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Duke vs. Virginia: What to Watch for

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

When: Saturday October 18, 2014. 12:30 pm

Where: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, North Carolina

Television: ACC Network, ESPN3

Line: Duke -3

All Time Series: Virginia leads 33-32

Last Time: Duke 35 Virginia 22.  The Cavaliers jumped out to a 22-0 lead before Duke began an improbable comeback.  Duke scored on a Boone to Crowder touchdown pass in the last minute of the first half and carried that momentum into the second half.  The Duke defense clamped down on Virginia and Duke finally took the lead on a 47 yard catch and run by Braxton Deaver.  Crowder finished the day with 113 receiving yards to go along with his touchdown grab and Braxton Deaver finished the day with 96 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns.  The 2nd half rally gave the Blue Devils their first ACC win of the 2013 season.

What to Watch For:

1.  Protecting the Backfield:  The Cavaliers have been tough up front. They are giving up an average of 3.0 rushing yards per carry and under 100 yards per game.  This will pose a huge challenge for the Duke offensive line and running backs.  The Blue Devils come into the game averaging just under 230 yards per game on the ground.  Josh Snead is coming off his best game of the season and Shaquille Powell should return this week after sitting out last week with a leg injury.  The Virginia defense has also had great success getting pressure on the quarterback.  They have 23 sacks on the year.  Eli Harold and Henry Coley have 6 each to lead the way for Virginia.  Meanwhile, Duke has only given up 4 sacks so far this season, tied for best in the ACC.  The battle between Duke’s offensive line and Virginia’s defensive line will go a long way in deciding this game.  If the offensive line can give Duke’s stable of running backs a little breathing room and give Anthony Boone enough time to see down the field consistently, Duke will have the edge.

2. Turnover Margin: Turnovers will play an important part in any and every game.  But its a key stat to watch for in this particular matchup.  The Virginia defense is on of the best in the country at forcing turnovers.  The Cavaliers have forced 19 turnovers this season.  That is certainly an impressive number, but Duke hasn’t been very turnover prone so far in 2014.  The Blue Devils have only turned it over 5 times through 6 games, the benefit of a very good offensive line, sure handed running backs, and a veteran quarterback.  The Duke offensive line must protect Anthony Boone on Saturday.  If they can give him time to find receivers, it should be a good day for Duke.  On the other side of the ball the Cavaliers haven’t been as impressive when it comes to turnovers.  They are on the opposite end of the spectrum nationally on offense, with 14 turnovers, including 9 interceptions.  The Duke defense has had a great start to the season, forcing 14 turnovers.  Duke has 8 interceptions in their last 4 games.  They forced 3 turnovers (2 interceptions and 1 fumble) last week against Georgia Tech.  In what should be a close game, one turnover can be the difference.

3. Homefield Advantage?:  Saturday’s game against Virginia will be the annual Homecoming game for Duke.  The Blue Devils are coming off of their best win of the season, a victory on the road against a ranked Georgia Tech team.  The win was Duke’s third over a ranked opponent in their last 13 games.  A win on Saturday would move the Blue Devils into a tie for first in the Coastal Division and give them head to head tiebreakers over Georgia Tech and Virginia.  Duke would be in the driver seat to successfully defend their Coastal Division crown with just four regular season games remaining.  Saturday’s game is the only home game in an eight week stretch for the Blue Devils.  All of this should translate into a huge, loud home crowd for the Blue Devils this weekend, right?  The announced attendance for Duke’s last home game, a September 20th matchup against Tulane, was just 20,197.  That is one of the smallest crowds during David Cutcliffe’s tenure and a pitiful number for a revived football program in a Power 5 conference.  There are certainly many factors that could have contributed to the poor attendance, the main being the early start time against yet another overmatched non conference opponent.  This weekend should be different.  Its a huge game for Duke football.  Fans should recognize this and show up in support.  Cutcliffe and his staff have built a football culture within the locker room and administration.  Its up to Duke fans to grow that culture into something bigger.  Showing up Saturday would be a good start.