By AARON BEARD AP Sports Writer
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Mataeo Durant has gone from being part of Duke’s rushing tandem to a lead back tied for the national lead in total touchdowns.
The Blue Devils (2-1) host Kansas on Saturday in a second straight matchup against a power-conference opponent, following last weekend’s win against Northwestern. And the 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior has reached the end zone multiple times in every game so far, both with explosive long gainers and in short-yardage work as a finisher.
“Just being a football player, you always want to get the ball in those pivotal positions,” Durant said. “I pride myself on taking advantage of those red-zone possessions where I get the ball, and just trying to make the most of those opportunities when they’re presented toward me.”
Durant opened with a program-record 255 yards on the ground in a loss to Charlotte, and is averaging an Atlantic Coast Conference-best 132.7 yards rushing.
He has run for seven touchdowns – including runs of 53 and 59 yards – and also has a TD catch, tying him with Marshall freshman Rasheen Ali for most total TDs in the Bowl Subdivision ranks entering the week.
A year ago, Durant ran for a team-best 654 yards and six touchdowns while splitting work with departed senior Deon Jackson.
“He’s physically better than he’s been,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “Yeah, I may pray that he stays healthy and see what a season can turn out to be like for him.”
Durant is set up to succeed again against one of the nation’s worst run defenses.
The Jayhawks (1-2) rank 122nd out of 130 FBS teams by allowing 225.3 yards rushing per game. That comes after surrendering 215 yards and four touchdowns in a loss at Coastal Carolina, followed by 307 yards and four more scores in last week’s loss to Baylor.
“There’s continued progress,” first-year Kansas coach Lance Leipold said. “It’s not all showing up on the scoreboard or on the statsheet right now. I still think we’re finding out what we can do offensively. … Defensively we need to tackle better, we need to be more physical.”
Some other things to know about Saturday’s Kansas-Duke game:
Duke committed an FBS-worst 39 turnovers last year as probably the biggest cause behind a two-win season. They had only one notable turnover through two games – quarterback Gunnar Holmberg’s goal-line fumble while trying to run it in in the opener against Charlotte – but had three turnovers last week.
Two were lost fumbles by Durant, one helping Northwestern score a second quick touchdown after trailing 30-7 at halftime.
Kansas will have a different depth chart in the backfield with running back Velton Gardner entering the transfer portal.
Gardner led the Jayhawks in rushing last year and had started each game this year, though he had seen his workload drop since the opener. Quarterback Jason Bean leads the team with 216 yards rushing, while freshman Devin Neal (74 yards on 22 carries) is atop the depth chart.
Duke has tallied 1,571 total yards for the first three games, marking the most for the program through three games since 1988 (1,580). Duke has cracked the 500-yard mark twice, first with 580 yards in the Charlotte loss and last week with 558 in the Northwestern win.
KANSAS VISITING ACC TERRITORY
Kansas won its last road game against an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent, beating Boston College 48-24 two years ago during a three-win season under former coach Les Miles. Before that, Kansas hadn’t played an ACC team on the road since a 41-3 loss to Duke in September 2014.
DUKE VS. THE BIG 12
Duke has won three straight games against Big 12 competition.
The Blue Devils lost 44-16 to a nationally ranked Kansas team on the road in September 2009 during Cutcliffe’s second season. But they beat Kansas in 2014 before taking both games in a home-and-home set with Baylor in 2017 (34-20 at home) and 2018 (40-27 on the road).
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