Duke and Virginia probably haven’t been considered traditional rivals within the ACC, but make no mistake these two programs do not much care for each other.
David Cutcliffe said as much and his players concurred when asked this week about the Blue Devils pending match up with their ACC foe. Virginia doesn’t have any warm and fuzzy feelings for Duke either as the contest has seen some pointed words fly, including a contentious exchange between Cutcliffe and Cavalier head coach Mike London two years ago.
The bad blood isn’t new though it hasn’t shown itself in quite some time. The two schools shared some tense relationships back in the late 1980s when Steve Spurrier and George Welsh weren’t exchanging Christmas cards, but the rivalry essentially died down when the Blue Devils program went into a 20 plus year hibernation.
Enter Cutcliffe who, in his 5 season at the helm in Durham, has only lost to Virginia one time. That 4-1 record is the best against any regular opponent on the Blue Devils schedule. That reversal of fortune has rubbed some in the Cavaliers fan base the wrong way and London has seemingly taken the losing to lowly Duke personally.
This season the reversal of fortune appears to be continuing as Duke heads into the game at 4-2 (0-2 ACC) while Virginia, after a strong start with a win over BYU, has dropped three straight games and comes in at 2-4 (0-2 ACC).
It goes without saying that the game is a must win for both teams who are trying to get their first league win, but this games means one more year of bragging rights in this resurgent rivalry, as well as a potential turning point for both teams.
Duke is hoping that its defense, led by defensive end Kenny Anunike, can repeat its performance from a week ago where they held Navy to only 7 points and just over 300 yards of offense, a vast improvement over the 40 plus points they had averaged in the previous three games.
The Blue Devils will also hope that Anthony Boone’s stellar performance from last week, his first game in a month, wasn’t just a flash in the pan. No disrespect to Brandon Connette, who played respectably in Boone’s absence going 1-2 as the starter, but Boone clearly made the Duke offense much more potent.
One the flip side the Virginia defense has shown flashes of brilliance despite some struggles of late. They will look to put pressure on Boone and limit his access to his weapons, namely Jamison Crowder.
Offensively the Wahoos are hoping that quarterback David Watford can break out with a big game against a Duke defense that has been gashed both in the run game and through the air.
Duke can expect a maximum effort from the Cavaliers who are desperate for a win, and definitely have the motivation to beat the team that has beat them 4 out of the last 5 seasons. As a result this game, which many Duke fans are thinking is very winnable, is going to be a tough contest.
The Blue Devils value this game just as much as a win pulls them within one victory of bowl eligibility for the second straight year. Still, Duke can’t be complacent and has to come out and fight to take this game away from Virginia, especially with the game in Charlottesville in front of what should be a hostile crowd.
Duke will need to build a lead early and can’t afford to play from too far behind. If they can be efficient on offense and make some plays then they can win, but don’t expect it to be easy and the margin for error is definitely small.