Duke (4-3) vs Virginia (3-4)
Charlottesville, Va. - Scott Stadium
TV: ESPN360 / Kick-off: 3:30 PM EST
Program Vitals Conference: ACC Nickname: Cavaliers Colors: Orange and Navy Blue Head Coach: Al Groh (9th season) Career Record at Virginia: 59-48
The Blue Devils trail the all-time series between the two schools 32-28. The teams have played every year since 1963. The Blue Devils last win over Virginia in Charlottesville was in 1999 when Duke won 24-17 in overtime. It is the only time Duke has come up with a victory in their last 13 trips to Scott Stadium.
What To Watch For On Offense:
The Duke defense will be looking to continue the performance seen last year against the Cavalier offense - which was a complete reversal of recent trends in the series. Virginia has scored at least 30 points in 15 of the last 26 meetings with Duke and topped the 40 point plateau five times.
Under center Virginia has a lot of experience which could be a good or bad omen. The Cavliers have three players who have started games led by Jameel Sewell (28), Marc Verica (nine), and Vic Hall (two). Sewell was actually a staple under center for the program during the 2006 and 2007 seasons, starting 22 consecutive games, but missed the entire 2008 season after leaving school. Hall started the last game of 2008 and the first game of 2009 before Sewell took over his old position. Since that time he's been steady, completing 105-of-190 passes for 1,261 yards and five touchdowns against five interceptions. After getting his legs under him early, Sewell has not thrown an interception in the previous five games (a span of 141 pass attempts). On the flip side he's only tossed one scoring pass in those five games as well and has yet to throw for a score in ACC competition. In fact, against league foes Sewell has only thrown for more than 137 yards once - a 168 yard performance last time out against Georgia Tech.
The running game is a work in progress, although the Cavaliers have three options that have routinely gained positive yardage. Mikell Simpson and Rashawn Jackson have combined to gain 465 yards on 94 attempts with Simpson finding the end zone five times. Simpson's biggest performance to date was the game against Indiana where he scored four times on the ground. Aside from that, Simpson excelled also excelled against North Carolina by rushing for 100 yards on 20 carries. It was his third career hundred yard game. Simpson has also been a reliable option in the passing game where he's caught four or more passes in three straight games. Meanwhile, Jackson's best performance of the season came against Maryland where he rushed 19 times for 90 yards - both career bests. The third part of the running game is actually Sewell who will happily tuck the ball and run if there's nothing available down field in the passing game. Despite being sacked for 110 combined yards, Sewell has also been able to accumulate 333 yards of positive rushing in sever contests this season.
Cornerback turned quarterback turned wide receiver Vic Hall is probably the team's most dynamic player. After learning his third position, Hall has found a niche in the offense. Over the last three games he's made his former competitor look good by hauling in 16 receptions for 189 yards over the last three games. Over that time period he has twice as many receptions as any other Virginia receiver. Second year receiver Kris Burd is the team's leading receiver on the season with 20 catches for a team best 267 yards. Youth is the order of the day at receiver for UVa with six freshmen recording catches throughout the season. Coming into the season this was a known issue as Virginia had to replace it's top three receivers - Maurice Covington, Cary Koch and Kevin Ogletree—who were 1-4- 5 in receptions last season while catching 121 passes among them.
While the wideouts were a question mark, the Cavliers believed that their offensive line would be an area of strength with four starters returning. The only need was at left tackle. The other four players - RT Will Barker, RG B.J. Cabbell, LG Austin Pasztor and C Jack Shields - have 95 career starts between them. Baker, a four year starter at right tackle, is a second team All-Conference performer. With a quarterback who likes to move around in the pocket, however, the Virginia O-line has given up an incredible 26.5 sacks in just seven games. An average of nearly four per contest.
What To Watch For On Defense:
Much is being made of the Virginia pass defense which ranks among the top five in the nation - allowing just 151.3 yards per contest. It's not just the idea of the Cavaliers not allowing opponents to gain chunks of yards, it's that quarterbacks are having trouble being effective at all - Virginia ranks seventh in the country in opponents' pass efficiency at just 95.6. In addition, the Blue Devils must face a pass defense that has not allowed a passing touchdown in the last four games.
Up front Nate Collins is playing nose tackle along the line after spending most of the season at defensive end. It's a move that seems to fit as Collins recorded an amazing 16 tackles against Georgia Tech. That was on top of ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors he earned at Maryland with nine tackles and two sacks. Not just a big body, Collins has also returned an interception for a touchdown this season. The move of Collins may have been for just the Georgia Tech game (to add more speed against the option). Every game nose tackle Nick Jenkins is likely to return this week against Duke. Other newcomers last week were Zane Parr and John-Kevin Dolce at the ends in an effort to add more athleticism up front. Against a Duke team that cannot run the ball effectively, it'll be interesting to see if Groh reverts back to his longtime starters or continues this new, smaller, quicker look up front.
The notable name at linebacker is redshirt freshman Steve Greer who leads the team with 49 stops this season - good enough for eighth in the ACC. The other three backers are Cam Johnson and Denzel Burrell on the outside with Darren Childs on the inside. Burrell serves as a team captain. The four linebackers have combined for 161 tackles on the season.
The defensive backfield is led by junior cornerback Ras-l Dowling who is the roster's only returning All-ACC performer from a year ago. He was a second team all conference choice . Dowling has led the team in interceptions in each of his first two seasons on the roster including last year's three picks and 11 breakups. Opposite Dowling is Chris Cook a veteran of 26 starts and another team captain. Cook has picked off two passes this season. Like quarterback Sewell, Cook was not in school last season, but was a mainstay in the Cavalier secondary in 2006-2007 when he intercepted two passes and broke up 11 others. All told the two have combined for 11 career interceptions and 37 pass breakups. Not to mention the 12.5 tackles for loss. The safety position saw a change when starter Rodney McLeod was lost to injury. In his place, senior Brandon Woods stepped in over the last three weeks and has done well. Against Tech, Woods recorded six stops. McLeod has returned opposite Woods to record 30 stops in six games along with 1 pass break up and 3 tackles for loss.
The Blue Devils may be the feel good story of the season for the ACC. Having already earned four wins and two in conference, the talk of post season play has gathered strength over the last few weeks. Such talk will start to catch on more and more if Duke can beat Virginia for a second straight season. While this may not be a case of an unstoppable force meeting and immovable object, it is the conference's best passing attack facing the best pass defense. There is no doubt that something has got to give in that match up. Virginia would prefer to get the Blue Devil offense off the field and keep this game in the low 20s. Duke, on the other hand, would prefer to let David Cutcliffe's passing offense have enough opportunities to score well above that. If the game turns into a shootout it's hard to think that the Cavaliers will be able to keep up. That being said, this is a Virginia team that has been in most every game it has played. Both teams have something to play for. Both need this victory to have a chance to play in the post season. For Virginia, once again, this may be a game that determines the fate of their head coach. Look for a close game that isn't decided until the fourth quarter.
Predicted Final Score:
Duke - 26
Virginia - 24