Duke notebook: Bend, don’t break defense continues to work

Cornerback Breon Borders had been preparing all week for Virginia to test him. His coaches had warned him it was coming after Georgia Tech beat him several times last week with their little-used passing offense in the fourth quarter.

“At the end of the game at Georgia Tech, they were coming at me, and I was still in option coverage mode,” Borders said. “I wasn’t in regular coverage mode, and they got the best of me. The coaches were preparing me all week. I worked on my technique all week. I was expecting them to come at me, and they did.”

Normally, Duke’s opponents have opted to avoid Borders and throw at cornerback Bryon Fields instead. But the Cavaliers went to Borders’s side several times, and, for the most part, he made the necessary plays.

Officially, Borders finished with three pass break-ups, and he was also in on tight coverage for a fourth pass break-up that was credited to Deondre Singleton. About the only notable mistake Borders made was on a 38-yard reception from Matt Johns to Miles Gooch that set up a field goal at the end of the first half.

Duke viewed the Cavaliers as a predominantly running team coming into the game, and stopping that facet of the offense was the main concern of the Blue Devils’ front seven. Duke did hold the Cavaliers to 140 rushing yards, 37 yards below their per game average this year.

Virginia collected 325 passing yards, a high for a Duke opponent. The Blue Devils entered the game with the nation’s 16th-best pass defense, yielding an average of 184.5 yards per game.

Make no mistake, though – the defense held back the Cavaliers (and kept them off the scoreboard), while the offense was sputtering.

“Our defense had been playing well all game, and we kept telling them, ‘We’re going to help y’all out, we’re going to help y’all out,’ ” left guard Takoby Cofield said. “‘Just stay the course.’ ”

What could have been: Twice, when the Blue Devils moved the ball inside the Virginia 10-yard line, they came away with field goals.

Duke had first-and-goal from the Cavaliers’ 4-yard line at the beginning of the second quarter – Shaun Wilson rushed for one yard and then two yards, and Joe Ajeigbe was stopped for no gain on third down. Ross Martin finished the drive with a 19-yard field goal to give Duke a 10-7 lead.

The other instance came on the opening drive of the third quarter – Duke had first-and-10 at the Virginia 11-yard line and advanced to the 7 on a first-down run by Shaquille Powell. Two straight incompletions followed.

“If we just score inside the 10-yard line, the touchdowns we should score, the game may not be close,” coach David Cutcliffe said.

Time is not always on your side: Virginia is 0-3 all-time against Duke when playing the Blue Devils after an open date. Cutcliffe seems to have the Cavaliers’ number – he has six wins in seven games against Virginia.