Duke vs. Virginia: What to Watch For

Max McCaffrey with the TD against NCCU / Duke Blue Devils / Photo by Chris Summerville

Max McCaffrey with the TD against NCCU / Duke Blue Devils / Photo by Chris Summerville

When: Saturday, November 21, 2015. 3:30 PM.

Where: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Virginia.

Broadcast: ESPN3

Line: Duke +2.5

Last Time: Duke 20, Virginia 13.  The Cavaliers came to Durham last season in what proved to be somewhat of a nail biter.  Duke never trailed in the game, but found themselves tied halfway through the fourth quarter before a Thomas Sirk jump-pass from the 3 yard line to David Reeves gave Duke the TD for the final margin.  The Duke defense continued their trend of bending but not breaking.  Matt Johns threw for 325 yards and a score, but was held to under 50% completion percentage.  Breon Borders and Deondre Singleton each deflected three passes.  Jeremy Cash had 11 total tackles, a pass deflected, and a forced fumble.  Jamison Crowder had 99 receiving yards on 8 catches.  Shaq Powell and Anthony Boone combined for 116 yards on 17 carries.  The win made Duke bowl eligible for the third consecutive season and was enough to see the Blue Devils rise into the Top 25 for the first time in the 2014 season.

What to Watch For:

How Good is Virginia?  The Cavaliers sit at 3-7 overall and 2-4 in the ACC.  Their hopes for a bowl game are over and their head coach may be on his way out.  But is Virginia really that bad?  The Cavs have played a brutal schedule.  A schedule that makes you think the AD didn’t even want to give Mike London a chance.  Outside of FCS William & Mary, the Cavaliers opened the season with back to back games against UCLA and Notre Dame.  After defeating William & Mary they hosted Boise State.  I can’t think of a more difficult non conference schedule played by any team this season.  Virginia gave Notre Dame everything they could handle, and had the game won before giving up a game winning 39 yard touchdown pass with just 0:12 remaining.  They hung with UCLA for a half and were completely destroyed by Boise St.  Compare this “trend” with their ACC results to date.  The Cavs lost close games to Pitt, Miami, and Louisville and won close games over Syracuse and Georgia Tech.  Virginia was tied at the half with soon to be Coastal Champion North Carolina before being shut out in the second half.  So who is this Virginia team?  Over the last few seasons they have been the worst team in the Coastal and one of the worst in the ACC, but have given Duke a tough game in each of the last two seasons.  Last year the game came down to the fourth quarter and in 2013 Virginia jumped out to a big lead over the Blue Devils before a remarkable second half comeback.  Who knows what to expect from the Cavaliers on Saturday?

QB1.  Thomas Sirk missed last week’s game against Pitt dealing with an upper body injury reportedly sustained against North Carolina.  Sirk was in full pads warming up before the game, but the coaches ultimately decided to rest him and give Parker Boehme his first career start.  Boehme’s first chance at extended playing time was a mixed bag, but for his first career start, overall it was a positive performance for the redshirt sophomore.  Boehme totaled 248 yards on 23 of 42 passing attempts.  He added one rushing touchdown and 80 yards on the ground, but the majority of those came on one long run in the first half.  Boehme probably should have been intercepted more than once, but showed decent accuracy overall and the ability to get the ball down the field.  The 42 passing attempts was probably a bit much for a young, inexperienced QB in their first start.  The game wasn’t out of reach until late in the third quarter so Duke had plenty of time to try and get the run game going.  Shaq Powell and Jela Duncan combined for only 10 carries in the game. Duke found themselves in several 3rd and long situations, forcing Boehme to throw more than preferred.  That is on the play caller.  When you have young players, especially an inexperienced QB, you have to be able to put them in position to succeed.  Boehme played with great effort and seemed to have a good knowledge of the offense, but just made some rookie mistakes.  There hasn’t been any indication yet as to how the coaches will proceed with the QB position for the remainder of the season or the current health of Thomas Sirk.  Sirk has been a great leader for this team, but the offense has been very inconsistent all season and hasn’t been able to stretch the field.  Part of the lack of explosive offense is due to the lack of proven receivers, but it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the coaches opted to give Boehme the reins for the last two regular season games to get a good look at him and to help determine the QB position going into next season.

2nd Half to Forget.  For all of the great moments of Duke Football over the last few seasons, the second half of the 2015 campaign has been one that the Blue Devils would like to erase from their memory.  This season clearly peaked with the 4 overtime victory on the road against Virginia Tech, but its been nothing but bad times since then.  The would have been comeback win over Miami would have generated a lot more momentum heading into the Coastal Division deciding stretch, but we all know what happened there.  The Blue Devils followed that up with an embarrassing blowout defeat at the hands of rival North Carolina.  And just last week Duke fell apart in the second half, losing to Pitt.  The defense has been exposed over the second half of the season and the offense hasn’t been able to do it’s part either.  The Blue Devils have not responded at all to the adversity they have faced this season and this week they were dealt another dose of it.  Leading wide receiver Johnell Barnes, linebacker Chris Holmes, and previously suspended receiver Terrance Alls were all dismissed from the team.  No official reason was given as far as what exactly triggered the dismissals, other than that the players were not upholding the standards and expectations of a Duke Football player.  Coach Cutcliffe and his staff hold everyone in the locker room to a high standard.  They expect high character and mental toughness.  The losses hurt from a depth and production standpoint, but also make you question the locker room environment surrounding this team.  Hopefully, the Blue Devils can rally around this moment and salvage the season.  Winning cures a lot of ills and would certainly help the program now.

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