2008 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Duke

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Saturday, November 22nd, 2008, 5:30

TV: ESPNU

Forecast (from WeatherBug.com):

Click the “Blacksburg Weather” link to the right.
Game time forecast, as of 3:00 pm Wednesday: Partly cloudy, temperature in the
low 30s. Winds 2 mph, chance of rain 10%.


Click here for TechSideline.com’s VT/Duke roster card


Game Preview: Virginia Tech (6-4, 3-3 ACC) vs. Duke (4-6, 1-5)


by Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com

Virginia Tech returns home to face Duke in the second and final night game of
the year in Lane Stadium. The Hokies need a win to get back on track before
facing in-state rival Virginia. Meanwhile, Duke needs two wins to become bowl
eligible, so VT will get the Devils’ best shot.

The Duke Offense

Duke’s offense has improved under new head coach David Cutliffe, who brought
a more sophisticated system with him from Tennessee. The offense emphasizes the
passing game and getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly. Before
this year, Duke was known as one of the worst pass blocking teams in the nation,
but under Cutcliffe’s system, that has gotten a lot better.


Sacks Allowed by Duke

Year

Allowed

2008

20

2007

45

2006

43

2005

31

So far this year, with just two games remaining, Duke has allowed less than half
the number of sacks that they allowed in each of the past two seasons.

Here is a look at how Duke’s offense ranks overall.


The Duke Offense

Category

Stat

ACC Rank

National Rank

Rushing

108.6 ypg

11

103

Passing

207.4 ypg

3

64

Total

316 ypg

7

97

Scoring

21.8 ppg

8

84

Pass Efficiency

120.72

6

72

Sacks Allowed

2 per game

5

66

Average

6.67

81

The Duke offense goes as quarterback Thad Lewis (6-2, 200, Jr.) goes. Lewis is
one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the nation. For the season, he has
completed 60.9% of his passes for 1,893 yards, with 14 touchdowns and just five
interceptions. Over the last two seasons combined, he has 35 touchdown passes
and 15 interceptions.

Lewis is an accurate passer who produces, despite the lack of a good
offensive line and effective running game. However, he is questionable for the
Virginia Tech game because of an ankle injury. If he can’t go, that will open
the door for Zack Asack (6-4, 205, Jr.). Asack was a part-time starter for Duke
in 2005. However, he isn’t as accurate or as productive as Lewis.

Whoever is playing quarterback for Duke will be looking to get the ball to
Eron Riley (6-3, 205, Sr.). Riley is a big-play receiver. This year he is only
averaging 11.3 yards per catch, but in his first three seasons in Durham he
averaged over 20 yards per catch. For the season, Riley has 56 catches for 630
yards and seven touchdowns. He is by far Duke’s best playmaker on offense.

Johnny Williams (5-10, 190, Fr.) is having a solid year at receiver for Duke,
with 27 catches for 301 yards. However, 11 of his catches for 135 yards came in
one game against Northwestern. He has just three catches over the last three
games.

Raphael Chestnut (6-2, 190, Sr.) has added 15 catches for 149 yards and a
touchdown, while Austin Kelly (6-3, 195, So.) has 13 catches for 142 yards. The
Blue Devils also like to spread the ball to their tight ends and fullbacks.

The passing game is solid, and it would be even better with an effective
running game. However, the Blue Devils still don’t have a lot of talent on the
offensive line. The Blue Devils are much better pass blocking with Cutliffe as
the head coach, but they don’t have the size to drive block against decent
defenses.


The Duke Offensive Line

Pos

Player

Ht

Wt

Year

LT

Cameron Goldberg

6-6

265

Sr.

LG

Kyle Hill

6-6

270

r-Fr.

C

Bryan Morgan

6-3

250

So.

RG

Rob Schirmann

6-5

265

Sr.

RT

Fred Roland

6-8

300

Sr.

That might be the smallest offensive line in 1-A football. Tech’s defensive line
should have no trouble shutting down the run. Cordarrow Thompson and John Graves
in particular should be able to dominate the interior offensive line of the Blue
Devils.

Duke’s tailbacks are solid. The leading rusher is Clifford Harris (5-10, 220,
Sr.), who has 345 yards on 98 carries this year. However, Harris is banged up
and will not play Saturday against Virginia Tech.

Open
House This Saturday at
Kent Square Condominiums!
From 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm

Jay Hollingsworth (5-11, 185, Fr.) and Tony Jackson (5-10, 185, So.) will get
the carries against the Hokies. They have combined for 570 yards on the season,
but they both average less than four yards per carry. The size and talent of the
offensive line is the main problem with Duke’s running game.

The Duke Defense

Duke’s defense has also improved this year. They still don’t have the depth
or speed to matchup to most other ACC teams, but they have gotten better over
the past year. They are a tough group in the trenches, and the Hokies struggled
to block them last season.


The Duke Defense

Category

Stat

ACC Rank

National Rank

Rushing

145.2 ypg

10

68

Passing

212.8 ypg

10

70

Total

358 ypg

10

63

Scoring

23.9 ppg

11

60

Pass Efficiency

129.07

11

74

Tackles for Loss

6.6 per game

5

29

Sacks

1.9 per game

8

55

Average

9.29

59.86

Duke is near the bottom of the ACC in most statistical categories. However,
thanks to the ACC’s high number of bad offenses, they are middle-of-the-pack
nationally in total defense.

Duke’s defensive line is solid, but not particularly deep. The most
well-known player is defensive tackle Vince Oghobaase (6-6, 300, Jr.). He is a
very talented player who chose Duke over scholarships from some of the nation’s
top programs. He is a wide body who can stop up the middle of the offensive
line.

However, from a statistical standpoint, defensive end Greg Akinbiyi (6-2,
235, Sr.) has been the most productive player on Duke’s defensive line this
year. Akinbiyi has 44 tackles, 12.5 TFL and four sacks on the season. He has
been a very disruptive player for Duke’s defense, which ranks 29th nationally in
tackles for loss. The Blue Devils are capable of getting penetration.

The other starters up front are nose guard Clifford Respress (6-4, 280, Sr.)
and defensive end Ayanga Okpokowuruk (6-4, 255, Jr.). They are solid players
with toughness, but they aren’t as productive as Oghobaase and Akinbiyi.



Open House This Saturday!
From 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm

Duke has a couple of playmaking linebackers in Michael Tauiliili (5-11, 235,
Sr.) and Vincent Rey (6-0, 240, Jr.). Tauiliili plays the middle linebacker
spot, and he leads the ACC in tackles with 111. He is a very instinctive player
who always ranks amongst the leaders in tackles in the conference.

Rey plays weakside linebacker spot, and he isn’t far behind Tauiliili, with
88 tackles on the season, the fifth best mark in the conference. The strongside
linebacker is Marcus Jones (6-3, 225, Sr.). Jones is a former quarterback and
perhaps the best athlete out of all of Duke’s linebackers. Overall, this is an
active group of linebackers and the heart and soul of the Blue Devil defense.

Duke’s defensive weakness over the past few seasons has been their secondary.
Though they are giving up less yardage through the air this year than in recent
years, that’s mostly because of the ineptitude of ACC passing attacks, where
only two quarterbacks average 200 or more yards passing per game. This secondary
has improved, but overall it’s not very good.

The most experienced player is left safety Adrian Aye-Darko (6-2, 210, Sr.).
Aye-Darko is a solid player, but he can struggle in space, just like the rest of
Duke’s secondary. The right safety is Catron Gainey (6-2, 205, Jr.), a player
similar in size and ability to Aye-Darko.

The cornerbacks are Leon Wright (5-9, 170, Jr.) and Jabari Marshall (5-11,
195, Sr.). They are decent players, but overall this is probably the least
talented secondary in the ACC.

Virginia Tech should be able to move the football on this Duke
defense. Whether they do or not is another question.

Special Teams

Duke has better special teams than many give them credit for. They are much
more efficient at field goals now, and even the rest of their teams are decent,
with the exception of punt returns.


Duke Special Teams

Category

Stat

National Rank

Net Punting

35.07 ypp

65

Kick Returns

22.19 ypr

42

Kickoff Defense

21.26 ypr

70

Punt Returns

5.57 ypr

108

Punt Return Defense

5.75 ypr

25

Average

62

Nick Maggio (6-4, 190, So.) is 9-of-12 on his field goal attempts this year,
with a long of 46. The Blue Devils have struggled with their field goal and
extra point kicking for the past few years, and it arguably cost them a couple
of games against in-state rival UNC. However, they appear to have that problem
solved this year.

Despite the decent numbers put up by Duke in all categories except punt
returns, the Hokies will have superior players on the field on special teams.
This should be an area of the game where Virginia Tech can gain an advantage.

Conclusion

How many of you have thought more about the Duke game this week than Bud
Foster possibly leaving for Clemson? Me neither. The only thoughts I’ve had
about the Duke game is that it’s going to be cold (high of 36 degrees on
Saturday, but it will be colder during the game) and I’m not a big fan of the
kickoff time. It totally slipped my mind that I didn’t even have a ticket for
this game until late yesterday.

We don’t know yet exactly how important this game is. It’s important from a
respect standpoint, and the more wins the Hokies can accumulate, the better
their bowl standing will be when selections are made. But we won’t know until
the Georgia Tech-Miami game is decided whether or not this VT-Duke game will
have any bearing on the Coastal Division race.

This has been a very distracting week in Blacksburg. Calls are coming from
every corner of the fanbase to get rid of Bryan Stinespring. Bud Foster
interviewed last week for the Clemson job, and he appears to be a strong
candidate. To top things off, senior linebacker Purnell Sturdivant expressed
displeasure in the production of the VT offense to the media in Tuesday’s press
conference. Things aren’t exactly going smoothly in the Merryman Center right
now.

All that said, I don’t think Duke’s offense is going to be able to do much
against the Hokie defense. I think VT’s defensive line will chew up and spit out
the smallish Duke offensive line, and a hobbled Thad Lewis is going to have a
very tough day in Lane Stadium.

The Tech offense won’t have to do a lot in this game, in my opinion. One
touchdown might be enough from them. We’d all like to see them play better than
that, and I think we’ll see a decent performance from them this week. I’m not
holding my breath though.

Chris’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Duke 7

Will Stewart’s Take: If VT loses this game, a mushroom cloud is going to
appear over Blacksburg, kind of like the one that appeared over Charlottesville
after UVa lost to Duke 31-3. Much like a cockroach, Al Groh somehow survived
that one, but if something similar unfolds in Lane Stadium Saturday, there won’t
be many survivors.

Like Chris, though, I can’t picture that happening. Eventually it will
happen. Even Temple beat Virginia Tech — seriously, they did, back
in 1998
. That’s not just a story that Hokie parents use to frighten their
children at Halloween. So it will happen some day, but not this Saturday.

If there’s one element of the Virginia Tech football team that has been
playing particularly well, it’s the Hokie defensive line. Strip away everything
else in and around this game, and it’s going to boil down to John Graves,
Cordarrow Thompson, Jason Worilds, Orion Martin and company. I sense that Duke
is fading, after a strong start to the season, and VT’s defensive line is just
the unit to close the door in the Devils.

As for the Hokie offense, all bets are off. They’ve swung to the opposite
ends of the spectrum in the last two games, and I have no clue where they’re
going to settle in for the last couple of games. I’ll take a guess, though.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Duke 6

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