When the Virginia Tech Hokies entered the ACC back in 2004, one thing was for certain on their conference schedule: An easy win over the Duke Blue Devils.
Well, those times have changed.
Since David Cutcliffe took over as head coach of Duke back in 2008, the Devils have steadily gotten better. Duke even won the Coastal Division back in 2013. He’s taken the Blue Devils to four consecutive bowl games, previously unheard of in this school’s basketball-rich history.
Back in 2013, Duke picked up its first won against the Hokies on the gridiron since way back in 1981. A span of 12 straight Tech wins. In that contest, it took four Logan Thomas interceptions for Duke to pull off that upset. The Hokies won in Durham in 2014, while the Devils won last year’s four-overtime shootout, 45-43.
Why has Duke been better against Virginia Tech over the past few seasons? Well, there are two answers to that question.
One, the Hokies’ struggles in the final years under the legendary Frank Beamer. Things were especially bad—considering the standards the Hokies had set—in Beamer’s final three years with Scot Loeffler as the offensive coordinator.
Secondly, while the Hokies were descending, Cutcliffe’s team was slowly getting better. His teams were efficient on offense with strong quarterback play.
Now, with Justin Fuente roaming the sideline, this rivalry could go back to the ways of old.
This season’s Duke squad (3-5, 0-4) could struggle to return to a bowl game for the fifth straight season. Much of that is due to injury. Projected starting quarterback Thomas Sirk—who passed for 270 yards and four scores, while rushing for 109 in last season’s win over the Hokies—was lost for the season in August after re-injuring the Achilles tendon he tore in February.
His replacement, Daniel Jones, has had some good moments, most notably his performance in Duke’s upset win at Notre Dame. Jones completed 24 of 32 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns. Jones followed that up with a miserable five-interception game against Virginia the following week. Duke remains UVA’s only ACC win thus far in 2016.
On the season, Jones is completing 62 percent of his passes for 1,889 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s also been picked off nine times. Jones has been sacked 16 times, so if the Hokies get pressure on him early, he could be in for a long day.
Jones has strung together two solid performances in a row over the last couple of weeks. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, they’ve lost both games.
Defensively, Duke is in the middle of pack, ranking No. 56 in total defense. The Devils are slightly better against the pass, ranking No. 67 in pass-efficiency defense, while placing 71st versus the run. The Hokies are capable of putting up big numbers against Duke through the air or on the ground.
On the season, the Blue Devils are -5 in turnover margin and have sacked opposing quarterbacks 24 times. So, getting to the passer is the primary strength for this defense and will present a challenge to the Hokies’ offensive line.
A closer look at the numbers will tell you the Hokies could be in store for a big day on both sides of the ball on Saturday, but if we learned anything in the loss to Syracuse a few weeks back, nothing is guaranteed.
However, the Blue Devils don’t have the talent on either side of the ball to threaten Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.