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- Date: Saturday, October 29nd, 2011
- Time: 12:30
- TV: ACC Network (affiliate
It’s hard to believe the Hokies are two-thirds of the way through the regular
season. This weekend’s game with Duke will represent the first of four straight
games against Coastal Division competition. Those four games will decide whether
or not Tech makes it to Charlotte for what would likely be a rematch with
Clemson for the ACC Championship.
Duke is 3-4 on the season, with wins over Boston College, Tulane and FIU.
They would be 4-3 and still within reach of a bowl game, but they were upset in
the season opener by Richmond. It was the third straight time the Spiders have
knocked off the Blue Devils in Durham.
Despite the loss to Richmond, this is still a capable team. They came within
a point of beating Wake Forest last week, and the Demon Deacons are likely going
bowling. It’s also a very banged up Duke team. 12-15 Duke players have missed
time in practice this week, which caused head coach David Cutcliffe to call for
a light practice on Tuesday, with players wearing no pads.
"We don’t have enough players to go out there," Cutcliffe told the
Raleigh News & Observer. “We just weren’t given any choice.”
The Hokies are a banged up team right now, but the Blue Devils might be in
even worse shape.
The Duke Offense
Duke is very dangerous throwing the football, but they are too
one-dimensional to be considered a good offense.
|Third Down %||40.35%||61|
|TFL Allowed||6.14 per game||76|
|Sacks Allowed||2.14 per game||75|
David Cutcliffe has been able to recruit quarterbacks, wide receivers and even
running backs to Duke, but as of yet he hasn’t been able to put a quality
offensive line on the field. That is the one thing that is limiting the Duke
offense, and preventing it from taking the next step.
The pivot man for Duke is talented junior Sean Renfree (6-5, 225, r-Jr.).
Renfree is an excellent pocket passer who plays in a very good passing system.
He has put up good numbers his entire career, but his numbers this year are his
best: 67.9% through the air for exactly 1,800 yards, with six touchdowns and
four interceptions. Renfree has struggled with interceptions in the past, but
not this season.
He has the luxury of having an experienced group of wide receivers, as well
as tailbacks who can catch the ball out of the backfield. Conner Vernon (6-1,
195, Jr.) and Donovan Varner (5-9, 175, Sr.) have been playing a lot since they
were both freshmen. Vernon leads the team with 47 receptions for 652 and four
touchdowns, while Varner is a steady performer with 34 catches for 397 yards.
The Blue Devils will spread the ball around to other wideouts as well,
including Brandon Braxton (6-1, 190, So.), who has 26 receptions for 174 yards.
Tight end Cooper Helfet (6-4, 240, Sr.) is an important target for Renfree with
24 catches for 251 yards and two touchdowns.
The Blue Devils play three tailbacks, and they are all effective receivers.
Juwan Thompson (5-11, 215, So.), Desmond Scott (5-9,190, Jr.) and Jay
Hollingsworth (5-10, 200, Sr.) have combined to make 41 catches for 294 yards.
They are very good checkdown options for Renfree, and he uses them frequently.
The Duke running game has been damaged this year because Desmond Scott missed
three games with a knee injury. He returned two weeks ago against Florida State,
running 10 times for 66 yards. He had another 49 yards on 10 carries against
Wake Forest last week. For the season, Scott has been Duke’s most productive
running back with 32 carries for 195 yards (6.1 yards per carry) and a
Sophomore Juwan Thompson has been solid as well, running for 345 yards and
five touchdowns on 78 carries (4.4 yards per carry). We could see senior Jay
Hollingsworth some (22 carries, 90 yards, 1 TD), but bet on Thompson and Scott
getting the majority of the carries for the Blue Devils.
The Duke offensive line has been inconsistent, and as a result the Blue
Devils have been unable to sustain drives. Duke allows too many sacks (2.14 per
game) and tackles for loss (6.14 per game), which create too many long yardage
situations. As a result, they are only 61st nationally in third down
conversions, which is the reason for their lack of sustained drives.
The Duke Offensive Line
Though the talent up front for Duke appears to be on the rise (Tomlinson had
offers from Tennessee, Wisconsin, Stanford, Ohio State and Michigan State), this
is still a very young unit. Two sophomores and a freshman make up the starting
five, and offensive lines that are that young are rarely successful. With four
starters back for 2012, this line should be much improved. Until then, they are
going to continue to be inconsistent.
As usual, Bud Foster’s strategy will be to stop the offense’s running game
and make them one-dimensional. Considering the Blue Devils are only averaging
100 yards per game on the ground this year, that shouldn’t be a problem. Duke
will need to be balanced offensively to have a chance at beating Virginia Tech,
which means they will need their best offensive line performance of the season.
The Duke Defense
Duke plays very hard defensively, but they lack size and experience up front
and talent in the secondary. The Blue Devils are giving up nearly 400 yards per
game, most of which comes through the air.
The Duke Defense
|Third Down %||39.51%||61|
|TFL||4.71 per game||96|
|Sacks||2 per game||55|
Three of Duke’s top four defensive ends are freshmen, and the fourth is a
sophomore. There is also a sophomore and a freshman amongst the top four at
defensive tackle, a sophomore starter at linebacker, and two sophomores in the
secondary. That’s a lot of youth. Unfortunately the Blue Devils lost their top
playmaking defensive end Kenny Anunike (6-5, 250, r-Jr.) for the season with a
knee injury. He had five tackles for loss and four sacks on the season, and his
loss is a big blow to the Duke defense.
The rest of the Duke defensive ends haven’t been particularly productive.
Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo (6-4, 225, r-Fr.): 1 TFL, 1 sack
Dezmond Johnson (6-4, 230, r-Fr.): 2.5 TFL, 1 sack
Justin Foxx (6-3, 240, r-So.): 1.5 TFL, 1 sack
Jamal Wallace (6-4, 245, r-Fr.): 0.5 TFL
Jamal Wallace is from Green Run High School in Virginia Beach, and he will
have extra incentive playing against his home state team that did not extend a
scholarship offer. However, this group of defensive ends is too small and too
young to match up well against a Tech offense that has been playing well
Charlie Hatcher (6-3, 300, r-Jr.) is Duke’s noseguard, and their best
defensive tackle overall. He has 2.5 tackles for loss and two sacks on the year.
The rest of the defensive tackles haven’t been productive statistically. Sydney
Sarmiento (6-4, 285, r-So.), Jamal Bruce (6-1, 270, r-Fr.) and Curtis Hazleton
(6-2, 280, r-Jr.) have combined for zero tackles for loss and zero sacks this
Duke technically runs a 4-2-5 defense, so they have just two starting
linebackers. Kelby Brown (6-2, 220, So.) was a Freshman All-American last season
for the Blue Devils, and he is Duke’s top playmaker on defense this season. He
is second on the team with 43 tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss and 1.5
sacks. Austin Gamble (6-1, 235, Jr.) is in his first season as a full-time
starter, and he will line up next to Brown at the other linebacker spot.
Duke plays three safeties, and all three are big enough to play in the box as
outside linebackers, which gives the Blue Devils a lot of versatility on the
defensive side of the ball. Matt Daniels (6-1, 210, Sr.) is Duke’s most
experienced defensive back, and also leads the team with 69 tackles and 11
passes defended. He can line up in the box and stop the run, and he is also
Duke’s best downfield coverage safety.
August Campbell (6-3, 225, r-So.) and Walt Canty (6-0, 215, Jr.) are the
other two starting safeties, and like Daniels they have excellent size. They
like to help out in the running game, but they are vulnerable against the pass.
Duke’s cornerbacks are Johnny Williams (5-10, 190, Sr.) and Ross Cockrell
(6-0, 175, r-So.). Cockrell was a Freshman All-American last season, while
Williams is entering his second season as a cornerback after catching over 60
passes as a starting wide receiver in 2008 and 2009. Williams has a lot of
speed, but he’s not a natural cornerback.
Overall, there is a lot of youth on defense for Duke. When you combine youth,
lack of size up front and the typical Duke talent level, then this becomes a
pretty good matchup for the Tech offense. The Blue Devils play tough up front,
and those safeties are active in supporting the running game, but Duke has been
very vulnerable against the pass this year, and Logan Thomas and the Tech
receivers are on a hot streak.
The Blue Devils aren’t particularly good on special teams, but neither are
the Hokies on paper. In fact, Duke has better numbers than Virginia Tech thus
Special Teams Comparison
|KO Return Def.||6||82|
|Punt Return Def.||62||1|
David Wilson has yet to break a big kickoff return, and Virginia Tech’s
punting has been very inconsistent since the beginning of the season. The Blue
Devils have been pretty average on special teams overall, thought they have been
very good limiting the kickoff returns of opponents.
Duke’s field goal kicking has been inconsistent. Will Snyderwine (5-11, 190,
r-Sr.) is just 6-of-10 on the season, with a long of 40 yards. Jeffrey Ijjas
(5-11, 190, Sr.) has been given a chance as well, but he is only 1-of-3 with a
long of 26. Ijjas has missed both attempts from beyond 30 yards.
Alex King (6-1, 210, Sr.) has had a good year punting the ball, averaging
42.9 yards on 27 attempts. Only 12 of his kicks have been returnable.
Duke’s return men are not scary. Jamison Crowder (5-9, 175, Fr.) handles both
kickoff and punt returns, while Patrick Karunwune (5-9, 225, r-Jr.) helps out on
kickoff returns. Crowder has been solid on kickoff returns, averaging 22.8 yards
per return, but likely won’t get many opportunities against Justin Myer.
If the Hokies get a consistent performance from true freshman punter Michael
Branthover, they should be able to win the special teams battle against the Blue
Eight games into the season, Virginia Tech is exactly where most people
believed they would be. The general consensus was that the Hokies would go 10-2
or 11-1 this season. They would lose to either Miami or Clemson, and a date with
the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta in November would decide VT’s Coastal division
With a 7-1 record and a loss to Clemson, things are going about like we
expected, perhaps better. If the Hokies beat Duke this weekend, and Georgia Tech
loses to Clemson, that will give the Jackets three ACC losses, and it’s going to
be very hard for Virginia Tech to not win the Coastal Division. They already
hold the head-to-head tiebreaker against Miami (two ACC losses), and the North
Carolina Tar Heels already have three conference losses.
As it turns out, perhaps the Hokies will only need to win one of those two
games against Georgia Tech and UNC to clinch the Coastal Division. Of course,
they can’t trip up in their other two games against Duke or Virginia.
First up is Duke this weekend, and for the Hokies to be able to go into next
week’s bye and take a nice break, first they’ll need to get past the Blue
Devils. With a good head coach at the helm, Duke is no longer an automatic win.
At the same time, if Tech shows up and does what they are supposed to do and
doesn’t give the Blue Devils good field position with mistakes in the kicking
game, they shouldn’t have much trouble winning.
I’m not really concerned with how pretty Tech looks this week. This is a
classic letdown game, coming a week before the bye and 12 days before Georgia
Tech. Just get through it with a win, and get through it as healthy as possible.
That’s all I really want this week.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Duke 13