Tudor: Devils put a fright into Hokies, ACC

ctudor@newsobserver.comOctober 29, 2011 

— It wasn’t just Virginia Tech that Duke’s football team scared half to death Saturday in Wade Stadium.

The Blue Devils also threw a fright into the ACC bean-counting department.

The Hokies (8-1 overall, 4-1 ACC) somehow survived, 14-10, when Duke placekicker Will Snyderwine missed field goal attempts of 38 and 29 yards.

But the Blue Devils (3-5, 1-3) outplayed Virginia Tech most of the afternoon. And had the score reflected the two performances, the ACC’s hopes of landing two Bowl Championship Series slots this season would gone been kaput.

The day began with the league hoping that the 15th-ranked Hokies and 6th-ranked Clemson (8-0 entering a late game at Georgia Tech) would stay on track to become the first two ACC teams in a single season to land BCS bids. That would add up to a BCS payday of at least $20 million for the conference.

A Duke upset quickly would have turned potential dollars into dimes.

“There’s not that much difference between the top and bottom of this league,’’ relieved Hokie coach Frank Beamer said.

There certainly wasn’t in this case.

Even if you discount Snyderwine’s decisive misses, Duke running backs Desmond Scott and Juwan Thompson averaged 7.4 yards per carry on 14 combined rushes while quarterbacks Sean Renfree and Anthony Boone passed for 226 yards despite three Renfree turnovers.

Snyderwine, last season’s all-conference kicker, immediately accepted all blame for the loss. The red-shirt senior had a horrible afternoon, but Duke was so frequently in position to score touchdowns that his teammates wouldn’t hear of such culpability.

“No way it was Will’s fault,” said wide receiver Connor Vernon, who had four catches for 88 yards while playing much of the game with a bloodied, possibly broken nose.

“It shouldn’t have come down to field goals. We were in position to put the game away and didn’t make those one or two plays we needed.”

The most stunning aspect of it was the success Duke’s offensive line and defensive front managed against a Hokie team known for physical play and line of scrimmage dominance.

“We’re lot better team that most people think, because we still don’t win these close games,” said Duke defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento, a red-shirt sophomore.

“But we’ve been a tough team for a while now. We came into this game expecting to go head to head with them. We know now that we can play with everybody else.”

It’s obvious that Duke is much improved over, say, the past 15 or so years. A week after the Blue Devils could have defeated Wake Forest, they should have whipped Virginia Tech.

With games remaining against Miami, Virginia, Georgia Tech and North Carolina, the Devils will not be favored to win again this season.

But during a long stretch Saturday when senior defensive lineman Charlie Hatcher was sidelined by an injury, Duke’s defensive front consisted entirely of freshmen and sophomores and played the Hokies to a standstill.

It all boiled down to what almost was an expensive wake-up call for the entire ACC.

Tudor: 919-829-8946

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