Erich Schneider was on the field for Duke’s overtime victory at Virginia Tech a year ago.
Shoot, he caught the game-tying touchdown.
So when he says, “We’re expecting to be able to move the ball pretty well. Our offense has improved a lot,” as the Blue Devils prepare to host No. 23 Virginia Tech Saturday, the redshirt senior tight end knows what he’s talking about.
Looking to avoid a three-game losing streak amid its toughest stretch of football, Duke (3-5, 0-4 ACC) will take the field this week without a key player from last year’s 45-43 win: Thomas Sirk.
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The redshirt senior quarterback ran in the game-winning two-point conversion in the four overtime win in Blacksburg, Va. last season . He suffered a partial tear to his left Achilles in August, missing this season and ending his career at Duke.
The guy who took his place will perhaps face his most difficult test to date, as the Hokies (6-2, 4-1) come to Durham with the ACC’s fourth-best overall defense (No. 15 national ranking).
Daniel Jones, a redshirt freshman, has thrown for 1,889 passing yards with a 62.5 completion percentage. With nine interceptions and a few hard lumps, he’s been on both ends of the spectrum this year as the next challenge awaits.
He had his best rushing game of the season against Georgia Tech last week, gaining a career-high 73 yards on 10 carries. Virginia Tech, the ACC’s No. 5 rushing defense, has allowed 3.2 yards per attempt.
“It depends on what’s working,” Jones said about whether or not he’ll run the ball as much Saturday. “Certainly, we have that ability as an offense if we need it. We’re ready for whatever’s working.”
We’re expecting to be able to move the ball pretty well. Our offense has improved a lot.
Though Duke defeated Virginia Tech in two of the series’ last three games, the Hokies have the advantage in Durham. Duke hasn’t beaten them there since 1981.
Stakes are high for both teams. Duke wants bowl eligibility, and Virginia Tech wants to maintain control of the Coastal. In coach Justin Fuente’s first year, the Hokies have the tiebreaker advantage against UNC (6-2, 4-1) and have already qualified for the postseason for an NCAA-best 24th straight time after beating Pitt on Oct. 27.
Virginia Tech is undefeated in Coastal play, and Duke is still seeking it’s first ACC victory.
“Virginia Tech’s very difficult to defend,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “(Quarterback Jerod Evans is) a really big, strong guy. He’s playing at a high level. He can run it, he can throw it. He’s got a strong arm.”
Evans is first in the ACC with a 166 pass efficiency rating (141-226-2) and fifth in total offense. The junior accounts for 307.6 yards a game and has thrown 21 touchdowns.
Jones supplies 270.6 total yards a game. Coupled with a strong individual running session at Georgia Tech on Oct. 29, Jones also utilized his tight ends that day.
“It’s just part of what we felt like we had to do for losing Anthony Nash,” Cutcliffe said. Nash, a redshirt senior wide receiver, broke his clavicle against Louisville on Oct. 14.
Schneider caught three passes for 50 yards in Atlanta, and redshirt sophomore tight end Daniel Helm was 6-for-72 with two touchdowns.
“We had some plays designed for us, because we knew there would be holes open for us down the field,” Schneider said.
Tech is first in the ACC’s third-down defense (25.2 percent) and second in pass defense efficiency. It has a 107.8 rating in that category behind only Clemson’s 95. Tech junior defensive back Greg Stroman tops the ACC’s passes defended list with 11, tied for first with Duke’s Breon Borders.
“Those games have come down to the wire the last three times we played them,” said Duke redshirt senior defensive tackle A.J. Wolf, the last captain standing after three others went down with season-ending injuries. “They definitely have some new players, some new faces. The blocking schemes are a little different for the most part. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before throughout the season. After all these weeks of playing triple-option, it’s back to just playing hard-nose football in the trenches.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan
Virginia Tech at Duke
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham