Duke vs. Virginia Tech: what worked, what needs work and what’s next

Posted by Laura Keeley on October 27, 2013 

Duke (6-2, 2-2 in the ACC)

Beat No. 16 Virginia Tech 13-10

Game story

side bar on the young secondary

postgame thoughts

What worked:

More than anything, the Blue Devils made timely plays when they needed them most.

“We have a team full of competitors,” quarterback Anthony Boone said. “My numbers weren’t great. But each person put in their own. That’s what it’s all about.”

Cornerback Ross Cockrell, who missed most of the second half with a right ankle injury, intercepted a Logan Thomas pass in the end zone. Safety Jeremy Cash and cornerback Garrett Patterson also picked off passes prior to the fourth quarter.

Running back Shaq Powell caught just one pass, but it went for 40 yards, the vast majority of those coming after the catch, on the day’s longest play for Duke.

Ross Martin, who struggled earlier in the year, hit a 51-yard and career-long 53-yard field goal. He’s the first FBS kicker to two 50-yard kicks in the same game this year.

David Reeves recovered a Devon Edwards fumble on the kickoff return after Virginia Tech cut the score to 13-10.

Kelby Brown, the National Defensive Player of the Week, picked off a Thomas pass on a short pass over the middle at the Duke 43-yard line with less than five minutes left on the clock.

Brandon Connette, who played just two snaps, was hit behind the line of scrimmage on fourth-and-1 from the Virginia Tech 44-yard line, but he spun out of two potential tackles and gained three yards with less than three minutes left in the game.

Overall, head coach David Cutcliffe counted 20 different players that contributed big plays in the game.

“The thing that most excited me was so many different players were involved in making timely, key plays, from fifth-year seniors to true freshmen to defensive players, offensive players,” Cutcliffe said. “As tough as things got offensively, when we had to do some things, we got them done.”

That’s the nicest thing that can be said about the offense. Defensively, though, the Blue Devils were stellar, holding the Hokies scoreless in the first half (the first time that’s happened to Virginia Tech this season). The linebacking corps, led by Brown and David Helton, had their best game as a unit in Cutcliffe’s six-year tenure.

And when things got particularly tough in the fourth quarter, with the Hokies pulling to within three, Boone bobbling snaps, taking sacks and committing intentional grounding penalties, just to highlight the biggest miscues, the Blue Devils didn’t fold.

“It wasn’t going to be about emotion, it wasn’t going to be about panic and it wasn’t going to be about whatever was being said,” Cutcliffe said. “It was about execution, it was about focus on our business, and the veteran team understood that.”

Cutcliffe credited last year’s experience in Blacksburg, blowing a 20-0 lead in a 41-20 loss, and the comeback two weekends ago at Virginia as reasons the Blue Devils were able to finish the game. They applied the knowledge from past lessons learned.

What needs work:

Normally, a starting quarterback completing less than 30 percent of his passes and throwing four interceptions is a sure way to lose a football game. Duke was able to win in spite of those numbers from Boone.

“The most important lesson learned from it is when things are tough is when you have to be your smartest and sometimes your most conservative,” Cutcliffe said. “You can’t put it on your shoulders. It’s not a sport where one guy can take the ball and dominate.”

What’s next:

Duke has a well-timed open date, which will give the players and coaches a few days to enjoy the win, relax and heal. The Blue Devils will practice for 90 minutes on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, concentrating mostly on Duke but a little on N.C. State, the Blue Devils’ next opponent, and then take the weekend off until regular Sunday night practice.

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