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Duke hosts NC Central with Virginia Tech matchup looming

September 21, 2018
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Duke wide receiver T.J. Rahming, right, celebrates his touchdown with offensive tackle Jaylen Miller, left, during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Baylor, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Waco, Texas. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald via AP)

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Duke is off to another fast start, on the verge of cracking the national rankings and with a huge home game looming next week.

Nothing would kill that buzz quite like a loss to North Carolina Central.

The Blue Devils (3-0) vow to keep the focus on their crosstown counterparts from the FCS — and not a possible spot in the AP Top 25 or their upcoming visit from No. 13 Virginia Tech — on Saturday when the Eagles visit.

“We just want to go out and put on a show,” receiver T.J. Rahming said. “I know it’s kind of hard to focus on them, but I think if we come out and do what we’re supposed to do early, everyone can have confidence and feed off each other and keep that energy going.”

Duke is chasing its third 4-0 start in five years — it’s only happened nine times before that — and is coming off consecutive road victories against power-conference opponents . But the visit from N.C. Central might come at a tricky spot in the schedule, with that showdown with the Hokies coming up a week later.

The Eagles (1-1) haven’t exactly been competitive with the Blue Devils over the years. Duke has won all six meetings between the Durham-based schools with an average margin of victory of 45 points, and its 60 points in last year’s opener marked its highest-scoring game in 11 seasons under coach David Cutcliffe.

“I believe it’s a mindset thing ... playing these guys,” interim N.C. Central coach Granville Eastman said. “I think there’s a mind block or something there about playing Duke. Certainly a little disappointed in just the competition level of the outcomes.

“The performances can be better, certainly expect them to be better,” he added. “My challenge to the players is, for those of you guys who are from the Bull City, this is a great game. ... I would like to see us stick around and be in the game longer.”

GREAT STARTS

Until now, Duke hadn’t started 3-0 in consecutive years since 1987-88. The Blue Devils have opened with three straight wins just 10 times in program history, and in those seasons, only once have they finished with a losing record, going 5-6 in 1987.

BALL SECURITY

The Blue Devils have only one turnover this season — a strip sack in the opener against Army. Only one FBS school — LSU (0) — has fewer. Central is taking care of the ball, too, losing only one turnover in two games.

DEEP DEVILS

Here’s a sign of how Duke’s depth has improved: The Blue Devils are bringing the Atlantic Coast Conference’s lineman of the week off the bench. Ohio State transfer Jack Wohlabaugh started the Baylor game in place of injured Zach Harmon and performed well enough to earn a weekly award from the league. Harmon was listed as the starter on the depth chart for the N.C. Central game.

NCCU VS THE FBS

N.C. Central is winless in 10 meetings with Bowl Subdivision opponents since joining the Championship Subdivision in 2007. The Eagles were shut out in three of those games and haven’t scored more than 21 points against an FBS team.

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