Make no mistake that Lane Stadium is one of the toughest places to play in America and Frank Beamers team while just 3-4 overall is a dangerous opponent. Why? Well, the Hokies have played one of the nations toughest schedules to date and they are getting healthier.
The Hokies will be hell-bent on evening their record up while chasing down bowl eligibility. Virginia Tech announced Monday that Michael Brewer would return as its starting QB for the contest with the Blue Devils. Brewer is the Hokies leader and after suffering a collarbone injury earlier this season he is ready to take the reigns.
Virginia Tech has dominated the series with Duke since joining the ACC, but a different era is starting to emerge. Duke will bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive season with their next victory. David Cutcliffe and his staff are still hungry and a win in Blacksburg is of the utmost importance to hang with North Carolina and Pitt for the Coastal Division lead.
Duke will need to throw the ball successfully in that it's the only thing that might keep the Hokies from stacking the defensive front. For that matter, it will be as important to move the ball successfully on the ground, so a balanced attack will be vital to come away with a win.
The Blue Devils defense has been stingy to date, but they haven't faced a lot of opponents who can throw the ball well. This weekend will test a unit that ranks amongst the nations best and it will be interesting to see the results against a balanced attack.
But perhaps the most important area of success will be special teams. Duke has been great on many occasions riding the leg of Ross Martin who is having an All American like season. But the staff remembers Northwestern returning the second half kickoff for a touchdown, and that drastically altered the game in their only loss. Breakdowns simply cannot happen when on paper the teams are pretty evenly matched if either team is to gain a win. And let's not forget that the Hokies have long been known for making big plays with their special teams.
I think the outcome of this game will hinge on special teams play. I also feel that it is vital to get off to a good start and not play from behind for either team. While everything seems to point to a grinder of a game, this contest could hinge on big offensive plays. With that said, Thomas Sirk needs to iron out some of his deep throws to help in that department when they do take some shots.
Duke comes into the game a 2.5 point underdog and a loss would knock them right out of the Top 25. This will perhaps be motivating factor. Win or lose, Duke Football is more than just a little relevant again under David Cutcliffe. The Blue Devils are a true contender but in a tight Coastal Division race, one stumble can be the difference in heading to Charlotte with a chance to make some history or having to earn respect all over again.
HOW DUKE CAN LOSE
Turnovers. As has been mentioned above, mistakes must be at a minimum in this game. Coming out flat after bye week and getting punched in the mouth would not bode well.
HOW DUKE CAN WIN
Solid special teams play and move the ball effectively through the air against what is normally man to man coverage for Virginia Tech who loves to stop the run. Remain focused in a game that may well come down to the last play of the game.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This will be a tough, hard-fought game right down to the wire. Virginia Tech is playing for Hokie Pride and Duke is playing for their hopes of at trip to Charlotte for the ACC title game to stay alive. In order for this to happen, they need a win in Blackburg. The pick here is -
DUKE 23 VIRGINIA TECH 20