DURHAM After the game, sophomore cornerback Breon Borders was asked if Duke was the team to beat in the Coastal Division. It looks like it after the last two weeks, the reporter added.
"I would say yes," He said, slowing, thinking. "I would say yes. I feel like we came out slow against Miami. That was a game I feel we should have won. We come into every game expecting to win."
When asked what has changed since the Miami game—a sloppy 22-10 loss on Sept. 27—Borders didn’t have a firm answer for that, either. He did add this, though:
"At this point we’re used to winning. We haven’t lost much over the past two years."
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Should Duke win its remaining five games—at Pittsburgh, at Syracuse, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Wake Forest—the Blue Devils will repeat as Coastal Division champions. Last season, Duke rolled off eight straight victories to end the year, a run that was keyed by a come-from-behind, 35-22 win at Virginia. In Borders’s time years in Durham, the Blue Devils have gone 16-3 in the regular season.
So when it was 13-13 midway through the fourth quarter Saturday, the Blue Devils weren’t flustered. They have been in this situation plenty of times before (four fourth-quarter wins last year).
"It’s not really tense,"left tackle Takoby Cofield said of the players’ feel in the fourth. "Now it’s a thing of just execute, just stay with your technique, stay with your fundamentals, know the call, know what to do. Just go out there and do your job."
Duke leads the ACC in turnover differential (+8), fewest turnovers committed (five) and fewest sacks allowed (four). Odds are, the Blue Devils won’t beat themselves.
In order to keep them from Charlotte again, someone from the Coastal will have do just that.
Duke (6-1, 2-1 ACC)
Luke DeCock’s column on Shaquille Powell’s relationship with his little brother, who is undergoing cancer treatment
What worked: Duke’s bend-don’t-break defense was at it again. Entering the game, the Blue Devils were second in the ACC in scoring defense (15.5 points per game) but 10th in total defense (386.8 yards per game). That trend held again Saturday: Duke gave up 465 yards to the Cavaliers, but only 13 points. Virginia scored just three points in the second half, which came on their first drive of the third quarter. After that, the Cavaliers went punt, punt, punt, turnover on downs, end of game.
The defense also recorded a season-high 10 pass break-ups—the most since the Blue Devils recorded 11 in their 48-30 win over Miami last year (Nov. 16, 2013). Ross Cockrell had five by himself that day.
What needs work: Quarterback Anthony Boone started strong, delivering some bullets in the first half, which he finished 16-for-21 (76.2 percent) for 125 yards and a touchdown. In the second half, though, his accuracy issues returned. Boone went 6-for-16 (37.5 percent) for 51 yards.
"Anthony hit a lull," head coach David Cutcliffe said. "We missed some open people. What I went over there and said, I told him, ‘Anthony, I’ve seen you at your best, and I’ve seen you when this happens. I don’t want to make a big deal about it, but you’ve got to quit worrying about Virginia and play. Just play’"
Boone’s finest play of the day came on Duke’s penultimate drive—a perfectly read 23-yard option run. It helped that Shaquille Powell had been running so effectively on that drive, as the Cavaliers defenders jumped all over him on the fake handoff up the middle.
What’s next: An open date before a Nov. 1 trip to Pittsburgh.