Pre-game Notebook: Duke v. Virginia

Duke will host Virginia on Saturday in a battle for the top spot in the Coastal Division. Here’s some of the top story lines heading into the game.

Injury Report Remains Mangeable

After missing last week’s game against Georgia Tech in Atlanta, both Dezmond Johnson and Shaquille Powell are listed as probable for Saturday.

Powell has been Duke’s starting running back in the five games he’s played, but was dinged up in the week after the Miami loss. The junior has rushed for 200 yards on 41 carries this season, and has added 50 yards out of the backfield in the passing game. In his absence, Duke relied heavily on Josh Snead, Joseph Ajeigbe, and Shaun Wilson to carry the load against the Yellow Jackets as part of the stable mentality installed by Coach Requan Boyette.

Meanwhile, Johnson is hoping to return to action after appearing in just the first three games of the season. He’s listed as the starting end for the seventh straight game, but has not appeared for Duke since the Blue Devils rolled over Kansas due to a leg injury. In Johnson’s absence Duke has relied on Kyler Brown and Britton Grier who have played 207 and 208 snaps between them. Jonathan Jones has also factored in, recording a season best four stops against the Yellow Jackets.

Duke will continue to be without top reserve defensive tackle Jamal Wallace who missed the Georgia Tech with a lower body issue, and will not play against Virginia either. Wallace was playing an average of 27 snaps per game during the first five contests in relief of starter Carlos Wray.

Other players not expected to play against Virginia include tight end Dan Beilinson, corner back Johnathan Lloyd, and offensive lineman Trip McNeill. None of those three players have seen the field at any point this season.

Focus: Protecting Anthony Boone

During his final season under center in Durham, fifth year senior Anthony Boone has evolved into a game manager under center. Compared to last year’s production, Boone is passing for fewer yards per game (197 to 206) at a lower percentage (58% to 64%). However, Boone has improved his touchdown to interception ratio dramatically from 1-to-1 in 2013 to 2.67-to-1 this year. Much of the credit goes to Boone for working on reading what the defense gives him, but Duke has also benefitted from a stout offensive line and an increased reliance on, and production from, the running game.

Against Virginia the Blue Devils will face, perhaps, the best defensive unit they’ve seen to date. The Cavaliers have been able to disrupt offenses and create takeaways routinely this season.

“Their front is so explosive,” said Coach Cutcliffe. “They're doing a great job of taking the ball away. They've taken 10 fumbles, recovered 10 fumbles, nine interceptions. We've really geared our show team defense up. They're very physical. Their ends are extremely fast and explosive, so they've gotten a ton of sacks, 23 sacks, they've got linebackers. It's just the whole nine yards. Their safeties are great tacklers. So what they do is they cause a lot of bad down and distances, so we've worked very hard at trying to manage our technique and our execution.”

So far, teams have sacked Boone just four times this season.

In order to take some pressure off of Boone, the Blue Devils will look to establish the ground game behind that big offensive line. Entering the game “the stable” of Wilson, Snead, Powell, and Ajeigbe have combined for 230.8 all purpose yards per game including 1,055 yards rushing. Duke has also gotten 183 additional yards on the ground from second string quarterback Thomas Sirk and another 148 yards from Boone on quarterback keepers and options.

It’s an offensive scheme that has given Virginia trouble over the last few years, and something head coach Mike London appears wary of.

“They've got talented running backs,” said London, “and when you start to crowd up and take away the run, then with Crowder and other receivers, they throw the ball. It's almost assignment oriented, but it's about gap-sound principle, as well, and as I said, Coach Cutcliffe, the offensive coordinator Montgomery, they do a good job of challenging your gap integrity, so we'll have to do even a better job of being where we're supposed to be.”

In The Stands

Duke hasn’t played a home game in Wallace Wade Stadium since September 20th, which has provided a lull in the recruiting attendance and visitor list. Of course the Blue Devils have also nearly wrapped up the class of 2015 with so many early commitments and are moving forward with priorities in the current crop of underclassmen.

Duke has already secured commitments from 4-star wide receiver Scott Bracey (one of the top 101 players in the country regardless of position according to, who has made a point to attend two home games this season, and in-state three star running back Elijah Deveaux committed last week.

Deveaux is expected to be in attendance this weekend along with fellow in-state standout Sean Pollard, a 6-foot-4, 285-pound offensive guard from Southern Pines (N.C.) Pinecrest who was closing in on a decision earlier this year, but has decided to push that process into the late spring, early summer of 2015. Duke has been thought to be one of, if not the leader, though Pollard won’t confirm a favorite.

“Every player has a school that sticks out, but I just keep that stuff private,” he told recently.

More Recruiting (Good) News

The highest rated player in the class of 2015 for Duke is California linebacker/safety prospect Ben Humphreys. The 6-foot-1, 210 pound product of Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei confirmed this week that despite interest from other Pac 12 power programs, he’s firm in his decision to be a Blue Devil.

“I’m 100% to Duke,” said Humphreys. “Coach (Jeffrey) Faris was at our (Westlake) game and I waved to him pregame then put on a show for him.”

Humphreys visited Duke unofficially for the Kansas game when Mater Dei had a bye, and plans to get back for his official visit when the season is done.

“I’ll take my official there, depending on if we go to state or not, in December or January after the U.S. Army Bowl,” said Humphreys.

Humphreys Senior Highlights:

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