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Observations From Duke’s Loss to Virginia Tech

Credit:Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

It was another hard fought defeat for the Blue Devils against Virginia Tech.  The banged up Dukies battled through more injuries and gave themselves a chance to pull out the victory, but just couldn’t come up with enough to get their first ACC win of the season.  Shaun Wilson and Daniel Jones carried the load for Duke.  For the second game in a row Duke fell behind early but rebounded and stayed in the game until the end.  The Blue Devils have a short week as UNC comes to Durham on Thursday night for Duke’s home finale.

Key Observations

Daniel Jones continued to get better.  The freshman has overcome his early season turnover woes and has done a very good job of leading the Duke offense.  Jones played another clean game against Virginia Tech throwing for 148 yards and rushing for 99 yards and 2 touchdowns, most importantly he did not turn the ball over.  After throwing 8 interceptions in the first five game, Jones only has 1 in the last four.  He made almost all the correct reads executing the read option as well as he has all season.  Jones has continued to take hits in the backfield and running the football, but keeps getting up.  He has shown a tremendous level of toughness.

Shaun Wilson took over as the lead back and performed well.  For most of his career Wilson has been best on certain plays, becoming a big time threat in space.  Wilson has been forced into being a every down back with Jela Duncan out for the season.  Wilson carried the ball 21 times for 77 yards and a touchdown.  He didn’t duplicate the bruising runs of Duncan, but showed very good lateral quickness and made some shifty moves to generate yards between the tackles.  Wilson took a huge helmet to helmet hit late in the game on a targeting play.  He did not return to the game, but looked alert on the sideline.  Wilson will most likely have to be evaluated for a concussion before he can be cleared to play Thursday.  If Wilson is out that will leave Joe Ajeigbe as the starting running back.  Ajeigbe saw the most action of his career and made the most of his opportunity rushing for 52 yards on just 6 carries.  Ajeigbe’s solid play is important moving forward with running back depth taking such a hit.  He himself came up hobbling after breaking off a 28 yard run against the Hokies, but did return with his foot and ankle taped.  Duke will have some big decisions to make if both he and Wilson can’t play Thursday.

In an unexpected occurrence, TJ Rahming was absent from the box score.  Rahming was dressed and on the sideline, but had no impact on the game.  I don’t recall seeing him lineup for a play, but he was listed on the participation report.  Rahming wasn’t targeted once.  With Anthony Nash injured and Rahming not heard from, Jones and Co. made the most of what they had.  Chris Taylor led the way with 6 catches and Aaron Young led the team in receiving yards with 48.  Duke was able to lean on their running game and the read option for offense.

This was the second week in a row where the Duke defense just needed to make one more play and couldn’t.  Last week Duke took a late lead over Georgia Tech, but the defense couldn’t hold, giving up a touchdown.  Against Virginia Tech the Blue Devils needed one more stop to get the ball back with a chance to tie or win, but the Hokies were able to convert and eventually run out the clock. Outside of the first half against Georgia Tech the Duke defense has played fairly well, and for most of Saturday they did once again, but it just couldn’t get it done in the biggest moment.  The Blue Devils will have their toughest defensive matchup of the season on Thursday when North Carolina comes to town.