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Duke vs. Virginia Tech: What to Watch For

Photo: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Photo: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

When:  Saturday, November 5, 2016.  3:30 PM.

Where:  Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, North Carolina

Television: ESPNU

Line:  Duke +11.5

Last Time: No. 23 Duke 45, Virginia Tech 43.  The Blue Devils outlasted the Hokies in a four overtime classic in Blacksburg last season. Thomas Sirk threw 4 touchdown passes and ran for over 100 yards in the win.  Duke took a 21-10 lead early in the third quarter on a Shaun Wilson 58 yard touchdown run, but couldn’t hold up the Hokies who tied the game at 24 with just over two minutes to go in regulation.  After the teams matched each other in scoring through the first three overtimes, Sirk found tight end Eric Schneider on the first play of the fourth extra period and ran in the two point conversion.  The Hokies couldn’t convert their two point conversion attempt following their school and Duke would move to 6-1 and secure bowl eligibility for the fourth consecutive year.

What to Watch For:

Another Game, Another Injury.  Injuries have mounted for the Blue Devils this season.  The Blue Devils lost their fifth starter and third senior captain this week.  Running back Jela Duncan suffered a ruptured achilles against Georgia Tech.  Duke’s depth has been tested this season, which is rarely a recipe for success, but even more so when the roster is as young as the Blue Devils are this year.  Shaun Wilson will see more time as the featured back, but he won’t shoulder the load alone.  Joe Ajeigbe has seen spot time this year and will see more reps in the last month of the season.  Ajeigbe doesn’t have break away speed, but can provide some of the between the tackles strength that Duncan brought.  Behind Wilson and Ajeigbe is walk on Zach Boden and converted quarterback Nico Pierre.  At this point it doesn’t seem likely for the staff to burn the red shirts for either Elijah Deveaux or Brittain Brown unless another injury made it absolutely necessary.  The run game won’t be the same without Duncan.  The staff will have to create to account for the loss.  While it won’t make fans happy we will most likely see a return of the quick screen passes to try and spread out opposing defenses.  The offensive line hasn’t been great at opening running lanes this season and without the strongest runner on the roster, those lanes will seem even smaller.

Big Plays.  The Duke defense had been a bright spot so far this season up until last week against Georgia Tech.  A team that runs the ball 75% of the time threw the ball all over the field against the Blue Devils.  To a certain degree Duke was just outsmarted by the coaching staff at Georgia Tech.  Duke was completely caught off guard by the number of passing plays and looked wildly unprepared, a rarity under Cutcliffe.  So was Duke’s performance in the first half of the season fool’s gold?  You only have to go back to last season when the Duke defense looked downright dominant in the first half of the season, but resembled hot butter in the second half.  Virginia Tech averages nearly 9 yards per pass.  Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges are a very tough matchup for Duke.  Both players have size and athletic ability.  Duke will have to get great production from their pass rush.  If Evans has time in the pocket it will be another long day for the Blue Devils.  Was last week an aberration or a sign of what to expect from the Duke defense in the last month of the season?