2010 Football Game Preview: #23 Virginia Tech vs. Duke

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  • Date: Saturday, October 23, 2010
  • Time: Noon
  • TV: The ACC Network

For weather information and a roster card link, see the Info Center to the
right.

Virginia Tech takes on Duke this weekend in the final game before the Hokies
have to run the Georgia Tech-UNC-Miami gauntlet. The Blue Devils are just 1-5
and shouldn’t present any major problems for the Hokies, who have been playing
very well offensively over the past few weeks.

Duke won their first game of the season, beating Elon 41-27. Since then,
they’ve lost to Wake Forest (54-48), Alabama (62-13), Army (35-21), Maryland
(21-16) and Miami (28-13). They are playing a lot of freshmen on defense, and
though they are very close to being 2-1 in the ACC, they are a good bet to
challenge UVA for the bottom spot in the Coastal Division.

The Duke Offense

David Cutcliffe is a very good offensive football coach. However, you have to
have good quarterback play for Cutcliffe’s system to work, and so far this year,
Sean Renfree (6-5, 220, r-So.) has not played well. In fact, he’s been downright
awful in two games, and probably cost his team wins against Army and Maryland.

Duke
QB Sean Renfree’s Last Three Games
Opp. Comp. Att. Yards TD INT

Army
17 30 261 2 3

Maryland
28 56 351 1 2

Miami
18 38 157 0 5

Totals
63 124 769 3 10

Army got off to a quick 14-0 lead after scoring drives of three yards and five
yards, both of which came after Renfree interceptions. Duke outgained Army
372-333, but were doomed by turnovers. They outgained Maryland 399-294, but
again were undone by two interceptions when the Blue Devils were in Terp
territory. Renfree also threw two interceptions in a 54-48 loss to Wake Forest.

Duke kept it close against Miami (28-13) despite a whopping seven turnovers,
including five interceptions from Renfree. With just an average game from their
starting quarterback, Duke had a chance to pull the upset against a Hurricane
team that was obviously down after their loss to Florida State.

As a result of poor quarterback play, Duke ranks dead last in the country in
turnover margin. They don’t have the talent to overcome such problems. Where is
Thad Lewis when you need him? Actually, he’s with the St. Louis Rams after
having an excellent preseason as an undrafted rookie free agent.

In the past, Duke’s problem has always been on the offensive line. This year
the line has improved. The running game is much better, and the Blue Devils are
much improved in pass protection.

Desmond Scott (5-9, 185, So.) is a former 4-star tailback recruit and Duke’s
starting tailback. He has 58 carries for 325 yards this season, and is averaging
5.6 yards per carry. His backup is true freshman Josh Snead (5-9, 180, Fr.), who
has 42 carries for 218 yards. With two backs averaging over five yards per
carry, it’s obvious that the offensive line has gotten a lot better in Durham.

Scott and Snead aren’t particularly big, so they seem better suited to run to
the outside. Look for them to attack the boundary side of Tech’s defense and run
at Lyndell Gibson, as Wake Forest did last week. Scott is also a very good
receiver out of the backfield, so the Hokies will have to account for him at all
times.

The Blue Devils also have the two leading receivers in the ACC. Conner Vernon
(6-2, 195, So.) has 37 catches for 581 yards and three touchdowns, while Donovan
Varner (5-9, 175, Jr.) has pulled in 35 receptions for 436 yards.

The Blue Devils are a pass-happy team, and they’ll generally have at least
three wide receivers on the field. Austin Kelly (6-2, 205, Sr.) is the third
receiver. He’s more of a possession receiver. He has 31 catches for 329 yards
and two touchdowns.

Here’s a look at Duke’s improved offensive line.

The
Duke Offensive Line
Pos. Player Ht. Wt. Yr.
LT
Kyle Hill
6-6 290 r-Jr.
LG
Brandon Harper
6-2 315 r-Sr.
C
Bryan Morgan
6-3 260 Sr.
RG
Brian Moore
6-3 275 r-So.
RT
Perry Simmons
6-5 295 r-Fr.

Hill, Morgan and Moore are returning starters. It’s not a particularly big line,
and they aren’t likely to get much of a push against the Hokies up the middle.

Duke can move the football. They average 399 yards per game, and it would be
more were it not for Renfree’s 14 interceptions on the year. How much Duke moves
the ball on the Hokies will come down to which team Renfree throws the ball to.

The Duke Defense

The Duke defense starts three freshmen at key positions, and they are
allowing over 400 yards per game and nearly 40 points per game. They’ve allowed
at least 21 points in every game this season.

The
Duke Defense
Category Stat Rank

Rushing
210.83 ypg 110

Passing
223.67 ypg 75

Total
434.5 ypg 101

Scoring
37.83 ypg 112

Pass Eff.
141.98 97

Third Downs
37.66% 56

Sacks
0.67 per game 117

Do those stats look familiar? They are very Wake Forest-like. The Demon Deacons
and Blue Devils have both had major issues on the defensive side of the ball
this year, and we saw what happened to Wake against a Tech offense that is
starting to hit its stride.

Wake Forest had nine freshmen on their two-deep on defense. Duke has eight,
including three starters. There is a lot of youth on this defense, and not a lot
of talent.

The Duke defensive line lacks playmakers. Through six games this year, the
defensive line has just one sack. That was by backup r-freshman defensive end
Justin Foxx (6-3, 235, r-Fr.). The Hokies are much improved with their pass
blocking this season, and they should be able to move up the rankings even more
against the Blue Devils.

The most experienced Duke defensive linemen are defensive ends Wesley Oglesby
(6-5, 255, r-Sr.) and Patrick Egboh (6-4, 250, r-Sr.). Both players have
significant experience. However, their talent level is low. They’ve combined for
just 3.5 tackles for loss this year, and the Tech offensive line shouldn’t have
any trouble blocking them on the edge.

The defensive tackles are Charlie Hatcher (6-3, 300, r-Jr.) and Sydney
Sarmiento (6-4, 280, r-Fr.). Hatcher has 3.5 tackles for loss this year, and is
probably Duke’s best playmaker on the defensive line. Sarmiento has struggled to
get penetration this year, and his biggest contribution has been a blocked kick.

Duke’s best players are weakside linebacker Abraham Kroman (6-1, 225, r-Sr.),
safety Matt Daniels (6-1, 205, Jr.) and cornerback Chris Rwabukamba (5-11, 180,
r-Sr.). Kroman leads the team in tackles with 58, including 4.5 for loss.
Daniels is second on the team with 46 tackles, and he has five tackles for loss
from his safety position to go along with one interception. Rwabukamba is Duke’s
most experienced defensive back, but he still doesn’t match up particularly well
with the Tech receivers.

The Duke secondary is generally the weak link of the Blue Devil defense, and
the Hokies have dominated it for three of the last four years.

Hokie
Passing
Game vs. Duke
Year Yards
2006 316
2007 346
2008 147
2009 327

The only time the Tech offense hasn’t lit up the Duke defense through the air in
the last four years came in 2008, when the Hokies had all freshmen at wide
receiver and the game was played in a bitterly cold, windy night.

This year the Blue Devils will have a r-freshman cornerback to pick on. Rock
Cockrell (6-0, 175, r-Fr.) is third on the team in tackles with 34, and it’s
generally not a good sign when a cornerback is making that many tackles.
Cockrell has a good future, but he’s still young.

Duke starts a true freshman linebacker. Kelby Brown (6-2, 210, Fr.) lacks
size, but he’s a talented player who chose the Blue Devils over offers from
schools such as Arkansas, Boston College, Louisville, UCLA and Wisconsin, among
others. Brown has 27 tackles and one of the Duke defense’s four sacks on the
year. Like Cockrell, he’s going to be a good player, but right now he’s a true
freshman middle linebacker who lacks size.

The Blue Devils are getting no production from their strongside linebacker
position. Damian Thornton (6-2, 240, Sr.) has started three games and made a
total of nine tackles. Tyree Glover (6-1, 245, So.) has started two games and
made two tackles. Neither player has a tackle for loss. This appears to be
Duke’s weakest position on defense.

The overall scouting report on the Duke defense: they are young, they can’t
stop the run, and they can’t stop the pass. They lack playmakers up front, and
have just four sacks in six games. They are going to have a hard time handing a
Tech offense that has been playing well recently.

Special Teams

Duke does have one of the best placekickers the Hokies will face this season.
Will Snyderwine (5-11, 190, r-Jr.) is 11-of-12 on his field goal attempts this
year, with a long of 46 yards. He is perfect from inside 40 yards. After many
years of inconsistent kicking, the Blue Devils have found a good one in
Snyderwine.

Alex King is averaging 41.5 yards per punt this year. He has only punted 27
times in six games, but seven of them have been downed inside the 20, and he has
a long of 64 yards.

Lee Butler (5-11, 190, Jr.) starts at safety for Duke, and he also returns
punts. He is averaging nine yards per punt this year, with a long of 33. While
he’s not one of the best punt returners out there, he’s capable of breaking one
if the coverage is not good.

Duke has used four kickoff returners: Juwan Thompson (5-11, 215, Fr.),
Desmond Scott (5-9, 185, So.), Josh Snead (5-9, 180, So.) and Patrick Kurunwune
(5-9, 215, r-So.). All four players are tailbacks and are used to moving with
the ball in their hands. However, as a group they haven’t done particularly well
this year returning kicks. Duke averages just 20.7 yards per return, with a long
of 36 yards.

The Blue Devils have a good kickoff team in general. Opponents average just
21.8 yards per return. However, they have allowed one kickoff return for a
touchdown.

The Hokies have more depth and talent than Duke, so they should have an
advantage on special teams.

Final Thoughts

This is the last warm-up game before the critical stretch of Georgia Tech,
North Carolina and Miami. Assuming the Hokies do to Duke what they did to
Central Michigan and Wake Forest, it will have been three straight stress-free
weeks of football.

As we detailed above, the Duke defense is bad. They haven’t been able to stop
the run or the pass all season against halfway decent competition. The Tech
offense is hitting its stride, averaging 479.7 yards per game in their last
three contests. That includes taking most of the first half off against NC
State, and several big drops against Central Michigan. The Hokies could easily
be averaging over 500 yards per game over that span.

If the Hokies get off to a good start, I don’t see the Blue Devils hanging
with them. Sean Renfree is an interception machine. I’d set the over/under on
his number of interceptions at 2.5.

There’s just not many ways you can analyze this game. Virginia Tech has much
better players, so they should win easily.

Chris Coleman’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 45, Duke 17

Will Stewart’s Take: The Blue Devils have graduated some good defensive
talent in recent years, and that has had two major effects: (1) very poor
defensive performance, as opposed to just poor in previous years; and (2) Chris
Coleman no longer having to type (and me no longer having to edit) names such as
Oghobaase, Aye-Darko, Okpokowuruk, and Tauiliili.

Offensively, the Blue Devils are improving on the line, at receiver, and at
running back. In time, Sean Renfree should be a good QB. He was a high
three-star guy who had offers from Arizona State, Boise State, Georgia Tech
(pre-Paul Johnson), Nebraska, and Stanford.

But as they have put some better pieces in place on offense, the Blue Devils
have lost some good individual talent (those guys with the funny names could
play) off a defense that ranked 60th in 2008 and 61st in 2009. The Blue Devils
have tumbled to #101 in total defense this season. While Duke’s defensive talent
was never as good as some of Wake’s recent defensive talent, the decline in the
two programs is similar.

And you saw what Virginia Tech did to Wake’s new defenders.

Anticipating a blowout over Duke, I said in this week’s Monday Thoughts
column that I would be looking for two main things in this game: improved
consistency and continued execution by the offense, and Bud Foster’s solution to
the backer problem on defense. Lyndell Gibson has just three tackles in the last
two games and was exploited by Wake Forest for big gains. It will be interesting
to see if Bud toys with some other linebackers in the backer spot.

This game should be similar to last week’s game: a home game in great weather
(68 and mostly sunny), against a team struggling on defense. I’m predicting a
similar score.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 49, Duke 13

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