2006 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Duke

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Saturday, September 16th, 2006, noon

TV: Lincoln Sports Financial/Raycom (click
here for station listings
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Click the “Blacksburg Weather” link to the right.
Game time forecast, as of 3:00 pm Wednesday: Partly cloudy with a 10 percent
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Game Preview: #14 VT (2-0, 1-0 ACC) vs. Duke (0-2, 0-1)


by Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com

#14 Virginia Tech will face their second consecutive ACC opponent from the
state of North Carolina when the Duke Blue Devils come to town on Saturday
afternoon. The last opponent from the Tar Heel state didn’t put up much of a
fight, and this game is expected to be no different, although Duke does have the
tools to keep the game close for awhile.

The Blue Devils have started the season in tough fashion. They got shut out
at home 13-0 by Richmond on opening weekend, then rallied and nearly pulled off
the upset against Wake Forest on the road last week. However, their game winning
27 yard field goal attempt was blocked on the last play of the game.

Duke has probably blown their best two chances at getting a win this season.
But that doesn’t mean that they’ll come into Lane Stadium and lay down for
the Hokies.

The Duke Offense

Let’s go ahead and get it out of the way: the worst unit on the Duke
offense is the offensive line. The Duke offensive line could be the worst
overall unit at any position in the ACC, and maybe in the country. They match up
horribly with the Virginia Tech front seven, and that is where the Hokies have
the clear advantage in this game.

Duke is averaging just 1.6 yards per carry through their first two games
against Richmond and Wake Forest, two teams who are not exactly the defensive
stalwarts of college football. The Duke offensive line has also allowed six
sacks through the first two games.

The only returning starter on the offensive line is center Matt Rumsey. The
Blue Devils are expected to start three sophomores and two juniors up front
against the Hokies. They do not have much size on the offensive line, with only
one starter weighing more than 290. The Hokies should be able to easily control
the line of scrimmage in this game.

The Blue Devils have gotten surprisingly good play from the quarterback
position, where true freshman Thaddeus Lewis has established himself as the
clear starter. Through two games, Lewis has completed 36 of 56 passes (64.3%)
for 453 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions. That is a very high
completion percentage for such a young player, and the fact that he hasn’t
thrown any interceptions is a very good sign.

Lewis was rated the #10 dual threat quarterback in the nation last year by
Rivals.com, and he is listed as having offers from Pittsburgh, Texas A&M and
West Virginia. He is not a typical Duke recruit.

That being said, he will probably struggle against a Bud Foster coached
defense. The Tech defense will be the fastest and most physical that he has ever
played against, and Foster showed against UNC that he is a master of disguising
coverages, so don’t look for the true freshman Lewis to be as efficient as he
was against Richmond and Wake Forest.

That said, Lewis looks like a player that the Blue Devils have a chance to
build an offense around. They just need some offensive linemen.

The biggest returning playmaker on offense is Ronnie Drummer, who averaged
10.2 yards per carry last season (on 33 carries) and returned a kickoff 100
yards for a touchdown. He plays the “Devil” position for Duke, meaning that
he will line up at tailback and receiver, and can touch the ball in numerous
ways. However, he is doubtful against Virginia Tech because of a lower leg
injury.

Starting tailback Justin Boyle is also not expected to play on Saturday, with
an injury very similar to Drummer’s. That leaves Re’quan Boyette as Duke’s
staring tailback. He is averaging 2.2 yards per carry on the season and is Duke’s
leading rusher with 37 yards through two games. Clifford Harris will also see
time at tailback, but not having their best playmaker, Drummer, has seriously
hampered the Blue Devils’ attack.

Thaddeus Lewis has big targets at wide receiver. The top four receivers for
the Blue Devils are Eron Riley (6-3, 200), Jomar Wright (6-1, 200), Jeremy
Ringfield (6-5, 200) and Raphael Chestnut (6-2, 190). Riley, Wright and Chestnut
have been more productive than expected so far, while Ringfield (a true
freshman) has yet to catch a pass.

Wright is the leading receiver, with 12 catches for 156 yards and a
touchdown. Chestnut has 11 catches for 124 yards, while Riley has caught seven
passes for 83 yards.

Besides a weak offensive line, the main thing that has limited Duke
offensively this season is mistakes, especially against Wake Forest. In their
14-13 loss to the Demon Deacons, the Blue Devils dropped a possible 75 yard
touchdown on the first play of the game, fumbled at the Wake Forest 15, and
again on the Wake goal line. And to top it off, kicker Joe Surgan missed two
field goals. That will get you beat by just about anyone.

The Duke Defense

Contrary to popular belief, the Duke defense has some ability. Opponents are
averaging just 258.5 yards per game against the defense, and are averaging just
2.5 yards per carry. Wake Forest, one of the top running teams in the nation,
averaged just 2.4 yards per carry against the Blue Devils. They held Wake
tailback Micah Andrews, an All-ACC candidate, to 41 yards on 17 carries.

The Blue Devils do a very good job of playing in the opponent’s offensive
backfield. Through two games, Duke has recorded 15 tackles for loss, while Tech’s
defense has 13 tackles for loss against similar competition.

The Blue Devils have some talent along the offensive line. Let’s start with
defensive tackle Vince Oghobaase. Oghobaase hails from the state of Texas, and
he chose the Blue Devils over offers from Arizona, Miami, Oklahoma, Oklahoma
State and Texas A&M. The r-freshman was one of the top defensive line
prospects in the nation for the class of 2005. At 6-6, 310, he is hard to
handle. He has two tackles for loss and a sack in two games.

He isn’t the only Duke defensive lineman in the two deep with offers from
major programs. His backup, r-freshman Ayanga Okpokowuruk, is listed on Rivals
as having offers from Georgia Tech, UNC, Stanford and Tennessee. Auburn was a
major player in the recruitment of sophomore Clifford Respress. As you can see,
Duke is stockpiling some talent on the defensive line.

Duke’s best defensive lineman right now is junior defensive end Patrick
Bailey. Bailey was recruited by Arizona, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Purdue.
At 6-4, 230, he is an athletic defensive end who started at linebacker last
season. He is also strong, bench pressing 420. He has 2.5 tackles for loss and a
sack this season.

The Blue Devils also have a couple of athletic players at linebacker. Middle
linebacker Michael Tauiliili was the nation’s top tackling freshman linebacker
in 2005. He led Duke in tackles with 92. He also made 10 stops behind the line
of scrimmage. He was a First Team Freshman All-American and ACC Defensive
Freshman of the Year by The Sporting News.

Tauiliili likes to make plays in the backfield. He has recorded 2.5 tackles
for loss already this season, and he leads the team with 17 total tackles.

Joining him at linebacker is converted defensive back Jeramy Edwards, who
plays weakside linebacker at 6-0, 220. Edwards had offers from Indiana, Maryland
and Purdue coming out of high school and was the #24 player in the state of New
Jersey. As a former defensive back, he is very athletic. He has 12 tackles and
two tackles for loss on the year.

The third Duke linebacker is Codey Lowe, who has 10 tackles and two fumble
recoveries.

The star of the secondary is senior cornerback John Talley, who made some
preseason All-American lists. He entered the 2006 season as the nation’s
active leader in career interceptions with 11. He has 245 interception return
yards in his career, also first in the nation. He has two interceptions returned
for touchdowns.

Talley has intercepted some very good college quarterbacks in his career,
including Charlie Whitehurst (twice in the same game), Dan Orlovsky (returned
for a TD), Bryan Randall, Marcus Vick and Drew Weatherford. Besides getting a
lot of picks, Talley has also broken up 26 passes in his career. He is an
aggressive player, with two tackles for loss on the season, but that
aggressiveness can get him in trouble. The Hokies burned him for two long
touchdown passes last season.

Duke’s weakness in the secondary is the other cornerback, Deonto McCormick.
McCormick has started at both wide receiver and cornerback during his career,
but appears to have finally stuck at corner. He got turned around in the open
field at times against Wake Forest, so look for the Hokies to attack him on
Saturday.

Free safety Chris Davis is a solid player as well. He has three interceptions
to his credit for his career, and was a preseason third team All-ACC pick by
Lindy’s. He also has ability as a punt returner.

The Hokies will likely try to throw the ball downfield more against Duke.
Teams have had much more success through the air against the Blue Devils this
year than on the ground. With the Hokies’ young offensive line, they could
have some trouble in the running game against Duke.

Special Teams

Advantage Virginia Tech. Duke has really struggled this season in the kicking
game, and it arguably cost them the Wake Forest game last weekend. That’s not
a good thing when heading into a game with the Hokies, who revived their special
teams in the offseason.

Starting kicker Joe Surgan is just 2 of 6 on the season, and two of his
misses have come from less than 30 yards. That won’t get it done against Tech,
as Duke has to take advantage of every available opportunity.

The Blue Devils have also had a tough time punting the ball. Alex Feinberg is
averaging just 33.9 yards on nine punts this season, which ranks 78th in the
nation.

In punt returning, Duke is averaging just two yards per return, which is 97th
in the country. Their kick returns are better, ranking 40th nationally with an
average of 22.2 yards per return.

Conclusion

The Hokies should easily win this game because the Blue Devils will not be
able to move the football, and because Tech holds a big advantage on special
teams. Tech will win the field position battle all afternoon and should be able
to convert that advantage into points.

That being said, Tech might struggle offensively against Duke, and they could
have trouble driving the length of the field on a consistent basis. Duke’s
front seven is much better than people give them credit for, and if their
offensive line was half as good, then the Blue Devils would be 2-0 on the
season.

But the Hokies have a major talent advantage, obviously. They’ll force
turnovers, play on Duke’s side of the field for most of the game, and win this
one handily in the end, though the Blue Devils’ defense could keep it close in
the first half.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Duke 0

Will Stewart’s Take: I see a couple of things happening in this game. Number
one, the fun and games for Duke QB Thaddeus Lewis will come to an end. Lewis has
put up some good numbers, but the Hokies have much better athletes than Lewis
has faced thus far, and Tech has one of the best defensive coordinators in
college football. My guess is that Foster will confuse the true freshman by
disguising coverages and alignments, and the Hokie athletes will take care of
the rest.

True freshmen quarterbacks should average at least one interception a game,
and given that Lewis has none so far in 56 attempts, he’s overdue. I think the
Hokies will get two picks in this game, possibly three.

Number two, the Hokie offense will be more aggressive with the passing game
this week, because Sean Glennon is under pressure, in my opinion, to put the
ball in the air and trust his receivers to get the job done. If he doesn’t, he
risks losing the loyalty of his receiving corps, which has got to be shaky at
this point. As Chris noted, Duke has some talent on the defensive side of the
ball, so this could lead to a couple of Hokie turnovers, as Glennon continues to
learn the ropes. Sean should be more comfortable in front of the home crowd,
against an opponent that isn’t regarded as very formidable, so we’ll see how it
goes.

What’s going to happen in the Tech running game remains to be seen. If Kenny
Lewis, Jr. is impressive in practice today and tomorrow, then he might get some
playing time. That could lead to breakdowns in pass blocking and a possible
fumble, as a kid who hasn’t played a game in three+ years gets used to game
situations again.

There are lots of unknowns here, in addition to the items discussed above.
Can the Duke defense continue to make tackles behind the line against a
higher-caliber opponent? Or will the Hokies move the ball easily? Will Thaddeus
Lewis prove to be an impressive QB, or will he play like a mediocre true
freshman when confronted with the Lunch Pail Defense? Will the Hokies block
another kick or two?

I don’t see Duke winning, obviously, but the nature of VT’s victory won’t be
known until the final tick of the clock. I see three TDs and three FGs for the
Hokies, and somewhere along the way, the Hokies might turn it over, leading to a
Duke score (but not a touchdown).

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 30, Duke 3

2006 TSL Football Game Predictions
(Through UNC; Closest Prediction Highlighted)

Game
Chris’
Prediction
Will’s
Prediction
Phil’s
Projection

Result
N’Eastern 65-0 63-7 49-3 38-0
UNC 23-10 27-10 24-9 35-10

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