Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon and the rest of the Blue Devils will look to complete the Virginia sweep this week in Blacksburg. Credit: CHRIS SEWARD
Duke at Virginia Tech
When: 12:30 p.m.
Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va.
Line: Virginia Tech by 10
TV/Radio: ACC Network/WRAL, WDNC-620 AM, WKIX-102.9 FM
What they’re saying nationally about Duke:
Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel: In years past, fans could count on Duke to put a scare into ACC foes for two or three quarters before wilting. However, when the Demon Deacons erased a 20-10 deficit late in the third quarter, the Blue Devils responded by forcing a pair of turnovers and reclaiming control. Against Virginia, Duke trailed 17-14 at halftime before outscoring the Cavaliers 28-0 in the second half. And this happened despite the fact that sophomore quarterback Anthony Boone, filling in for injured veteran Sean Renfree, was making his first career start (he threw for four touchdowns) and that an injury-ravaged defense was playing without five preseason starters.
ESPN’s Heather Dinich: Duke’s defense is better than Miami’s. Its record is better than Virginia Tech’s. And it’s closer to bowl eligibility than Georgia Tech.
What they’re saying nationally about Virginia Tech:
CBS Sports’ Shawn Krest: CBS Sports Shawn Crest: deep into his bag of tricks to keep the team from panic and despair as the Hokies see their preseason goals slipping away.
Dinich: North Carolina’s 48 points against the Hokies last week were the most Virginia Tech has ever allowed an ACC opponent. This is not what Virginia Tech fans are used to seeing from defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s groups. The Hokies will have a legitimate test against Duke, which has the No. 4 scoring offense in the ACC and leads the league with fewest sacks allowed.
Key Player for the opposition:
QB Logan Thomas
When discussing the Virginia Tech signal caller this week, the Duke players started with the obvious.
“He’s a big boy,” backup quarterback Anthony Boone said. “Big guy, impressive arm. Obviously he’s not scared to run because he’s like 260. I wouldn’t be scared to run either if I was that big.”
Thomas, a junior, is listed at 6-foot-6, 260 pounds. His frame and potential have drawn the attention of NFL scouts, and, despite his struggles this year, he is still projected as a potential first-round draft pick.
Thomas drew Duke head coach David Cutcliffe’s attention at the ACC’s preseason media day.
“He is a great-looking athlete. Wow, is he big,” said Cutcliffe, who also noted that Thomas was bigger than any other player at media day in Greensboro. “I don’t know if we have anyone big enough to tackle him.”
Thomas threw for a career-high 354 yards last week in a loss to North Carolina, going 26-for-49 passing with two touchdowns and an interception. Thomas has struggled with his accuracy at time this year, throwing seven interceptions in Virginia Tech’s last four games. Over that span, the Hokies are 1-3.
Virginia Tech LBs Bruce Taylor and Jack Tyler vs. Duke RBs Jela Duncan, Juwan Thompson and Josh Snead
The Hokies defense is fresh off a week in which they surrendered 267 rushing yards to North Carolina running back Gio Bernard, the highest total ever for an opponent against a Frank Beamer-coached team. Taylor and Tyler are the lone bright spots in what has otherwise been an epically disappointing unit. Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster said last week in Chapel Hill that Virginia Tech needs to blitz more, so look for Taylor and Tyler to crash the line and attempt to plug holes that running backs have found all season. Duke has had success running the ball of late, but its trio of backs has not face a defense with near this level of talent. Should the Blue Devils fail to establish the running game, perhaps that would give the Hokies the emotional spark they have been lacking thus far.
Virginia Tech RBs Michael Holmes and JC Coleman vs. Duke’s defensive line, including DE Kenny Anunike
While opposing running backs have set historic highs, Virginia Tech’s own group of running backs are setting new lows. For the first time since 2008, the Hokies are averaging fewer than four yards per rush and have yet to have a running back break the 100-yard barrier in a game this year. The only other time in the Frank Beamer era that the a Virginia Tech running back failed to post a 100-yard rushing game during a seven contest string was in 1989. The Hokies could tie that mark Satruday. Meanwhile, Duke’s defense ranks fifth in the ACC in run defense, surrendering an average of 130 yards per game.
Field goals Duke missed in last year’s 14-10 loss to then-No. 15 Virginia Tech
Straight seasons that Virginia Tech has won at least 10 games. That streak is in serious jeopardy as the Hokies would need to win out the regular season to finish 9-3 and then pick up a win in either the ACC championship game or a bowl game.
All-time win the Hokies have collected at Lane Stadium, which opened in 1964. Virginia Tech has gone 199-69-6 in that span, good for a .726 winning percentage
Duke players have been “chirping,” to use Cutcliffe’s word, about the possibility of clinching the school’s first bowl birth since 1994 all week long. At 5-1, the Blue Devils are off to their best start since that 1994 season, when they started 7-0.
“I’m not going to stop them,” Cutcliffe said of the bowl talk. “I told my wife that I don’t want to spoil a good party. That’s not the only reason you’re playing the game, but that’s just human nature. How are you going to fool that?”
Cutcliffe added that he didn’t want to hear any of that talk in the locker room in Blacksburg. Despite their recent struggles, Duke isn’t taking the Hokies lightly.
“At the end of the day, Virginia Tech is Virginia Tech,” cornerback Ross Cockrell said. “They are the standard in our division.”
“We’re not going to be fooled by how they’ve been struggling of late,” Conner Vernon said, echoing Cockrell. “We’re not going to be fooled by that at all. We know how good they are, and we know how hard it is to play up there in Blacksburg. It’s a real tough place to play. We’re just got to go up there next week and get the job done.”
Tweet of the week:
“Fall time means I live for Saturdays. Go Duke #beatVT” —K Ross Martin
ESPN’s Dinich: Virginia Tech 28, Duke 21
CBS Sports’ Sean Bielawski: Duke 31, Virginia Tech 27
Washington Post’s Mike Giannotto: Virginia Tech 31, Duke 21
Roanoke Times’ Andy Bitter: Virginia Tech 30, Duke 27
Duke has had a chance to earn victories against potentially good teams this year. First, it was FIU, a team that received preseason votes for the AP Poll. Next was Stanford (do recall, though, that there were doubts about the Cardinal’s legitimacy coming off that scare to San Jose State). Then there was Wake Forest, which was thought to have shown something by beating UNC. And, finally, it was Virginia, a team that played for the Coastal division crown in the final week of the season last year.
The common theme? Other than Stanford, it doesn’t appear that any of the above teams worthy of the term “good.” And Duke got pounded by Stanford in what has also been its only true road test of the season (the washed-out "crowd" at Wake Forest doesn't count).
Now, this week, just like all those other weeks, it appears like the Blue Devils have a shot to beat a “good” team. I’m not so sure, though, in retrospect that feeling will stand.
There is still, in my mind, a chance that Virginia Tech is a bad football team. The North Carolina game stands as exhibit A for backing up that claim. The Hokes can’t run. They can’t stop the run. And sometimes they can’t stop the pass either. And sometimes Logan Thomas throws the ball to the wrong team at inopportune times.
But…it’s still Virginia Tech. It’s still most of the same cast on defense that led the Hokies to the ACC Championship game last year. It’s still the quarterback that is projected as a possible first round pick as recently as this week. The Hokies didn’t get less slower, weaker and less athletic. They aren’t playing well, sure. But the potential to be much greater is still there.
This is a gut-check for Tech. It’s homecoming in Lane Stadium, and a loss to Duke would be considered an embarrassment for the proud fan base and program. The players know this, and they come out with more heart and fire than they’ve had all year. Thomas had a career day last week against UNC. On the same day, Duke's defense got lucky a few times when Virginia quarterback Phillip Sims missed open receivers, so the potential for a big day for the Hokies' passing attack is there. In the end, it will be too much for bowl-bound Duke to overcome.
Virginia Tech 31, Duke 27