2005 Game Preview: Virginia Tech at Duke

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Saturday, September 10th, 2005, noon


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Preview: #6 Virginia Tech (1-0, 1-0 ACC) at Duke (0-1, 0-0)


by Chris Coleman

After knocking off NC State on Sunday night, Virginia Tech
must travel back to the Raleigh-Durham area to take on the Duke Blue Devils this
Saturday at noon. Duke is coming off a 24-21 loss at the hands of East Carolina
and stands at 0-1.

Long known for their football ineptitude, the Blue Devils
don�t look to be any better in 2005. They have some good players at certain
positions, but they are also scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of
talent at some other positions. Ted Roof has recruited well the past two years,
but it�s too soon to know if any of these players will make an impact.

The Duke Offense

The Duke offense is below average overall, and is
extremely lacking in talent and depth on the offensive line. The offensive line
returns only one starter from last season, right guard Tyler Krieg. Krieg is a
good player, but he is only one man. The rest of the line is inexperienced and
not very good. The left side of the line is also very undersized. From left to
right, the offensive line goes 280, 280, 280, 300 and 300.

Mike Schneider is Duke�s starting quarterback, and he is
coming off a terrible game against East Carolina in which he completed 15 of 28
passes for 139 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. This came
against an East Carolina defense that gave up 224 passing yards per game last
year and allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete passes at a 60% clip.

Schneider is better than those numbers indicate. He
completed 59.3% of his passes last season for over 1,500 yards. He threw eight
touchdown passes and seven interceptions. He will have better days this season,
but he is not likely to get it turned around against Virginia Tech.

At the running back position, Cedric Dargan has some
talent. He rushed for over 100 yards in the first half against Navy in 2004, but
was injured and was never 100% the rest of the season. He finished with 462
yards rushing, averaging 3.7 yards per carry. Justin Boyle played well as a true
freshman last season, rushing for 241 yards and two touchdowns. He had a solid
4.8 yards per carry.

Duke�s wide receivers were young, inexperienced and
injured in 2004, thus the tight ends were the focus of the passing game. The
best returning receiver for Duke is Ronnie Elliot. Elliot has a small frame
(5-10, 185), but he did manage 28 receptions for 318 yards last season. Deon
Adams will likely get the start at the other wide receiver spot. Adams has some
height (6-1) and solid speed. He scored a touchdown against the Hokies last
season on a reverse.

Jomar Wright is Duke�s big play receiver. He only caught
18 passes last season, but he managed 323 receiving yards, good for 17.9 yards
per catch. He has good size at 6-1, 200. He had three catches for 64 yards
against East Carolina.

Duke�s leading returning receiver is Ben Patrick.
Patrick pulled down 32 receptions for 311 yards and a touchdown from his tight
end position. Patrick is a big guy (6-4, 270) who can create some matchup
problems. He is playing more of an H-back role for Duke this season, and caught
four passes for 13 yards against East Carolina. Andy Roland is the full time
starter at tight end this year, and he caught 20 passes for 257 yards and three
touchdowns in 2004.



Duke will likely look at film of the NC State game and try
to do some of the same things that NC State did. T.J. Williams, the Wolfpack
tight end, caught six passes for 62 yards against the Hokies, so look for Duke
to try and get Patrick and Roland the ball. They must try to beat the Hokies in
the short and intermediate passing game, with the running game mixed in. It is
unlikely that Duke will be able to beat Tech deep unless there is a breakdown in
the secondary.

Duke�s strategy should be to stay on the field as long
as they can to wear down a Tech defense that is coming off a hard hitting game
and a short week of practice. They must run time off the clock and keep the
Hokie offense on the sideline.

The Duke Defense

The Duke defense does not boast the same talent or depth
of other ACC schools, but they are the strength of the Blue Devil team. They
have two All-ACC caliber players starting on defense, and their strength is in
their front seven.

Along the defensive line, Duke�s best player is
defensive end Phillip Alexander. Alexander is big (6-4, 265) and athletic,
having played some linebacker back in 2002. In 2004 he posted nine tackles and a
sack, but he only played in two games because of a leg injury sustained in the
UConn game. He was granted a medical redshirt. He was dominant up front for the
Blue Devils in 2003, posting 59 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.

Alexander�s most impressive game came against Florida
State in 2003, when he had nine tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks and
two fumble recoveries. He is the best player on Duke�s team, and he has a
future at the next level. He has the potential to pose some problems up front
for the Hokies, who are used to scheming against great defensive ends after last
week�s game against Manny Lawson and Mario Williams.

Not far behind Alexander in terms of talent is junior
cornerback John Talley. Talley, 5-10, 180, is one of the ACC�s best cover
corners. The Sporting News ranks Talley the ninth best cornerback in the nation.
In 2004 he had four interceptions and 14 pass breakups. He returned two of those
interceptions for touchdowns, one against UConn and one against Maryland. He was
also a Freshman All-American in 2003. He is a player who Marcus Vick must keep
an eye on in the secondary.

Another solid player for the Blue Devils up front is
defensive end Eli Nichols. Nichols had a big opening game against East Carolina
with five tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. Nichols also has good size
at 6-4, 260. Casey Camero is a returning starter at defensive tackle. He has
bulked up to 280 this season and is a solid player.

Duke took a big hit in 2004 when they lost defensive
tackle Brian Sallee for the season in the opener against Navy. Sallee put up
incredible numbers in junior college in 2003, posting 117 tackles and 12.5
sacks. Against East Carolina last week, Sallee had ten tackles and two tackles
for loss.

As you can see, Duke is pretty good up front. They held
East Carolina to 103 yards rushing last week, an average of 2.9 yards per carry.
They also had tackles for loss amounting to 27 yards, and only one sack for six
yards. That shows that while the defensive line isn�t great at rushing the
quarterback, they have the ability to get off blocks and play in the offensive
backfield in the running game. All but one of Duke�s tackles for loss came
from the defensive line.

The weakness of Duke�s defense is the secondary, despite
the talents of John Talley. East Carolina quarterback James Pinkney picked apart
the Blue Devil secondary by going 17-21 for 235 yards and a touchdown. The
majority of those passes went away from Talley, who posted only one solo tackle
during the game. Duke�s other cornerback, Deonto McCormick, was third on the
team in tackles and posted seven solo tackles, making it apparent that he was
being picked on frequently by East Carolina. Expect the Hokies to do the same,
perhaps stacking two or three wide receivers on the opposite field, leaving
McCormick on an island against one of Tech�s talented wideouts.

McCormick doesn�t have a lot of experience at
cornerback. He played wide receiver for the first nine games of 2004 and caught
14 passes. Towards the end of the season, he was moved to cornerback because of
injuries and depth problems. This illustrates perfectly the lack of depth that
Duke has. It�s common for a player to change from offense to defense, or vice
versa, in the offseason, but during the season? That�s practically unheard of.

Prediction

Talent wise, this one isn�t even close. However, Duke
does have enough players on the defensive side of the ball to hang around with
the Hokies for the first half. Duke�s cause would be helped significantly if
their offense does not turn the ball over, especially on their own side of the
field.

The major concern for the Hokies is just being ready to
play. Virginia Tech just played a tough, hard hitting football game with a very
physical NC State team on Sunday night. With a short week of practice, they must
now travel back to the state of North Carolina to take on a team they probably
don�t respect.

Despite the talent gap, the Blue Devils have pulled out
some stunning upsets in their recent history. The Clemson Tigers traveled to the
Orange Bowl and upset Miami last season, and immediately followed that game up
with an equally surprising upset�getting beaten by Duke.

I think the Hokies will come out of the gates a little
flat, which would not be surprising considering they will be playing on the road
against an inferior team following a short week of practice. But the Tech talent
level and depth will eventually wear on the depthless Duke defense, aided by a
poor Blue Devil offense that will find trips across midfield very rare.

Virginia Tech 41, Duke 6

Will Stewart’s Take: I agree
with Chris about VT coming out flat. What worries me more than a lack of respect
for the Blue Devils on VT’s part is the fact that the game will be played on the
road, in a small, quiet stadium, one that almost has a high-school stadium feel
to it
. (That’s actually a picture of Wallace Wade that I linked to, not a
high school stadium.) I used to always say during VT’s Big East days that it was tough to play
against Temple in the Vet, because there were so few people there that it seemed
like a scrimmage � an unimportant scrimmage � one where the score wasn’t
kept, and it didn’t matter who won. Get my drift? Young players tend to go
through the motions in games like that.

This will be a test of VT’s leadership. The team leaders
need to go in with a no-nonsense attitude, play hard, and raise the level of
their teammates’ play. The 1999 Hokies smacked Temple around 62-7 in
Philadelphia that year, demonstrating their drive towards a greater goal, and
their focus and concentration. Compare that with the scores posted by other VT
bowl teams in the Vet: 23-13 (1997), 35-0 (2001), and 24-23 on overtime (2003).
VT always played Temple a little flat in Philly, so they need to remember that
and come out all business against Duke in Durham.

This game is a conference game, and a chance for VT to
start out 2-0 in the ACC and get a head start on the other teams in the Coastal
Division. Perhaps that will bring some concentration to the VT players, because
if they don’t concentrate, history has shown that anything’s possible.

I think Duke will hang around a little bit, but the Hokies
will pull away late in the first half and coast home.

Will’s Prediction: VT 34, Duke 6

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