to worry about.
Duke Blue Devils (3-7 SU, 4-6 ATS)
After losing their season opener to Charlotte, things began to look up for the Blue Devils. They went on a three-game winning streak that saw them gain 433, 558, and 607 yards against North Carolina A&T, Northwestern, and Kansas, respectively, while averaging 42 points a game. However, the quality of that competition — an FCS team and two lackluster FBS programs — has to be considered.
While their offense thrived, the defense did not. It dominated North Carolina AT&T but gave up 417 yards to Northwestern and 530 to Kansas. Had they not won the turnover battle against Northwestern, five to three in a 30-23 win, there is no telling how that game could have turned out.
They were 3-1 when ACC play started, but then reality hit. In Duke’s six conference games, the offense has averaged 13.8 points and 351 yards a game.
There is no room for turnovers with that kind of production — which was something they struggled with last year when they turned the ball over 39 times. While this season has been better, they have turned the ball over 18 times (worst in the ACC). They are also one of the most penalized teams in the conference.
If their offensive struggles were not bad enough, the defense is doing worse. Their pass defense is 129th of the country’s 130 FCS teams. The run defense is not much better (108th). They are the worst scoring defense in the ACC, giving up 36.8 points a game.
Conference opponents have averaged 44 points per game.
It is hard to imagine a scenario where Louisville loses this game. As bad as Duke’s defense is, the Cardinals should be able to build a big enough lead to survive a fourth-quarter collapse. While it would take a collapse of epic proportions for Duke to win this game, covering a 20-point spread at home is another matter. If Louisville leaves the backdoor open, the Blue Devils offense is capable of busting through it for underdog bettors.