Duke will take its third consecutive road trip to start the 2004 season, as they travel to Blacksburg to take on the Virginia Tech Hokies. This will be the first ever ACC contest for coach Frank Beamer and the Hokies, and they are looking to make a good first impression on their conference brethren. After opening the season with a loss to #1 Southern Cal, they destroyed Western Michigan 63-0 and are poised to improve their record to 2-1. Only the Blue Devils stand in their way. Lets take a look at the matchups, and what Duke must do to spoil the Hokies' ACC introduction.
When Duke has the ball:
The Duke offense improved from week one to week two, but still has a long way to go before striking fear in the opponent's heart. Last week, Duke was without their starting tailback Ced Dargan. He is probable for this weekends' contest. If he plays, Duke should be able to run the ball this weekend. Tech is 3rd in the conference against the run, giving up 105 yards per game. This stat is skewed somewhat after playing a very weak Western Michigan team last week. The Devils will prove to be a much bigger challenge.
The Hokies are known for their aggressiveness, and will almost certainly move their safeties up to the line of scrimmage to force the Devils to pass. It is this area where Duke needs the most work. Quarterbacks Chris Dapolito and Mike Schneider must be willing to take shots downfield, otherwise the offense will be stagnant. The Tech secondary is somewhat vulnerable and can be passed on. TE Ben Patrick might play a big role in this game. He has the size to overpower defensive backs and the speed to outrun linebackers. Of course, he cannot do anything unless he is thrown the ball.
When Virginia Tech has the ball:
The Hokies' offense centers around quarterback Bryan Randall. He is a good thrower and seeing as he is the team's leading rusher, he's dangerous with his feet as well. After 2 games, Randall is 4th in the conference in total offense. Duke must minimize this dual threat to slow the Tech attack down. While the Tech offensive line is solid, the Hokies are surprisingly mediocre at the skill positions. So far, none of the running backs have stepped up and replaced last year's leading rusher Kevin Jones. None of the wide receivers has stood out either.
Duke should be able to match up fairly well with the Tech skill players Containing Randall is the key. Disguising coverages will be the order of the day for the back 7 on defense. If the Devils can match last week's performance on defense, they will have done their job. This task will be much more difficult with the season-ending injury to defensive end (and team captain) Phillip Alexander. Without him, depth at the position is perilously thin.
Duke keys to the game:
The third phase: One thing that has been consistent throughout the Beamer tenure at Virginia Tech is stellar special teams play. They are particularly adept at blocking kicks. Duke cannot afford to get a punt or placekick blocked. The Devils' margin of error is too thin to rebound from a game-changing play like that. Tech has been known in the past to also have outstanding kick and punt returners. Duke must stay disciplined in their kick coverages and not allow a touchdown return. Of course, Duke must also get better production out of the kicker position. It's a tall order to fill, but if Duke can play Tech to a standoff on special teams, it will be a big step toward winning the football game.
Stationary Randall: Bryan Randall is one of the best dual-threat QB's in the conference, however, he is most dangerous outside the pocket. Duke must keep him stationary and force him to move the ball through the air. This will involve a few different components. One, the Duke pass rushers must stay in assigned rush lanes and not allow Randall to break containment. Two, Duke might also employ a spy to track Randall, the most likely candidate being OLB Brendan Dewan. Three, Duke should play lots of zone coverage, which will allow the secondary defenders to more quickly respond should Randall break containment.
Air Ball: During the first two games, Duke's opponents have been able to limit the running game by walking their safeties toward the line of scrimmage before the snap. For this to stop, the Devils will need to throw the ball downfield. This is the only way to keep the defense honest. If they are unable to stretch the defense and force them to honor the long pass, Duke will once again have trouble moving the ball consistently. The three freshmen receivers, Chancellor Young, Corey Thompson, and Jomar Wright, have the size and speed to cause havoc if the Devils air it out.
Despite their 63-0 thrashing of WMU last weekend, the Hokies are a beatable opponent for Duke. It is simply a matter of scoring enough points to win the game. After two weeks, Duke is occupying is normal position at the bottom of the ACC offensive standings. Last week, the defense played winning football by giving up only 15 points, and scoring a touchdown. The offense was unable to hold up their end of the bargain.
Against Virginia Tech, Duke will only have a chance if they score 3 or more touchdowns. Since it hasn't occurred yet this year against defenses worse than Tech's, there is cause for concern. Still there is hope, as Duke showed signs of life on both sides of the ball against UConn. The team must put the disappointment of last weeks' loss behind them and focus on the task at hand, defeating Virginia Tech.
The bottom line is, the defense might be able to contain Randall, but they will not be able to completely stop him. Virginia Tech will come up with a big play on special teams at some point in the game which will put Duke at a disadvantage. The Devils will fight the good fight and hang in there with the 24-point favorites. In the end, however, they will not score enough points to match Randall and company.
Virginia Tech – 27