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Duke vs. Virginia Preview

Photo by Chris Summerville

When: Saturday, October 7, 2017. 12:20 pm

Where: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Virginia

Television: ACC Network

Line: Duke +2.5

Last Time: Duke 20, Virginia 34.  Last season the Cavaliers came to Durham and intercepted Daniel Jones 5 times on their way to victory.  Duke came into the game with some momentum after upsetting Notre Dame, but it all disappeared quickly that afternoon.  The Blue Devils outpaced Virginia in most statistical categories, including total yards, first downs, and penalties, but couldn’t get out of their own way.  Jones lost a fumble in addition to the 5 interceptions.  Jones still ended up topping 300 passing yards, as Anthony Nash, Quay Chambers, and TJ Rahming all had strong games.  The Blue Devils never could get much of a run game going, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry as a team.  Duke pulled within 7 points early in the fourth quarter, both teams traded a couple possessions before Daniel Jones was sacked at the goal line and fumbled, a Cavalier recovery for a touchdown effectively ended the game.

Game Preview: Duke is trying to get back on track after getting handled by Miami last Friday, while Virginia is coming off a big win on the road over Boise State before entering their bye week.  Virginia’s upset win over Boise State puts them at 3-1 on the year, with their lone loss coming at home against Indiana.  The Cavaliers have also defeated William & Mary and UConn.  Virginia has won the last 2 matchups in the series after 3 straight wins by Duke between the two teams.

Until the Duke offense can get over their issues in the passing game, which may not be possible, the Blue Devils must lean more on their talented running backs.  Both Shaun Wilson and Brittain Brown are averaging over 6 yards per carry this season, but are combining to average just 26 carries per game.  The 2 backs only accounted for 19 carries in the loss to Miami last week when they were clearly the only successful part of the Duke offense.  Cutcliffe has favored a pass heavy offense his entire career, that much is obvious, but leaning on the running game, which has been very good so far this year, is only going to help open up the field for Daniel Jones and his receivers.  Duke’s wide receivers have struggled to separate from defenders this year and the offensive line, while opening up holes for the run game, has not been great at giving Jones time to make a play.  By leaning on the run game Duke can force the UVA secondary to play a little closer to the line of scrimmage, perhaps giving receivers more of an opportunity to beat the defenders down the field and also create some opening in the middle of the field by forcing linebackers to focus on the running backs.  Running on the Cavaliers won’t be easy, though.  So far this season Virginia is only giving up an average of 3.6 yards per carry.  Boise State only managed 30 yards on 24 carries, however in the previous game UConn tallied 207 yards on 41 carries against the Cavaliers.  Linebacker Micah Kiser is the leader for the UVA defense, the future pro will be waiting for Wilson and Brown, so Duke may have to get creative schematically to try and avoid him.

On offense the Cavaliers are led by QB Kurt Benkert.  Benkert is averaging over 300 passing yards per game, completing over 66% of his passes, and has an impressive touchdown to interception ratio of 10:1.  Benkert is not very mobile, so if Duke is able to get pressure on the quarterback the way they have so far this season they could cause some trouble for the Virginia offense.  However, iff that pressure isn’t able to get in the backfield quick enough, then the Duke secondary could be in trouble.  Duke continued their struggles defending big plays against Miami.  As a whole the defense was great once again, but a game can swing on just one big play, and Miami had a few.  If the defense isn’t able to generate pressure, it may be to their benefit to move into zone coverages to help prevent deep passing plays.