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Duke rides a 4-game losing streak into Saturday's matchup with UVA in Charlottesville

Duke looks to make it 4 in a row against Virginia

Duke rides a 4-game losing streak into Saturday's matchup with UVA in Charlottesville

Duke (3-6, 1-4 ACC) will look to make it four in a row against the Virginia Cavaliers (6-3, 3-2 ACC) on Saturday. Heading into the 3PM kickoff in Charlottesville, the Blue Devils are riding a 4-game losing streak while the surprising Wahoos have won 4 out of 5. Virginia ranks 3rd in the ACC in both total offense and total defense, and will present a significant challenge for Duke on both sides of the ball. After a disappointing performance on the road in Miami a week ago, the Blue Devils will need to put together a much better effort in Charlottesville if they hope to secure a tough ACC road win.

GAME INFO

Duke at Virginia

3:00 PM ET, Saturday, November 12

Radio: Blue Devil IMG Sports Network; Sirius XM Radio (Channels 92 & 190)
TV: RSN – Rich Waltz (Play-by-play), Keith Jones (Analyst) and Jenn Hildreth (Sideline)
Internet: GoDuke.com; theACC.com

KEYS FOR DUKE

Duke's Desmond Scott dove for the game-winning TD last year against UVA -Lance Images

1. Winning attitude: Duke is in the midst of a 4-game losing streak, and it shows. The Blue Devils have lost tough games to Wake Forest and Virginia Tech and are in danger of taking a turn to Negative Town. Defensive leaders Matt Daniels and Charlie Hatcher will have to keep their unit focused and confident after they were picked apart by a speedy Miami offense last Saturday. Sean Renfree must take control of the offense, and Kyle Hill must do a better job keeping the offensive line in sync. In short, Duke must play hungry for a win for a full 60 minutes on Saturday.

2. Win the line of scrimmage: Football is won and lost in the trenches, and UVA’s offensive line has helped to power them to their 6-3 start after a dismal 2010 season. The Cavaliers rank 3rd in the ACC with 190 rushing yards per game and are 2nd in the ACC with just 8 sacks allowed all season. If the Blue Devils are to win this game, their young defensive linemen will have to play up to their potential. First and foremost, Duke cannot allow UVA to open holes for RB Perry Jones, who enters the game averaging 5.3 yards per carry. If the Blue Devils can put first-year QB Michael Rocco under pressure, he will make bad throws, as evidenced by his 9 INTs on the season. Virginia as a team ranks last in the ACC with 13 interceptions thrown, a number which the Blue Devil secondary will have to add to on Saturday.

3. 60 Minutes: Coach-speak, cliché, call it whatever you want. Virginia is a good football team and it will take a complete effort for the Blue Devils to pull off an upset on the road. Perhaps most important will be the offensive effort, as Duke’s offense has been wildly inconsistent of late. Sean Renfree will have to be wary of Chase Minnifield lurking in the Virginia secondary, but should be able to find mismatches in the Blue Devils’ favor down the field. Senior Cam Johnson will present a challenge for the Duke offensive line, but the duo of Desmond Scott and Juwan Thompson should still find room to run. Duke has 3 straight wins against Virginia, and they will have to play with confidence and consistency to keep their streak intact.

WHAT TO WATCH

1. Blue Devil Streaks: Duke has a few players closing in on several school records.

  • Senior WR Donovan Varner needs just two more catches to tie Clarkston Hines’ all-time receptions record at Duke. Varner ranks second with 187 grabs. Junior teammate WR Conner Vernon is right behind Varner with 184 catches.
  • Redshirt senior K Will Snyderwine compiled two points last week and ranks fourth on Duke’s all-time scoring chart with 209 points … Randy Gardner is third on the list with 221 points.
  • Donovan Varner has at least one catch in 34 straight games to match the third-longest streak in Duke history … The school record of 35 is held by Scottie Montgomery.

2. Red zone offense: It’s no secret Duke has struggled to score points at times this season. Duke ranks next to last in the ACC in red zone efficiency, scoring on just 72% of their opportunities. If the Blue Devils come away empty-handed in the red zone on Saturday, it will be an ominous sign.

3. Duke seniors: In particular, Matt Daniels and Donovan Varner, two great representatives of the Duke program, who always seem to come up with a play when their number is called. Duke fans have just three games left to watch these two All-ACC seniors and their classmates take the field. This senior class has never lost to Virginia, and would like to keep it that way on Saturday.

PREDICTION

Matt Daniels has never lost to UVA. Sean Renfree has never lost to UVA. Coach Cutcliffe is 3-0 against UVA since arriving in Durham. Coming off one of their most disappointing performances of the Cutcliffe era, Duke needs a win in the worst way. Expect the Blue Devils to put together a much improved effort against a bowl-bound Virginia team. At 6-3, the Wahoos have been one of the biggest surprises in the ACC this season, and they’ll certainly be gunning for the Blue Devils after 3 straight losses in the rivalry. There are few instances where history and karma seem to be on the Blue Devils’ side, but this may be one of them. Duke seems to have the Cavaliers’ number, and they come into this game with nothing to lose, in desperate need of a win. Duke 24, UVA 20

Duke and Virginia look headed for another thriller in Wallace Wade Stadium -Lance Images

Duke Football will look to make it 4 in a row against Virginia on November 12

Duke's Desmond Scott dove for the game-winning TD last year against UVA -Lance Images

The Blue Devils emerged victorious against the Cavaliers in a shootout last year in Durham. RB Desmond Scott’s late touchdown run put the Blue Devils ahead and capped the thrilling 55-48 victory. Under Head Coach David Cutcliffe, Duke is 3-0 against Virginia, and will travel to Charlottesville on November 12th to try and extend that streak, while the Cavaliers will certainly be looking for revenge.

This week, BDN welcomes back Kris Wright, editor of TheSabre.com, to answer a few questions about the 2011 Virginia football team.

BDN: The 2010 Cavaliers had an up-and-down injury-plagued season, but return a veteran group of 18 starters in 2011. The depth chart on both sides of the ball is filled with upperclassmen, led by All-ACC candidates Chase Minnifield, Cam Johnson, and Kris Burd. What are the keys for this Virginia team? How good can they be?

The biggest key for this team is doing better with the big play. The defense allowed a ton of big plays last season, including quite a few against Duke, that cost the team a lot of points. Still, the coaches believe those mistakes are correctable and that when the defense played well last season, it played really well. Offensively, UVa ranked last in the ACC in scoring plays of more than 25 yards so that meant the offense had to sustain long drives all the way into the red zone and then execute to score. If some playmakers can crank out some big plays to help put up points, it would take some pressure off the whole team. Long story short: big plays influenced a lot of outcomes for Virginia last season and that’s one area that could improve the overall results. So how good can the Cavaliers be? With a favorable schedule set-up (3 non-conference home games and arguably the most winnable ACC games at home), they have a shot at bowl eligibility in 2011.

Sophomore Michael Rocco appears to be the front-runner for the UVA QB job -TheSabre.com

BDN: Quarterback is undoubtedly the biggest question mark for the 2011 Cavaliers, and it appears to be an interesting competition, to say the least. Recently, it appears that sophomore Michael Rocco has emerged as the leading candidate. Given the overall youth and inexperience at the position, can you give us a brief scouting report on Rocco and the UVA QBs? 

TheSabre.com has projected Michael Rocco as the likely starter since early in spring practice and he does appear to have emerged as the week one starter for now. From a football family full of high school coaches, Rocco has a high football IQ so he processes schemes and reads defenses well. With a decent amount of arm strength thrown in, he looks like a guy that can deliver the ball to a growing list of playmaking options on offense. The debate for the No. 2 QB slot right now is between true freshman and January enrollee David Watford and redshirt sophomore Ross Metheny. Watford is a dual threat quarterback that has good pocket mobility and an improving throwing motion after coming from a run-heavy offense in high school; the biggest question right now for UVa coaches is whether Watford is ready to play now or does he need a redshirt season first. I’m going to bet that he plays at least in a reserve role in 2011. That leaves Metheny, a left-hander with good mobility as well, as the third option. Metheny appears to grasp the offense and do well with the shorter throws so he could be a safe option if the other two quarterbacks can’t take care of the football.

BDN: Though the majority of starters return, the Wahoos will have to replace QB Marc Verica and RB Keith Payne. What are the expectations for the 2011 Cavalier offense? Other than QB, what question marks remain to be answered in training camp?

Virginia does have to replace starting quarterback Marc Verica, the ACC’s leading scorer in running back Keith Payne, and UVa’s leading receiver in terms of 2010 yards Dontrelle Inman. With that said, if the quarterback situation works out, there’s not too much concern with filling those spots at Virginia as offensive coordinator Bill Lazor puts together the system’s second season. Perry Jones matched Payne’s 4.5 yards per carry last season and he finished with nearly 1,000 yards of offense (655 rushing and 262 receiving). You mentioned earlier that Kris Burd is back at receiver and Tim Smith returns from injury there too after showing great promise as a true freshman. The tight ends and offensive line return everyone that was getting significant snaps late in 2010 too. Then you add highly regarded recruits like redshirt freshman Kevin Parks, a Salisbury, N.C. product, and true freshmen Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell to the mix as well. So it looks like the offense should have some firepower if a quarterback can execute his part of the equation. The biggest question beyond that is who will replace Payne’s points. That’s probably going to be a list of names vs. one guy.

BDN: Given the talent on the UVA defense, it’s hard to believe that Duke was able to put up 55 points a year ago in Durham. With the combination of talent and experience, this appears to be a group capable of dominating ACC opponents. What are the keys for this unit to be successful in 2011? Who is expected to step up alongside Minnifield and Johnson?

No question about it, the defense struggled in a major way in 2010. Duke posted 489 yards and 55 points last season – those numbers were more than 100 yards and 25 points better than the Devils’ season averages. It wasn’t a one-week hiccup either. UVa struggled with almost everyone on the schedule last season. As mentioned earlier, big plays really hurt so that’s the top item to fix. Part of the problem appeared to be the transition from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 scheme as well as players swapping positions to bolster the speed on defense. That change didn’t produce a high number of sacks and turnovers as expected though because Virginia wasn’t consistent with a pass rush or in pass coverage. So the coaches hope the second year in the 4-3 helps with a lot of the mistakes and consistency issues. We’ll see. If that improvement is going to happen, some names to watch include defensive lineman Matt Conrath, linebacker Steve Greer, and safeties Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley. If the middle of the defense plays better, those names will be involved somehow. Also keep an eye on true freshman Demetrious Nicholson at corner – he appears to be a real talent so far in fall camp.

BDN: Virginia and Duke played one of the most exciting games in the ACC in Durham last fall. The Blue Devils have had the Cavaliers’ number under Head Coach David Cutcliffe, winning each of the last three meetings. Virginia will be hungry for revenge on November 12 in Charlottesville. What do you think will be the keys to the game this fall? Can it possibly match last year’s shoot-out?

It’s a long time to November! If I had to guess right now based on last season’s trends, I’d say the keys for Virginia will be containing big plays and Duke’s running threats at quarterback. Those two items basically cost the Hoos a shootout win in 2010. For Duke, I think the keys will be to disrupt a veteran offensive line and the running game to put pressure on the young UVa quarterbacks to perform. I don’t see a shootout forming this time around, though. I’m going to guess the game will be in the 20′s.

BDN: Thanks for your insight, Kris. Good luck this season!

 

Previous week: November 5, Duke @ Miami

Next week: November 19, Georgia Tech @ Duke