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Duke vs. Virginia: What to Watch For

Credit:Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

When:  Saturday, October 1, 2016.  12:30 PM.

Where:  Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, North Carolina

Television: ACC Network, WatchESPN app

Line:  Duke -3.5

Last Time:  Duke 34, Virginia 42.  Duke was down 21-0 to the Cavaliers before a DeVon Edwards kickoff return for a touchdown got the Blue Devils on the board late in the first quarter of last season’s matchup.  Virginia quarterback Matt Johns passed for a career high of 344 yards.  TJ Rahming had his best career game to date catching 12 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown.  Duke and Virginia would trade scores through the third and fourth quarter before the Devils’ final rally.  Early offensive frustrations led the staff to turn to back Parker Boehme at quarterback.  After Boehme led 2 fourth quarter scoring drives the Blue Devils had one final chance to even the score, but Boehme’s fourth down pass attempt to Anthony Nash in the end zone was knocked away, preserving the Cavalier victory. The loss was Duke’s fourth in a row and snapped a three game winning streak against the Cavaliers.

What to Watch For:

Consistent Ground Attack.  The Blue Devils can attribute a lot of their success on offense against Notre Dame to their running game.  The Blue Devils were able to rack up 208 rushing yards against the Irish on 42 attempts.  With the offensive line getting more push up front Duke was able to make room for Shaun Wilson and Jela Duncan to make plays up the middle and on the edge, which played a big part in opening up the field for Daniel Jones and his receivers.  The Cavaliers haven’t been terrible against the run, but overall defensively they rank in the bottom half of the FBS.  Duke needs to try and establish the run early to control the ball and set up the offense to hit big plays down the field.  TJ Rahming was able to get open down the field consistently against Notre Dame and should be able to do the same against Virginia, provided Duke doesn’t let them leave the safeties back to cover the back end of the secondary.  The Cavaliers are giving up over 6 yards per play to opponents (101st nationally), according to TeamRankings.com.  The Duke offense really found a nice balanced attack last week and the blueprint going forward should be more of the same.

Replacing DeVon Edwards.  The Blue Devils secondary was dealt a huge blow when initial reports were confirmed that safety/kickoff return man DeVon Edwards’ Duke career was ended after a knee injury in the first half against Notre Dame.  Edwards was arguably Duke’s best player and simply replacing him with another name on the depth chart won’t be enough.  Shaun Wilson will takeover primary kickoff return duties.  In all likelihood he will be joined by Joe Ajeigbe.  Ajeigbe is an excellent blocker and his experience at running back is enough for him to be able to handle return duties should he field the kickoff.  Wilson has proven himself as a dangerous kickoff return man, taking two kicks for touchdowns over the last five games, stretching back to last season.  It will take more of a group effort to replace Edwards in the secondary.  Alonzo Saxton will slide into the starting role.  Saxton played well against Notre Dame and has a good amount of playing experience already.  Jordan Hayes has already seen plenty of time this year and could get even more snaps now.  True freshman Dylan Singleton will probably see more time.  Safety Phillip Carter is back from suspension and should find a role, as well.  Virginia may try and attack the position vacated by Edwards early to see how Duke responds.

Fresh Start.  After back to back disappointing losses to Wake Forest and Northwestern many were ready to throw in the towel on the 2016 season.  The upset win in South Bend has excited the fanbase and at 2-2 with a win over a legendary program like Notre Dame the Blue Devils have a whole new outlook on the season.  The schedule doesn’t get any easier moving forward, but perhaps the win last Saturday showed this team how good they can be when they execute at a consistent level.  Duke is 0-1 in conference, but with that one loss coming to an Atlantic Division opponent, the Blue Devils control their own destiny in the Coastal.  Going undefeated from this point forward is highly unlikely, but Louisville is the only opponent at this point that seems to be in a different tier talent wise.  It all starts this weekend against Virginia.  With a win Duke can move ahead to the next week with a conference win and one step closer to a fifth straight bowl game.