Virginia beats turnover-plagued Blue Devils 34-20

Duke quarterback Daniel Jones (17) is tackled by Virginia's Quin Blanding (3) in the second quarter at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Duke quarterback Daniel Jones (17) is tackled by Virginia's Quin Blanding (3) in the second quarter at Wallace Wade Stadium. cliddy@newsobserver.com

DURHAM Bronco Mendenhall now has his first ACC win as Virginia’s coach, and the Cavaliers finally have another road win.

The victory Saturday came at the expense of Duke’s Blue Devils, who were looking to follow up their big win at Notre Dame with another on homecoming at Wallace Wade Stadium.

But the Cavaliers, who had lost 17 straight on the road, made the right plays at the right times in a 34-20 victory. Quarterback Kurt Benkert, the transfer from East Carolina, made some precision throws, and the Virginia defense picked off five Daniel Jones passes and forced a fumble by Jones in the end zone that the Cavaliers recovered for a late score.

Benkert passed for 336 yards — 252 in the first half — and three touchdowns as the Cavaliers (2-3 overall) took a 27-13 lead after three quarters.

The Blue Devils pulled within 27-20 on a short TD run by Joseph Ajeigbe, then stopped Virginia on a fake punt. But Jones was sacked on a fourth-down play at the Virginia 28 with 8:24 left, and the Cavs stopped Duke again after a Ben Humphreys interception for the Devils (2-3).

The Jones fumble, on a sack in the end zone, clinched it for the Cavs.

How Duke lost

Duke’s defense talks a lot about minimizing “explosive” plays, but the Cavaliers burned the Blue Devils with some big ones.

Benkert, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound junior, is an accurate thrower, and the Cavaliers have enough receivers. Benkert’s 84-yard pass to wideout David Eldridge set up a score.

The Virginia defense has had some injuries and had more Saturday, but also had the five picks and the big stops in the fourth quarter — linebacker Micah Kiser with the fourth-down sack of Jones — when the Blue Devils had momentum.

Virginia punter Nicholas Conte had a 65-yard punt downed at the Duke 1 and late in the game had another downed at the 2 before the Jones fumble.

What it means

It’s hard to imagine how Virginia lost to Richmond by 17 points in its opener.

Losing at Oregon wasn’t a surprise. The Cavs also were beaten in a close 13-10 road game by Connecticut before outscoring Central Michigan 49-35 for Mendenhall’s first victory at Virginia.

The Cavaliers now have an ACC win while the Blue Devils are 0-2 in the ACC, with a tough road ahead in the Coastal Division.

Key stat

Five: The Cavaliers intercepted five Daniel Jones passes. Jones, a redshirt freshman, had three pickoffs on 143 passes in the first four games.

Chip Alexander: 919-829-8945, @ice_chip