Game preview: Duke at Virginia Tech

Posted by Laura Keeley on October 26, 2013 

Duke at Virginia Tech

When: 3:30 p.m.

Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va.

Line: Virginia Tech by 13.5

TV/Radio: ESPNU/WDNC-620 AM, WKIX-102.9 FM

Time machine: 10/13/2012 Duke takes 20-0 lead in the first quarter but loses 41-20

Scouting No. 16 Virginia Tech (6-1, 3-0 in the ACC):

If you’re not an avid reader of the ask an opponent’s beat writer series, check out this week’s addition with the Roanoke Times’s Andy Bitter—you’ll learn plenty about Virginia Tech.

Some updates to pass along: the Hokies have a few notable injuries, including both of their starting corners, Sr. Kyle Fuller and Fr. Brandon Facyson. Fuller is questionable with a groin injury, and Facyson is doubtful with a concussion.

Virginia Tech is fortunate, as Sr. CB Antone Exum will make his season debut after rehabbing a torn ACL and bone fracture for the past eight months. Exum would have taken some snaps away from Facyson—now he’ll get virtually all of them.

Scouting Duke (5-2, 1-2):

In case you don’t hang on my every word, here’s a Q&A I did with Andy for his blog, which gives a basic overview of Duke on both sides of the ball.

The Blue Devils’ confidence is sky-high after last week’s win against Virginia, which featured a run of 35 straight points to end the game up 35-22. It was an important statement on Duke’s trail back to relevance, which is well on its way. Check out this piece on the changing culture in the program—hard to believe that nearly half of Duke’s scholarship players have never missed a bowl.

It’s college. Anything that happened more than 5-7 years ago is absolutely ancient history.

One trend of note this week: after spending the better part of the season publicly acknowledging the struggles of punter Will Monday, head coach David Cutcliffe switched his tune Thursday, pointing out Monday’s overall numbers, which paint a much rosier picture than what’s happened in reality (not all punts are of equal importance, and a shanked punt at a critical time matters far more than one that rolls 65 yards late in the fourth quarter of a non-competitive game).

Cutcliffe said they had made a few changes for Monday in practice this week, and all involved parties are excited to see how he plays Saturday. Field position will likely be key—the Blue Devils need to make the Virginia Tech offense go the long way.

Duke injury report:

PROBABLE

WR Johnell Barnes (hand)

LB Kyler Brown (leg)

CB Bryon Fields (upper body)

OUT

CB Jared Boyd (leg)

S Dwayne Norman (leg)

QB Thomas Sirk (leg)

OUT FOR SEASON

OT Tanner Stone (leg)

DT Jamal Wallace (leg)

Cutcliffe continues to be grateful that the Blue Devils have been fortunate in the injury department this year. Dwayne Norman is the only notable contributor that won’t be available this weekend. Ross Cockrell has spent most of his time working at corner this week, so expect to see Corbin McCarthy, Deondre Singleton and Jeremy Cash in the safety spots.

Key Player for the opposition:

QB Logan Thomas, Sr.

The way I see it, this game will depend upon which Logan Thomas shows up. If it’s the one that has played in the Hokies’ first three ACC games this year, completing 65 percent of his passes for 221 yards per game with no interceptions, then Virginia Tech will likely roll to a relatively easy victory. But if it’s the bad, turnover-prone Thomas that struggles with accuracy—he completed just 49 percent of his passes for 181 yards per game with six interceptions in nonconference games against Alabama, Western Carolina, Marshall and East Carolina—then Duke should have a chance.

That’s the type of maddening inconsistency that has been a hallmark of Thomas’s tenure in Blacksburg.

Key Matchup:

Duke’s offensive line vs. Virginia Tech’s defensive line

The Hokies lead the country with 27 sacks. Duke’s offensive line has played well this year, surrendering just nine sacks on the year and opening holes for a running game that ranks fifth in the ACC with an average of 183 yards per game. How well the line protects Anthony Boone will be key. At least Boone (or Brandon Connette) has the ability to be mobile and make plays with his feet—statue-like quarterbacks (like Pitt’s Tom Savage) have been ripped apart by the Hokies defense (he was sacked eight times).

Not only is Virginia Tech good on defense, but the unit runs deep, with six players recording at least three sacks. The fresh legs will add another level of difficulty for the offensive line

Key Mismatch:

Jamison Crowder vs. Virginia Tech’s punt return unit

Mismatch is probably too strong of word, but the Hokies do have one of the worst punt coverage units in the ACC, and Duke has one of the best punt returners in the country. Virginia Tech has given up seven punt returns that have gone for at least 20 yards, and Crowder ranks fifth nationally with an average of 17.47 yards per return. He also has those two punt return touchdowns, one each against N.C. Central and Pitt.

If Duke is going to compete in Blacksburg, it will probably take some sort of defensive or special teams score to keep it close. In addition to a poor performance by Thomas.

Key Numbers:

2—Virginia Tech’s national ranking for total defense (surrendering 256 yards per game)

3—Virginia Tech’s national ranking against the pass

6—Virginia Tech’s national ranking against the run

452—yards per game Duke averages on offense

Pulse Check:

Cutcliffe has won 10 Coastal Division games while coaching the Blue Devils. Five of those have come against Virginia. Just one has come against a team that finished with a winning record (2012 UNC). Duke hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent since 1994.

So what would a win against No. 16 Virginia Tech mean for the program?

“I'll put it this way,” Cutcliffe said on the ACC teleconference. “We do have an open date after beating them because we'd probably all be on Cloud 9. That's just as honest as I can be. You don't want to be that way. You don't want to be giddy, if you will, about any win. But I'm certain the squad and the program itself would feel that way.

As you know, it's a huge task. But I understand exactly what you're saying. I don't know if I believe in milestones, but it would be a huge step in the right direction for this program.”

My prediction:

Duke has put up points every week, even when trotting its third-string QB, who basically didn’t play the position last year, out onto the field. I think the Blue Devils will be able to score some points against the Hokies.

I also, however, think Virginia Tech is the best team in the Coastal Division (don’t talk to me about the rankings—I saw Miami in Chapel Hill for that awfully played Thursday night football game). Unless Logan Thomas beats himself, the Hokies formula of doing just enough on offense should be enough to get it done for them.

And, by the way, there are missed field goals baked into this final score.

Virginia Tech 28, Duke 14

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