Previewing Duke vs. Virginia Tech

Previewing the Blue Devils and Hokies who kick off Saturday in Blacksburg.

After a heartbreaking 14-13 loss to Wake Forest, the Duke Blue Devils will be on the road once against this week. This time, they will travel northwest to Blacksburg to face Virginia Tech in a noon kickoff. The Hokies have looked dominant in their first two games, routing 1-AA Northeastern in their opener and overwhelming UNC last week in Chapel Hill. The Devils will need to build on their gains achieved in the seasons' first two weeks. Will that improvement be enough to give the Devils a chance? Let's take a look at the matchups.

When Duke has the ball:

After splitting time between two QBs in week one, Duke now seems settled under center. True freshman Thaddeus Lewis had a breakout performance against Wake, throwing for over 300 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. He also showed unusual field vision as 7 different receivers caught passes. He will face a much stiffer challenge this week. The Tech defense has recorded 3 interceptions in each of its first two games. Through two games, the Tech defense is allowing the opposing QBs a passer rating of a ridiculously low 76.9. That number is bound to go up as Tech has faced two poor passing offenses to date. Still, they will be a formidable test for the suddenly effective Duke Air attack.

While the defensive line is not as strong as last season, the back seven is as athletic and talented as they have ever been. Linebackers Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi are two of the best Duke will face this season. Duke RB Justin Boyle re-aggravated an ankle injury during the Wake game and might not be available this week. With Ronnie Drummer also likely out, the rushing load will fall on the shoulders of sophomores Cliff Harris and Re'Quan Boyette. Duke did not have much success early against Wake, but in the second half was able to move the ball on the ground with Harris and QB Lewis running the spread option.

When Virginia Tech has the ball:

Tech, like many other ACC schools, is breaking in a new QB. Sean Glennon has been quite effective in limited attempts, completing over 70% of his passes. Still the bread and butter of the VT offense is the run, with Sophomore Branden Ore carrying the load. Ore has averaged over 5 yards per carry and has already scored 4 touchdowns in this young season. He is also a capable receiver out of the backfield and because of this leads the ACC in all-purpose yards. If Tech does decide to throw the ball, they have the skill at wide receiver to make Duke pay for loading up against Ore.

The one bright spot in Duke's 0-2 start has been the play of the defensive line. Seniors Eli Nichols and Casey Camero along with Junior Patrick Bailey and freshman Vince Oghobaase have given Duke a stout front four. Last week, facing an effective Wake Forest rushing attack, Duke allowed only 57 yards on the ground. For the season, the Devils have allowed 2.5 yards per rush and only 81 yards per game. One of Tech biggest question marks coming into the season was the youth and inexperience along their lines. Despite scoring 73 points so far this season, many feel this question has not been answered. The Duke front should give Tech their most difficult test to date.

Key Matchup:

Duke Wide receivers vs. The Virginia Tech secondary

With six picks and seven overall takeaways, Tech owns the ACC's best turnover margin. Duke QB Thad Lewis has shown the ability to hit open receivers in stride and between the numbers. The key is can the Duke receivers get open against the Tech secondary? Despite his recent case of the "dropsies", Jomar Wright is quickly becoming one of the ACC's more difficult matchups. He has good size (6'1" 200 lbs), and is amazingly strong for a wide receiver. If Tech is able to blanket the receivers and force Lewis to check down or scramble, the advantage will swing in favor of the Hokies. If the Duke receivers can continue to find daylight down the field, the Devils will move the ball on Tech.

Three keys to the game:

Red-zone effectiveness: Duke marched up and down the field on Wake last weekend, but was unable to translate that offensive effectiveness into points. After two games, Duke has had seven red-zone possessions and has come away with a pitiful 3 points. The only Blue Devil TD of the season to date was a 50 yard Lewis to Wright pass. For Duke to stay in the game with the talented Hokies, they must take full advantage of their scoring opportunities.

Special teams: The hallmark of the Frank Beamer era at Virginia Tech has been outstanding special teams play. The Duke place kicking unit has not performed well this season, already having two field goal attempts blocked. Tech has always excelled at blocking kicks so Duke must execute in this phase of the game. If there is another breakdown, Tech will surely take advantage of it.

Resiliency: Teams like Tech have the talent to make spectacular game-changing plays. In recent seasons, Duke has not responded well to these sorts of plays and usually goes in the tank shortly thereafter. There is little doubt that Tech will make a big play happen on offense, defense or special teams. The players must put the play behind them and not let the effects linger into subsequent performance.

Final Analysis:

The odds makers put the early line at the Hokies minus 35 points. Most people outside the Yoh building believe that this weekend's contest will be little more than a tune-up for Tech's bigger games. Beamer and his staff have a big task this week keeping their players focused on Duke. The Devils will not be steamrolled like they were in Wallace Wade a season ago. Unlike last season, Duke has shown the ability to be effective on offense, and have proven they can stop a good rushing attack (Wake). The key to the game lies in Duke's offensive line and their ability to give Lewis time to throw the ball. The Devils will need to gameplan for regular blitzes from the Hokies and probably will need to leave an extra blocker in to help in pass protection. If Lewis has time, he can find open receivers and get them the ball.

I expect Tech to come out and try to get Brandon Ore the ball outside the tackles using screens and sweeps. If Duke commits extra men to the run, look for Glennon to try and attack Duke over the top and down the deep middle. On the other side of the coin, Duke will come out and immediately test the Tech secondary. The Devils have had limited success running against lesser talented defenses and with Boyle and Drummer hobbled might be restricted to airing it out. Expect Lewis to have some bright moments and lead Duke to paydirt at least once. However, the opportunistic Hokie defense will capitalize on Lewis's inexperience and force him into throwing a few interceptions. The Devils will make this game a lot closer than most think, but they do not have the horses to stay with Tech for four quarters.

Predicted Final Score:

Virginia Tech – 31
Duke - 13


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