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Five Things to Watch For: Duke

Josh Jackson is out for the rest of the year and the team blew it big time against ODU. What’s the response going to be against a ranked Duke team?

NCAA Football: Duke at Virginia Tech Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Not going to lie, the tone of this is going to be somewhat strange, because, well, I’ve gone back to the base level of zero expectations for the season. We probably shouldn’t’ve expected that much more from a team full of freshmen and sophomores having only beaten an FCS team and an FBS team in complete disarray. Back to remembering we said it was going to be rough and we had to have patience and that the season could really go either way depending on if things worked out or not. Much is still in the Hokies’ grasp, but it’s time to move forward realizing that truly nothing is taken for granted.

#22 (#23) Duke Blue Devils (4-0, 0-0 ACC) vs. (#24) Virginia Tech Hokies (2-1, 1-0 ACC)

Gametime: 7:00PM

Location: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, North Carolina

Broadcast: ESPN2

Radio: WBRW 105.3 FM (Blacksburg Local) | Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network

Well, finally onto a big network again for a game, but this time the Hokies are walking into a hornet’s nest. Duke is 4-0 on the back of victories against Northwestern (1-2), Army (2-2), Baylor (3-1), and North Carolina Central (1-2). Now those records aren’t ENTIRELY telling, but it’s more impressive than the schedule that Virginia Tech has played so far. At the moment, Duke is looking pretty strong, despite losing their starting quarterback, Daniel Jones, a couple weeks ago to a broken clavicle.

Their leading stat-getters:

Passing: Quentin Harris 29/59, 388 yards, 6TD, 0INT, 6.57 YPA. Daniel Jones 29/39, 389 yards, 4TDs, 0INT, 9.97YPA

Rushing: Brittain Brown 50 attempts, 282 yards, 5.6 avg, 2 TDS. Deon Jackson 44 attempts, 223 yards, 5.1 avg, 3 TDs. Quentin Harris 26 attempts, 141 yards, 1TD.

Receiving: T.J. Rahming 17 receptions, 158 yards, 9.3 ypc, 3 TDs. Johnathan Lloyd 13 receptions, 243 yards, 18.7 ypc, 3TDs. Davis Koppenhaver 5 receptions, 41 yards, 8.2ypc, 3TDs.

Duke hasn’t exactly been a world-beater on offense, but it sure has been working the past four games. While Harris doesn’t overall impress with stats, he’s avoided throwing any interceptions and only has one fumble in his time as quarterback. Their offensive line also doesn’t give up sacks, which doesn’t bode well for a Virginia Tech team that dismissed Travon Hill (justified or no). They’ve only given up 4 sacks all year. Bud will have to either get very creative to invent that kind of opportunity, or he’ll have to try and cover out on the back end with a shaky secondary. This is somewhat problematic, as the passes Harris HAS connected on have been the long/deep throws.

Defensive/Special Teams statistics:

+89 Point differential, opponents score 15.2ppg. Average 5.7ypa, 3.7ypc, and average 333.2 total yards per game. Kickers are 4-4 for field goals, while opponents are somehow 0-4. They have 9 sacks for -56 yards, while their opponents have 4 sacks for -29 yards.

Leading defenders: Ben Humphreys, 31 total tackles, 1.5TFL, 1 sack, 1 blocked kick. Dylan Singleton 31 total tackles, .5TFL, 1 fumble recovery, 2 forced. Marquis Waters 17 total tackles, 1 INT, 1 fumble recovery, 1 blocked kick. Chris Rumph II, 8 total tackles, 2.5TFL, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble. Victor Dimukeje, 12 total tackles, 3TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble

Look, another boringly (and frustratingly) competent Duke team, this time, featuring a defense worth a dang. Dimukeje stings just a bit since we were in a competition for him in recruiting recently, and lost to Duke when a spot wasn’t made available late in the process for him. But this defense has three interceptions and six forced fumbles in the short season, and we’ve got fumbling issues and an inexperienced quarterback. Sounds great.

What to Watch For:

1. Ryan Willis

Look, we’ve got a new starting quarterback for the rest of the year. Josh Jackson is out for the forseeable future with a broken fibula that requires surgery. It’s time for those that wanted Jackson out to get their wish, and we’ll see what the Hokies have in Willis. Willis was a three star quarterback that started for a bad Kansas team and wasn’t that great, but his team around him wasn’t great either. He was 236-432 (54.6%) with 2530 yards, with 11TDs-17INTs there, and here so far he’s 13-25 (52.0%) with 195 yards and one touchdown. Look, imagining him being a savior at this point is just not feasible, but he’s what the team is going to go with barring a turn to Hendon Hooker or even Quincy Patterson in season. Now he’s a bigger and more athletic quarterback than Jackson was, and seems to be more interested in his secondary receivers, but we’ll see if he’s going to turn the team around- when the offense honestly wasn’t the issue...

2. Can the Defense (especially the secondary) get turned around?

…Unlike the defense, which was just terrible. I’m not going to belabor the point, but the secondary wasn’t holding up at all in coverage, and if you listen to the This Is Home podcast by Brandon Flowers, Eddie Royal, and DeAngelo Hall? It sounds as if Foster both tried a lot and didn’t to attempt to break up the issues they were having. It didn’t help not having Deablo back there, but but a large gist of the conversation was that these aren’t press corners yet, and by playing a lot of Cover 0 (which is a defensive concept that is basically pure man coverage with no help), the team was playing against their potential strengths. Whether or not the secondary can get it together, the defensive line was rampantly ineffective against ODU. On the year the team only has a total of eight sacks, and 3.5 of them just went out the door. There are also only 3 INTS and 3 forced fumbles. The team’s defense at the moment is very pedestrian to not great.

3. Who is Duke actually playing at QB?

There are rumors to the effect that Daniel Jones might play, despite only just suffering a broken collarbone. If he’s cleared, then he’s playing. It’s why I included both on the stats up above. I can’t fathom the answer to this, but whether or not it matters doesn’t affect the fact that the defense is currently having to plan for both of them. Jones is slightly more traditional; he’s still probably the best quarterback in the ACC Coastal at the moment. If he’s not playing, Harris runs more and has a tendency to go downfield. Not sure which I actually think the Hokies would do better against.

4. So what’s the (psychological) damage?

After that loss, and the loss of their quarterback, the team is probably pretty wounded and embarrassed psychologically. If they didn’t get the message they should now- they’re too young and inexperienced to take anything for granted, and by failing to take ODU seriously and not making good in-game adjustments and general bored, disinterested play? They lost the goodwill they and their coach had earned. They’re back to square one. How will they respond? That’s the big question. If they come out flat against Duke, and make mental errors and blow assignments for the second game in a row, it’s going to mean that this is a long season that the fans will have to endure.

5. Duke’s not going to make mistakes

Bottom line is that David Cutcliffe is a really, annoyingly good coach that will have Duke ready to play. The coaches know it. Both staffs have a lot of respect for the other:

And looking at the statistics, his reputation as a solid COACH that has his team operating as well as it can be considering their limitations in recruiting and funding. The Hokies are going to have to do what most teams haven’t been able to do- force Duke to turn the ball over and make mistakes. The Hokies haven’t been supremely successful at that since the Florida State game, and that has become an obviously lower-quality win than everyone had envisioned. Can the Hokies get Duke to break? That’s the big question.

Go Hokies.