The quarterback topic is running hot when it comes to Saturday night’s Atlantic Coast Conference game between visiting North Carolina State and No. 17 Duke in Durham, N.C.
The Wolfpack (4-2, 1-1) have broken in a new starter, while the Blue Devils (4-1, 1-0) are hoping for a clean bill of health for their QB1.
Duke has been off since a devastating Sept. 30 loss to Notre Dame, with Blue Devils quarterback Riley Leonard hurt in the final minute and his status in question because of a high ankle sprain.
“We have to prepare for him, first of all, until we find out he’s not playing,” North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren said. “We’ve heard a lot of different things.”
Duke coach Mike Elko said Leonard is day-to-day and made good strides in recovering during the team’s open week. But certainly the Blue Devils are preparing backup Henry Belin IV to be ready for action.
By Monday, Leonard was “moving around and throwing the ball,” Elko said. “We’ll see what happens this weekend. I do think the outlook for him is really positive for the rest of the season. We’ll see when we can get him back.”
This will be the first meeting between the teams since 2020 and the Wolfpack’s first visit to Duke’s campus since 2013.
“Haven’t been to Duke in a long time so look forward to playing them in their stadium,” Doeren said. “I know our guys are excited. They’re coming off a bye week, so we expect them to be pretty rested compared to us.”
The Blue Devils should be full of energy.
“When you get that (open) week after Week 5, you get healthy and kind of head into this backstretch of the season with a fresh team, and I think we were able to accomplish that,” Elko said.
North Carolina State’s MJ Morris made his first start of the season in last week’s 48-41 win against visiting Marshall, throwing for 265 yards and four touchdowns, with three interceptions.
“You don’t win a lot of games with three turnovers,” Doeren said. “Something we have to do better, particularly getting ready for this next game this week. I do expect him to grow and improve each week. The challenge changes each week as well, but the game does slow down the more you play it.”
Morris replaced graduate transfer Brennan Armstrong in the first-string spot, but the Wolfpack are still working to smooth out inconsistencies.
Duke’s defense has been solid, with its first-string unit not allowing a second-half touchdown until the Notre Dame game.
Doeren said the Blue Devils won’t be easy to push around.
“We have to do a great job of taking care of the football,” he said. “Protecting it, protecting the runners with blocking and the quarterback with protection. It’s going to be a great challenge. Their front does a really good job, their line stunts with their four-man rush packages, and different things that they do.”
The Wolfpack will be without safety Rakeim Ashford, who is out for the season after suffering a knee injury in the win against Marshall.