Duke lost only 3 defensive starters from the 2018 squad that went 8-5 and won the Walk-On’s Independence Bowl. Of their 24 total lettermen lost from the 2018 season, only 10 were on defensive side of the ball: linebackers Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys and cornerback Brandon Feamster. Giles-Harris was the leading tackler in each of the previous three seasons, Humphreys was another leading tackler for the Blue Devils, and Feamster transferred to the Richmond Spiders. The Blue Devils are returning 8 defensive starters from the 2018 season.
It is the second season for co-defensive coordinators Ben Albert and Matt Guerrieri. In season one for the pair, they led a defense that ranked 46thin the 2018 S&P+ ratings with a defensive S&P+ rating of 25.0. The 2018 Blue Devils finished the season giving up an average of 419 yards per game, 197 through the air and 222 on the ground— a pretty solid pass defense but struggled a little bit on the ground. They allowed 27.4 points per game. This season, the Blue Devils projected defensive S&P+ rating is 23.3, which comes in ranking 38th in the nation. Overall, Duke will have an experienced defense that should be tough in the ACC.
Duke’s returning linebacker with the most playing experience, Koby Quansah, recently had surgery to stabilize a fractured right thumb. He is currently listed as out indefinitely but has not been ruled out for the game this week as of yet. If Quansah is unable to play, his replacement will likely be Redshirt Junior Xander Gagnon. Because of Duke playing a 4-2-5 defensive system, an injured linebacker would mean that only one projected starting linebacker would be playing and that another guy would have to step up in the middle. Losing the 6-1, 230-pound senior could be tough for the Blue Devils to overcome.
The defensive front for the Blue Devils are the most experienced part of their team, returning all four starters from last season. Defensive ends Victor Dimukeje and Tre Hornbuckle and defensive tackles Trevon McSwain and Edgar Cerenord all have over 1,000 snaps played in their career. In other words, Duke will have a tough defensive line, particularly their pass rush.
The Blue Devils secondary is returning 4 starters from the 2018 campaign, led by returning starter at Bandit, Marquis Waters. Another name to look out for in the secondary is Jim Thorpe Award candidate Michael Carter II. He started 11 games last season for Duke and is projected to start at the Strike safety spot.
There aren’t many teams that match up great with Alabama, and the Blue Devils aren’t an exception. There is a reason that the Crimson Tide are a five-touchdown favorite in this game. ESPN’s football power index gives Alabama a 96.3% chance of beating the Blue Devils. With Alabama returning so many key guys on an offense that was one of the best of Coach Saban’s career, the Crimson Tide offense will put up a lot of points on the Duke defense. Expect Heisman candidate Tua Tagovailoa and his receiving corps to have a good day on Saturday. Also, expect the Crimson Tide to run the football more than what we were used to seeing last season to exploit Duke’s leaky run defense that’s missing its top tackler from last season.