Preview: Duke (0-1) vs. Va Tech (1-0)

After stumbling in their season opening loss to ECU, the Duke Blue Devils return to Durham for their home opener against Virginia Tech, the 2004 ACC Champions. The Hokies started their title defense with a rousing 20-16 victory over a tough NC State team this past Sunday. On paper, this game appears to be a complete mismatch for the Devils. Tech has great talent on both sides of the ball and poses all kinds of personnel problems for Duke. Can an upset happen this weekend?

When Duke has the ball:

The offense was able to move the ball fairly well against ECU. Duke managed 162 yards on the ground. With starter Cedric Dargan hampered by the flu bug, Just Boyle stepped in and provided Duke with 53 yards and 2 touchdowns. His physical running style proved to be an effective weapon in short yardage. He was rarely brought down with the first hit, and was always finishing his runs falling forward. Dargan should be back at full speed this weekend to take over the primary rushing role. Also expect more work for electric sophomore Ronnie Drummer. Still the offense will not be effective unless Duke is able to get the passing game going. Quarterback Mike Schneider suffered through one of the worst performances of his career against ECU. His two 4th quarter interceptions stifled drives that would have potentially brought victory for Duke. He will need to improve on finding his second and third receiving options for the Devils' passing game to work.

Of course, the road for the Duke offense will be much bumpier in week two. The Virginia Tech defense is known for rugged, physical play. They are led up front by all-ACC DE Darryl Tapp. He and sophomore Xavier Adibi form one of the best end tandems around. The linebackers are fast and physical, with super-soph Vince Hall along with senior James Anderson leading the charge. The place they seem to be most solid, however, is in the defensive backfield. CB Jimmy Williams is one of the country's best. The other corner, junior Aaron Rouse has proven that throwing away from Williams is also a risky proposition. He snared two Jay Davis passes last week against NC State and served notice to the conference that he can make you pay for trying to pick on him. Despite all the potential on defense, however, NC State was able to gain 438 yards of offense against the Hokies. It seems that Tech is opportunistic on defense, but can be scored upon if Duke can avoid turnovers.

Advantage: Virginia Tech

When Virginia Tech has the ball:

The Hokies are a run-first team and they have two thoroughbreds in the backfield in Mike Imoh and Cedric Humes. While they didn't have the greatest game against State last weekend, both are capable of working over an average defense. If forced to throw, QB Marcus Vick will present a similar challenge to Duke as ECU's James Pinkney did in week 1. The defensive front must be under control with their pass rush and force Vick to throw from within the pocket. If given a seam, Vick will not hesitate to tuck and run with the ball. The jury is still out on his ability to beat a defense through the air, but the potential does exist. He will have help from sophomore WR Eddie Royal and TE Jeff King. The Duke coverage schemes must be alert at all times for a Vick scramble. If they are not quick to react, he will make them pay dearly. The Duke front did a decent job getting in the backfield last week, totaling 7 tackles for loss and 1 sack. The Virginia Tech offensive line should be a bit better than ECU though, so Duke will probably need to run more stunts and blitzes to get in Vick's face. The Devils must also do a better job in coverage. Potential all-ACC CB John Talley was not tested in week one. ECU chose to avoid him in the passing game, and it brought good results. Duke must do a better job of rolling coverage away from Talley and shutting that side of the field down.

Advantage: Virginia Tech

Special teams:

The Hokies have made a living over the years on great special teams play. This year should be no different. Despite Ronnie Drummers' 100-yard kickoff return TD, the Duke special teams gave quite a poor performance in the opener. There were blown assignments and mishandled kickoffs that cost the Devils field position. Expect some changes in philosophy this week, especially with the kickoff team. Duke employed the "sky kick" exclusively last week and the strategy backfired. ECU started almost every drive outside the Duke 30-yard line. Freshman kicker Joe Surgan will probably handle the kickoff chores this week and has the leg to force plenty of touchbacks.

Advantage: Virginia Tech

Duke Keys to the Game:

Big plays: Last week, Duke gave up several big pass plays that led to easy ECU scores. Duke must make the Hokies earn every point they score by forcing them to sustain drives. If they are able to score a few easy touchdowns, Duke doesn't have a chance at victory. On the other side, Duke must find a way to get at least one if not two easy scores. This was accomplished that last week with Drummers' kickoff return.

Contain Vick: One of the big weaknesses of the Duke defense over past years and again last week is the inability to contain a scrambling QB. Marcus Vick will run just about any chance he gets. No matter what the scheme, he will get his share of rushing yardage. There are two methods that Duke can employ to limit his running One, Duke can employ a defensive "spy" to mirror his movements and be responsible for stopping Vick's scrambling. Two, Duke can play a lot of zone coverage on passing downs. This allows the defensive players to read and react if Vick decides to leave the pocket. Both strategies run the risk of Vick beating the defense throwing the ball, but his running ability makes the risk worth taking.

Play Smart: Despite all of the misfortune in week one, Duke could have still prevailed had their not been blown assignments in every phase of the game. Kick coverage men must stay in their lanes and not lose contain. Defensive backs must not get fooled by play action or get beat deep looking in the backfield. On offense, Schneider must not lock on to his primary receiver, but read the defense and deliver the ball to the open man. If Duke makes the same mistakes against Tech, they will get blown out.

Matchup to Watch: Duke OL vs. Virginia Tech DL

The Duke offensive line came into 2005 with many question marks. After a respectable showing against ECU in week one, they will face a much better Tech defensive line this weekend. The Devils had problems opening running lanes, but did a better job in pass protection. Of course this weekend, it will be a much more difficult challenge keeping Tapp and company out of the backfield. If Duke can provide Schneider with any sort of time, and can somehow open up a few running lanes, The Tech defense can be had. Still is it a tall task for a unit many thought would be a weakness this season.

Final Analysis:

Make no mistake; Virginia Tech is the clear favorite in this contest. They have more top-end talent and more depth than Duke. They also have a difference-maker at quarterback in Marcus Vick. Not long after Duke's season-opening loss, many fans probably looked at the schedule and gulped as they saw the Hokies looming. Coming off a loss, you don't want to see the defending conference champion coming to town the next weekend. Another factor in Tech favor will be the crowd. Despite the game being at Wallace Wade stadium, Duke will not seem like the home team. Virginia Tech fans, thirsty to see their team in action will swarm the Duke campus and almost certainly fill more seats than the Duke faithful. This sounds like an impossible chore for Duke, right?

As ESPN analyst Lee Corso likes to say, "Not so fast, my friend." The Devils will have a few things going for them. First off, Tech is coming off a Sunday night road victory in Raleigh. That will be two 3 _ hour road trips for the Hokies in less than a week. They also really did not look overwhelming on either side of the ball in their first contest. State gashed then for well over 400 yards of offense, while Tech was only able to gain a total of 231 yards. The running game, a supposed strength of the Hokies did not start the year off on the right foot. The passing game did not fare much better as Vick went 10-21 through the air. If Duke can stop the run in a similar fashion as State and force the Hokies to move the ball throwing, Tech could struggle a bit on offense.

Despite these advantages, it will be very difficult for Duke to move the ball on the Tech defense if last week is any indication. The Devils will put up a gallant fight, but the talent and depth of the Hokies will be too much to overcome. Expect a surprising even game into the 3rd quarter, with Tech eventually wearing down the Devils and pulling away late. Duke will have to wait for another day to taste victory in 2005.

Final Score:

Virginia Tech – 34
Duke -13


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