Saturday, November 21
Radio: Blue Devil IMG Sports Network
Duke in 2015: 6-4 (3-3 ACC)
Virginia in 2015: 3-7 (2-4 ACC)
PROBABLE - Thomas Sirk (QB)
QUESTIONABLE - Shaun Wilson (RB)
OUT FOR SEASON – Kelby Brown (LB), Bryon Fields (CB), Zach Morris (DT), Taariq Shabazz (DE), Cody Robinson (OG)
QUESTIONABLE - Richard Burney (TE), Ben Hogg (WR), LaChaston Smith (TB)
OUT - Zach Bradshaw (OLB), Mark Hall (OLB), Cory Jones (OLB), Divante Walker (CB), Connor Wingo-Reeves (FB)
One of the oldest rivalries in college football is continued Saturday, as Duke travels to Charlottesville to take on Virginia. The two teams first faced off in 1890, and have faced each other in every season since 1963; remarkably, the all-time series is tied at 33-33.
HOW DUKE CAN WIN
The Blue Devils will have to make some significant improvements to end their current three game losing skid.
It all starts on the defensive side of the ball, where Jeremy Cash and company have lost their mojo after an impressive start to the season. Duke has yielded 170 points in their past four games, with opponents converting nearly 54% on third down. Fortunately, the Cavaliers find themselves near the bottom of the ACC offensively, averaging less than 25 points and 366 yards of total offense per game. For a Duke defense that has struggled to force turnovers, they will need to find a way to add to Matt Johns' 14 interceptions on the season.
Offensively, there are yards to be had against a typically physical Virginia defense. The Cavaliers have been prone to giving up yards in bunches, and have struggled equally against the run (171 yards per game) and pass (243 yards per game). With even more question marks at wide receiver, expect to see the Blue Devils establish their running game early and often, hoping to open up plays for Max McCaffrey, Anthony Nash, and T.J. Rahming downfield.
While Ross Martin and Will Monday have been steady for much of this season, Coach Cutcliffe continues to challenge the special teams units to put together a more complete effort. Winning the field position battle would be a big boost Duke's struggling offense and defense.
HOW DUKE CAN LOSE
One could easily argue that these two teams would have quite similar records if they swapped schedules. Few teams have been challenged such as the Cavaliers this season, and when looking at results against common opponents, it's not surprising to see why Virginia is a slight favorite on Saturday. Both of these teams have found various ways to lose close games this season, and a hard-fought contest should be expected again this week. A critical penalty, turnover, or explosive play in the fourth quarter could easily be the difference between two Coastal Division rivals.
Virginia has quietly played some of their best football in recent weeks, losing some close contests within the ACC. TB Smoke Mizzell is the critical player for Virginia, as he averages over 100 yards of total offense per game, and is just as explosive in the passing game as on the ground. If Duke fails to contain Mizzell, the Wahoos will be rolling. QB Matt Johns is coming off one of his strongest games as a Cavalier, throwing for 4 touchdowns without an interception at Louisville.
Both teams find themselves near the bottom of the ACC in turnover margin - a trend they would both like to reverse. If the Blue Devils manage to lose both the turnover battle and third down, it will be another long Saturday for the Duke faithful.
WHY DUKE WILL WIN
Thomas Sirk is expected to play, and should have a favorable matchup against this Virginia defense. While the loss of Johnell Barnes and Terrence Alls will hurt, the Blue Devils will be more focused than ever to put together a balanced attack featuring their veteran playmakers - namely Sirk, Shaquille Powell, Jela Duncan, and Max McCaffrey. A strong effort from the Duke offensive line will pave the way for a number of second half scoring drives. Defensively, Jeremy Cash will again be the critical factor, finding ways to disrupt Johns and Mizzell, while bringing some swagger back to a wounded secondary.
When it comes down to it, Coach Cutcliffe just seems to have Virginia's number, and he'll improve to 7-1 against the Wahoos.
Duke 35, Virginia 23
Game Preview: Duke at Virginia