Another ACC Coastal squad with a new head coach this fall, the Duke Blue Devils enter 2022 with plenty of question marks and a roster picked last in the division preseason poll. Former defensive coordinator at Wake Forest, Notre Dame, and Texas A&M,Mike Elko has now taken over the reins in Durham with the hopes of turning around a program that has been in the dumps in recent years.
Duke’s 2021 season got off to a poor start and never truly got back on track. Losing to Charlotte in game one, 31-28, set the tone for a campaign to forget for Blue Devils fans (of which, for football, there are few). The team did proceed to pull off three straight wins over North Carolina A&T, Northwestern, and Kansas.
But, then, ACC play started and the Devils from Durham went 0-8 the rest of the way including a horrific 48-0 shellacking at the hands of your Virginia Cavaliers.
The team was led by running back Mataeo Durant who is now gone and is now trying to make it in the NFL. Durant set the school’s record for single-season rushing with 1,241 yards on the season. Meanwhile quarterback Gunnar Holmberg and leading receiver Jake Bobo have each hit the transfer portal.
While the offense had Durant to rely on in 2021, the Duke defense was practically Swiss cheese will how many different holes opposing offenses were able to create both on the ground and through the air. Elko’s arrival will bring a defensive reset that will need to fully reboot that side of the ball for the Blue Devils to make realistic improvement from 2021.
Key returners: QB Riley Leonard, QB Jordan Moore, WR Jalon Calhoun, LT Graham Burton, RG Jacob Monk, RT John Gelotte, DT DeWayne Carter, LB Shaka Heyward, S Jaylen Stinson
Key departures: QB Gunnar Holmberg, WR Jake Bobo, RB Mataeo Durant, S Lummie Young IV, S Jalen Alexander
Key new faces: HC Mike Elko, OG Andre Harris (Arkansas State), OT Chance Lytle (Colorado)
In their first season with Elko at the helm, there are plenty of questions on either side of the ball for the Blue Devils. Sophomore quarterbacks Leonard and Moore are in competition for the starting job but could likely each play a part in the Duke offense with Leonard more talented as a passer and Moore better as a runner.
Bobo’s departure weakens the team’s receiving corps, but Jalon Calhoun should step into the #1 role fairly well with a few other guys including Eli Pancoli and Darrell Harding Jr. in the mix for targets.
The offensive line should be the strength of the team with a number of key returners filling starting spots and a few transfers adding depth. Among the running backs, Jordan Waters is a name to watch as the second leading back last season as he now enters his junior season with the opportunity to step into the huge shoes of Durant.
Defensively, the secondary is similarly inexperienced as UVA’s is heading into 2022 with a few returning veterans — safety Jaylen Stinson most notably — but with the necessity of young players stepping up to ideally out-perform last year’s veterans. There are a couple veterans coming back among the defensive line and linebackers with leading tackler Shaka Heyward and Duke’s top pass-rusher DeWayne Carter back as a defensive tackle.
Altogether, there’s near to no doubt that, even with Elko providing a new face of the program, Duke will be at the bottom of the Coastal. The question will be whether young players can establish themselves and if Elko can start to turn the tides for the future.
UVA’s all-time record vs. Duke: 40-33
Last meeting: October 16, 2021 — Virginia 48 - Duke 0
Ah what a stomping that was. Brennan Armstrong threw for 346 yards and a pair of scores before barely playing in the second half. Meanwhile, the UVA run game had one of its few impressive showings from last season with 164 yards coming on the ground. Devin Darrington in particular had a 34-yard run for a touchdown while Armstrong, Keytaon Thompson, and Ronnie Walker Jr. each added six points via the run game.
On the other side of the field, the Duke offense genuinely struggled against what, for most of the rest of the season, was a paper thin Wahoo defense as UVA shut out the Blue Devils and took a much needed big win in Charlottesville.