BDN Previews Virginia at Duke

The Virginia Cavaliers (4-4, 1-3 ACC) travel to Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday to take on the Duke Blue Devils (2-6, 0-4 ACC) in an ACC Coastal Division matchup. The Blue Devils are looking to build momentum coming off a win in Annapolis, while the Cavaliers are riding a two-game winning streak after an impressive victory over the Miami Hurricanes. The game will kickoff at noon ET and will be televised on espn3.com; tickets are still available at GoDuke.com. The Blue Devils will be honoring former standout WR Clarkston Hines at halftime on his upcoming induction into the College Football Hall of Fame; many other Duke football alumni, including St. Louis Rams’ QB Thad Lewis, will also be in attendance. 

Duke in Week 9

The Blue Devils put together a near perfect first half of football in Annapolis last Saturday, jumping out to a 24-0 halftime lead against Navy. QB Sean Renfree returned to his early-season form, completing 17 of 18 first half passes for 180 yards. Duke scored on its first four possessions, starting with a 30 yard Will Snyderwine FG on the opening drive, and then adding three rushing touchdowns, one by freshman QB Brandon Connette and two by Renfree. The defense forced a fumble on Navy’s opening drive and then held the Midshipmen to just 67 yards of offense in the first half.  

The second half was a story of survival, as the Midshipmen began to move the ball through the air with little resistance from the Duke defense. QB Ricky Dobbs ended the day with 227 yards through the air and 83 yards on the ground, almost all of which came in the second half. He connected with his receivers for 2 second half touchdowns and added another on the ground to put Navy within 3 points in the closing minutes. On Navy’s final drive, a key tackle for a loss by Matt Daniels helped the Blue Devils’ defense force a turnover on downs and sealed the 34-31 victory. 

Virginia in Week 9

The Cavaliers jumped out to a big lead of their own last Saturday, taking a 24-0 lead early in the 4th quarter against Miami in Charlottesville. After knocking out QB Jacory Harris early in the game, the Cavaliers finished with 5 total interceptions, including two each for S Corey Mosley and CB Chase Minnifield. RB Keith Payne ran for 81 yards and 2 touchdowns, while QB Marc Verica threw for 176 yards and a touchdown. The Hurricanes did not go down without a fight, however; QB Stephen Morris led a furious 4th quarter comeback, scoring 19 points in the final 10 minutes. The rally fell short in the closing minutes as the Miami defense failed to get a needed stop, allowing Virginia to pick up two crucial first downs on their final drive of the game. The Cavaliers were able to run out the clock for a 24-19 upset victory. 

Analysis

In the standings, this is a matchup between the bottom two teams in the Coastal Division, but on the field, this is a compelling game. Duke and Virginia are two programs on the rise in the ACC, both looking to sustain winning streaks into November. Both teams are coming off their most impressive victories of the season, and the teams matchup well. Duke boasts the 2nd best passing offense in the conference, while Virginia features the conferences’ second best passing defense, led by standout CB Chase Minnifield. The two teams frequently go head-to-head on the recruiting trail, and much will be at stake on Saturday afternoon in Wallace Wade. 

This is not the same Virginia team that has fallen to Duke the last two seasons, and it will take a solid 60 minute effort for a Blue Devil victory. Virginia’s two-headed rushing attack leads their offense, featuring 6’3” 255 pound RB Keith Payne (69 yards per game, 12 touchdowns) and speedy sophomore Perry Jones (58.5 yards per game, 5.0 yards per carry). Fifth-year senior Marc Verica takes the snaps under center and enters the game 4th in the conference at 208 yards per game passing. Junior WR Kris Byrd has been Verica’s favorite target, ranking 3rd in the conference in receiving yards per game at 72. The Cavaliers, like the Blue Devils, have had some turnover problems of their own, having thrown 10 interceptions (5 in the red zone) and lost 6 fumbles on the season. After giving up 15 sacks in their first 5 games, the offensive line has allowed just 2 sacks in the past 3, which has opened things up for Verica and the running game. 

Defensively, Virginia has switched to a 4-3 defense from Al Groh’s 3-4 scheme, with mixed results. They rank second in the conference and 17th in the country in passing defense, but rank second to last in the conference and 111th in the country in rushing defense. Sophomore linebackers LaRoy Reynolds and Ausar Wolcott lead the team in tackles with 49 and 41, respectively, but it is the secondary that is the strength of this unit. CB Chase Minnifield leads the ACC in interceptions and is second in passes defended. Junior DE Cam Johnson anchors the defensive front and leads the team with 10.5 tackles for loss and 5 sacks. On special teams, Minnifield is a dangerous punt returner, and Raynard Horne has a kick return for a touchdown this year. Placekicker Robert Randolph missed his first 3 FG attempts of the season, but has connected on his last 6, and Jimmy Howell ranks fifth in the conference in punting. 

The keys to this game for Duke are:

    Defensive fundamentals: Duke has to stay disciplined on defense – make tackles and defend the ball. If Duke is unable to bring down Virginia’s running backs, particularly Payne, it will be a long day for the Blue Devil defense. After getting torched by Ricky Dobbs, the secondary will have to step up and make plays.
    Offensive line: Duke has several injuries along the offensive line, but will have to control the line of scrimmage to allow Renfree time to make accurate throws. If he is rushed, the Virginia secondary will take advantage.
    Special teams: In what may be a close game, mistakes on kick or punt coverage could swing the momentum. Will Snyderwine is having an impressive junior campaign and will have to continue to put points on the board for the Blue Devils. 

BDN Prediction

This is an old-fashioned conference matchup that should be won or lost in the trenches for Duke. Despite injuries along the offensive line, Duke will have to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball to compete with the Wahoos. If the Virginia backs are able to find running room, Duke will have a tough time slowing the Cavaliers offense. Virginia’s defense has been most vulnerable to the run, and Duke will need to have big days from Desmond Scott and Jay Hollingsworth to open things up for Sean Renfree and the passing game. The Blue Devils will have to put together their best 60 minute effort of the season to come away with their first ACC win in 2010. 

Duke 30

UVA 28