In the VMI game, the Duke offense was finally able to get a bit untracked. The Devils gained a total of 235 yards rushing on 45 carries against the Keydets. Leading the way was sophomore tailback Justin Boyle, who gained 113 yards and scored two touchdowns. The running backs owe a great deal of their success last week to the Duke offensive line, which opened up gaping holes for the backs to run through. The line will find the Virginia front much tougher to move this weekend. The Cavaliers are only giving up 83 yards per game on the ground. Duke will have to be able to throw the ball some to have success, and that is the rub. The passing offense for Duke has been downright abysmal. QB Mike Schneider has thrown for only 222 yards in 3 games and has a 67.20 quarterback rating (a miserable number for college football). The Devils must find a way to effectively move through the air; otherwise, UVA will stack the line of scrimmage with their safeties to stuff the run.
When Virginia has the ball:
The Cavaliers are a run-first offense, with running backs Cedric Peerman and a hobbling Wali Lundy carrying the load. The strength of this team is on the offensive line, with potential all-American D'Brickashaw Ferguson as their leader. UVA is averaging a respectable 29 points per game through their first two contests and will look to pad their stats against a Duke defense that has struggled stopping Division 1 opponents. Luckily for Duke, the strength and weaknesses of the two teams are very similar here. UVA is a running team that looks to dominate up front. On the other side, Duke is allowing only 3.1 yards per rush and has played the run respectably against a high level of competition in Virginia Tech. The key will be whether or not Duke can stop QB Marques Hagans from converting on 3rd down when forced to throw. One of the most disappointing aspects of this Duke team to date has been their pass coverage. The Devils have allowed opponents to complete almost 70% of their passes and their opponents' QB efficiency rating is an astronomical 175.3. If Duke allows Hagans to beat them with his arm, the game could be a blowout.
Going into the 2005 season, the Duke special teams, especially the coverage units, appeared to be a strong point. Both of the new kickers were question marks, but Duke surely would continue their solid all-around play, right? Wrong. The Duke kickers have been fine, but the coverage units, especially punt coverage has been abysmal. Duke has also let their punt return team devolve into a comedy of errors as they have already fumbled 3 punts, losing one. The Devils cannot continue to make mistakes in this phase of the game, especially against good teams like Virginia. Two bright spot for the Devils, Chris Davis and Ronnie Drummer are two of the most dangerous return men in the conference. Davis leads the ACC in average punt return, while Drummer has already scored once on a 100-yard kick return in the season opener. On the other sideline, UVA has at least one of their units in good hands. Senior kicker Connor Hughes is an all-conference contender and is very reliable from anywhere inside 45 yards. The Cavaliers struggled mightily last season in their punting game, so that phase is still in question.
Duke Keys to the Game (in song titles):
Aaron Copeland: "Simple Gifts" – Duke cannot afford to make the mistakes that have plagued them in their first 3 contests. The Devils had 5 fumbles against VMI, losing 3 of them. The Devils had the talent to overcome those mistakes against poor competition, but the better teams will make them pay, and Virginia definitely falls in that category. Duke must not force throws into coverage and must hold on to the ball. Also, the coverage teams will be exploited if Duke does not play disciplined football in this area. Giving gifts like this to Virginia will signal an early demise for Duke.
The Fabulous Thunderbirds: "Wrap it up" – The front 7 will face a good running football team this weekend. The Virginia backs are shifty and are hard to bring down. The Devils must tackle well and not allow UVA to gain tons of yardage after first contact. Solid, fundamental tackling will be crucial to achieving this goal. Hit the ball carrier and wrap him up.
Loverboy: "Turn Me Loose" – The first three games of the season have shown Duke to be a very conservative, power rushing offense. This game plan will not get the job done against UVA and their strong front. Duke needs to devise a way to attack Virginia secondary where they are more vulnerable. One way to attack the secondary is to open up the offense and make the corners and safeties make tackles one-on-one in space. Another way is to throw the ball down the field. However Duke does it, offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien needs to turn the offense loose to attack the Virginia defense.
Matchup to Watch: Virginia running attack vs. Duke Front Seven
In last season's contest, the Devils were able to hang around for must of the first half, because Virginia was unsuccessfully trying to throw the ball. In the second half, however, the Cavaliers didn't throw a pass and simply wore Duke out running the ball. They will once again try and run the ball down the Devils' throat. Luckily, Duke should be much better equipped, both in talent and depth to handle the efficient UVA ground game. If Duke is able to slow down the run, they could make things interesting.
Duke is a decided underdog in this contest. The Cavaliers are a better overall football team with strong fronts on both sides of the ball. Duke will need to play week to stay in this ball game. The Devils, however, do not have everything working against them. Defensively, Duke actually matches up pretty well. If the Devils can eliminate the big plays over the top, they should be able to slow down the UVA offense. Of course this is all moot if Duke cannot put points on the board. QB Mike Schneider will start the game, but don't be surprised if backups Zack Asack, Marcus Jones or Curt Dukes see some early action, especially if things start slowly. Duke must be able to throw the ball to keep the Virginia defense honest. Unfortunately, they have not shown the ability or desire to attack defenses through the air. If they don't, Duke will once again struggle to score. Virginia will run the ball well enough to do some damage, and the Duke defense or special teams will give up one easy score. The game will be hard fought by both defenses, but the Cavaliers will have too much for Duke this week.
Virginia – 27
Duke – 10