- Virginia Tech vs. Duke: 7pm, ESPN
- Spread: Virginia Tech -3, per VegasInsider
- Virginia Tech-Duke roster cards: Click here
- Game notes from Hokiesports: Click here
- Blacksburg weather: Click here
- Gameday information: Click here
- Tickets from StubHub:
Virginia Tech returns to action on Friday night when the Hokies host Duke in a nationally televised contest on ESPN. Both teams will be looking to move to 3-1 on the season and pick up their first ACC victory of the year.
Duke is 2-1 on the young season. David Cutcliffe’s team was pasted by Alabama 42-3 in the season opener in Atlanta, as expected. Since then they have run off two straight wins against North Carolina A&T (45-13) and Middle Tennessee (41-18). Generally speaking, the Blue Devils are very solid defensively, but have question marks of their own offensively.
Quentin Harris and the Duke Offense
Daniel Jones made his first NFL start for the New York Giants on Sunday and did quite well. In time, we could find that his numbers were limited a bit at Duke because of the lack of wide receiver talent around him. His replacement in Durham is redshirt senior Quentin Harris (6-1, 200, r-Sr.), an experienced player who has generally put up good numbers when presented with the opportunity.
Career passing: 107-of-172 (62.2%) for 1,189 yards, 16 TDs, 3 INTs
Career rushing: 112 carries, 478 yards, 4.3 ypc, 8 TDs
Harris even has a reception for 24 yards.
His major playing time has come against the following teams…
2019 Alabama: 12-of-22 (54.5%), 97 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs, 10 carries for 13 yards
2019 North Carolina A&T: 30-of-42 (71.4%), 345 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs, 13 carries for 83 yards
2019 Middle Tennessee: 24-of-27 (88.9%), 237 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs, 11 carries for 107 yards
2018 Baylor: 12-of-30 (40%) for 173 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 14 carries for 83 yards
2018 NC Central: 15-of-27 (55.5%) for 202 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 5 carries for 34 yards
Let’s break that down further. In two games against FCS teams and Middle Tennessee (who is No. 114 in total defense in FBS), Harris has put up the following numbers…
Passing: 69-of-96 (71.2%) for 784 yards, 11 TDs, 0 INTs
Rushing: 29 carries, 224 yards, 7.7 ypc
Pretty good, huh? But then you look at his numbers against Power 5 competition…
Passing: 24-of-52 (46.1%) for 270 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs
Rushing: 24 carries, 96 yards, 4.0 ypc
Of course, one of the Power 5 teams was Alabama. However, he only completed 40% of his passes for 173 yards against Baylor. In our limited sample size, he has lit up very bad teams, but struggled to get much going in the passing game against Power 5 competition.
My take on Harris is that he’s a very good runner, but he’s limited as a passer, and he’s even more limited by Duke’s very mediocre receiving corps (as was Daniel Jones). David Cutcliffe has done a good job of getting the most out of Harris thus far in his career, and he’s even implemented some triple option/Georgia Tech offense this season.
The Blue Devils lack talent at the skill positions, which hurts Harris and the offense as a whole. Harris is their leading rusher with 203 yards, but their running backs haven’t been able to produce.
- Deon Jackson (6-0, 215, Jr.): 45 carries, 177 yards, 3.9 ypc
- Mateo Durant (6-1, 195, So.): 26 carries, 93 yards, 3.6 ypc
- Brittain Brown (6-1, 205, r-Jr.): 10 carries, 43 yards, 4.3 ypc
Brown missed the most recent game against Middle Tennessee. He was very good for Duke as a redshirt freshman, and Jackson was also productive last year as a sophomore. However, they haven’t been able to get much going this year, perhaps partly due to the fact that the wideouts aren’t a huge concern, and the offensive line isn’t dominant.
Duke starts two freshmen at offensive tackle: LT Casey Holman (6-4, 295, r-Fr.) and RT Jacob Monk (6-3, 305, Fr.). Holman has been one of the highest grading freshman offensive lineman in the country so far, and if you judge only by PFF grades, he has been far and away Duke’s best offensive player through three games.
Monk was a 4-star player by 247, though a 3-star by everyone else, and he was considered an offensive guard prospect. He’s not a great fit at tackle at this point, and the Hokies should be able to give him some trouble, particularly if left end TyJuan Garbutt returns from injury. On the whole, Virginia Tech’s defensive line should be able to hold up well against the Duke offensive line.
Part of Duke’s issues recently is that they haven’t had as much talent at wide receiver as they did a few years back. There is no Jamison Crowder on this roster. The leading receiver is tight end Noah Gray (6-4, 240, Jr.) with 16 receptions, averaging 7.6 yards per catch. Among the wide receivers, true freshman slot receiver Jalon Calhoun (5-11, 185, Fr.) has been the best so far with 15 receptions for 153 yards and three touchdowns.
You may remember the name Scott Bracey (6-2, 205, r-Jr.). Bracey was one of the top recruits in the state of Virginia, picking Duke over the Hokies in Frank Beamer’s final season in Blacksburg. However, the career of the former 4-star prospect has been disappointing thus far, considering his ranking. He’ll likely get the start against the Hokies, but he has just seven receptions in three games this year.
Duke’s personnel on offense isn’t scary. However, their option plays and misdirection most definitely are scary. The Hokies still have a young defense, and all it takes is one busted assignment to equal seven points for the Blue Devils. The good news is that Tech faced a Furman team last week that runs plenty of option as well, so to face two teams like that back-to-back is a good thing. The Hokie defense isn’t elite this year, but they are better than last season, and I expect them to play a good game against the Blue Devils.
The Duke Defense: The Strength of the Team
Alabama only averaged 3.5 yards per carry against Duke. That’s statistic by itself is enough to make me worry about Saturday night’s game. The Crimson Tide eventually overcame the Blue Devils through the air, but they struggled to establish a ground game against an experienced, disciplined and physical Duke defense.
The Blue Devils have a very experienced defensive line, with no redshirt freshmen or true freshmen in the two-deep. Their youngest player in the two-deep is backup defensive tackle Tahj Rice (6-2, 320, So.), and the second-youngest is backup defensive end Chris Rumph II (6-3, 225, r-So.). This is a veteran, experienced group, with a junior backing up a senior at one end spot, and even a senior backing up a junior at one defensive tackle position.
According to Pro Football Focus, the top three graders on Duke’s defense are all defensive linemen, including Rumph, defensive end Tre Hornbuckle (6-4, 255, Sr.) and defensive tackle Trevon McSwain (6-6, 285, r-Sr.). Also worth watching is defensive end Victor Dimukeje (6-2, 265, Jr.), who will likely be a 4-year starter for the Blue Devils after picking Duke over Virginia Tech out of high school. Dimukeje is one of Virginia Tech’s biggest misses on defense in recent years, and he’s put up the following numbers at Duke…
Freshman: 7.5 TFL, 2 sacks (Freshman All-American)
Sophomore: 7.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks
Dimukeje isn’t a great pass rusher, but he’s a good all-around player who would be starting for the Hokies.
Behind those experienced defensive linemen are a pair of fourth-year linebackers: middle linebacker Koby Quansah (6-1, 230, Sr.) and weakside backer Brandon Hill (6-3, 235, r-Jr.). Each player has only been a part-time starter before this season, but they are veterans who have been in the system. They aren’t necessarily great physical talents, but experience matters.
The Blue Devils are most vulnerable in the secondary, and they also have size issues at a few spots in the defensive backfield. Here are their starters…
- CB Leonard Johnson (6-1, 200, r-So.): Starter at safety last season, playing his first season as a cornerback.
- CB Josh Blackwell (5-11, 175, r-So.): Started five games last season, including the game against the Hokies.
- S Marquis Waters (6-0, 205, Jr.): 11 starts last year at Bandit safety.
- S Michael Carter II (5-10, 185, Jr.): 11 starts last year, moved to cornerback from safety due to injury.
- S Dylan Singleton (5-11, 180, Sr.): Honorable mention All-ACC at safety last season.
Last season Duke’s secondary was hurt badly by injuries, causing a couple of players to have to play out of position. The Hokies took advantage last season, and the Blue Devils probably made a mistake by keeping their cornerbacks on an island against Virginia Tech’s bigger, more physical wide receivers.
I don’t expect Virginia Tech to have much rushing success against the Blue Devils, though it’s also fair to point out that both North Carolina A&T and Middle Tennessee on paper had more rushing success than Alabama, from a yards per carry standpoint.
Alabama: 42 carries, 145 yards, 3.5 ypc
NC A&T: 29 carries, 138 yards, 4.8 ypc
Middle Tennessee: 32 carries, 138 yards, 4.3 ypc
Still, I don’t see anything that would suggest to me that the Virginia Tech running game is ready to make a giant leap. I’m just hoping to see incremental improvement.
I think Virginia Tech’s offensive success in this game will come down to the passing game, and whether or not they protect the football. If they have a relatively good day passing the football, and they avoid turnovers, then the Hokies will have a good shot to win. But if they fail in either of those tasks, then the Blue Devils will be a tough team for them to beat.
Virginia Tech – Duke Final Thoughts
Virginia Tech finally updated their depth chart this week, moving Bryan Hudson, Doug Nester, Eli Adams and Kaleb Smith into the starting lineup. Damon Hazelton, Zachariah Hoyt, TJ Jackson and TyJuan Garbutt have been removed due to their injuries. However, for all we know the Hokies could get a couple of those guys back for this game. I’d feel a lot better especially with Hazelton and Hoyt in the lineup. However, we don’t know anything about their status. All I know is they didn’t play last week, so I’m not going to project them to play this week. If they do, I’ll consider it a bonus.
Last year’s 31-14 game at Duke was closer than the score indicated, because it basically came down to wide receivers making (or not making) plays. A couple of times in that game, Duke’s receivers failed to make catches in one-on-one matchups with Tech’s defensive backs in the endzone. Something tells me New York Giants receivers will make those plays for Daniel Jones. And on the other hand, Virginia Tech’s wideouts made a ton of one-on-one catches for quarterback Ryan Willis in his first career start.
Virginia Tech hasn’t shown the ability to run the football this year, nor has Ryan Willis shown much improvement in his ability to read zone and pick apart a defense in the short-to-intermediate areas. If I’m Duke, I’m making sure guys like Tre Turner and Phil Patterson don’t have one-on-one opportunities down the field against my cornerbacks. I’d keep my safeties back to protect, and if the Hokies can drive the length of the field with the running game and the short-to-intermediate passing game, then I’d tip my cap to them and make adjustments.
We haven’t seen the Tech receivers get as many one-on-one opportunities this year as they did last season, and they haven’t been able to consistently move the football in any other way. Unless something has drastically changed during the bye week, I just don’t see the Hokies playing a good offensive game against Duke on Friday.
Switching sides, I don’t see the Blue Devils lighting up the scoreboard either. I think the Tech defense will play well, as Duke has some personnel issues on that side of the ball, and Bud Foster has had an extra week to prepare.
But the Virginia Tech offense I’ve seen the last couple of weeks isn’t capable of scoring enough points to beat Duke, even with a solid Hokie defensive effort. I think it will take a borderline elite effort. Perhaps we’ll get it. I wouldn’t be surprised. Still…I just don’t have any confidence in the offense, with so many freshmen in the starting lineup and a quarterback that doesn’t have a complete game. I need to see more before I start picking them to win again.
Chris’s Prediction: Duke 20, Virginia Tech 17
Will Stewart’s Take: One thing Chris didn’t highlight is that Duke doesn’t go backwards on offense very often. The Blue Devils are No. 1 in the nation in tackles for loss (TFL) allowed at just 2.33 per game, including just two given up against Alabama. Duke has also surrendered just one sack, tied for No. 3 in the country.
The Hokies are No. 17 in sacks (2.33 per game) and No. 35 in TFL (7 per game), so they’re not slouches at playing behind the line. Containing Quentin Harris from scrambling and getting Duke behind the chains could be the key defensively for Virginia Tech. Maybe Bud Foster will send Chamarri Conner off the edge with some blitzes designed to take advantage of Duke’s young offensive tackles.
If you look at Duke’s team stats, they don’t do anything particularly well, ranking between 50-80 nationally for 17 of 25 listed stats; 100+ for three stats; and in the top 40 for just two stats, and just barely: No. 33 for defensive first downs, and No. 40 in passing efficiency. There’s a whole lot of “blah” there.
For comparison, the Hokies are top 40 in 12 categories, nearly half the listed stats. But it all comes down to matchups, and Duke’s mature defensive line against Tech’s young o-line is one bad matchup, for example.
Still, I find myself thinking about last year’s game. One week after a stinging defeat at ODU, the No. 24 Hokies traveled to Durham to face No. 22 Duke. The Blue Devils were favored by five, and Chris and I both picked Duke to beat Tech, but the Hokies won rather handily, 31-14, because Virginia Tech made plays, and Duke didn’t. Plays like:
It was Tech’s last hurrah, as the season went south and they lost five of the next six. But Tech looked darn good against Duke that night.
I can see the issues and the bad matchups, but I can’t bring myself to pick Duke over VT in a Friday night game in Lane Stadium.
Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Duke 20