Just over one year ago, Virginia Tech suffered an embarrassing home loss at the hands of the Duke Blue Devils, falling 45-10. Saturday in Durham, the Hokies finally get a chance to avenge that loss.
“There was a time in that game when we were up and playing really well. We had a really bad turnover. It steamrolled on us, and they took advantage of that to their credit,” Head Coach Justin Fuente said. “We certainly understand what happened, and now it’s time for us – we have an opportunity to see if we have it.”
Since that Friday night in Blacksburg, the Hokies have won seven of their last ten games, including a 45-24 blowout of North Carolina State last Saturday night.
“We were a different team for the better after that,” Fuente said. “We certainly know what happened and how it happened.”
Tech was missing 23 players and two coaches – including new defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton due to COVID-19 protocols – and still dominated in their season opener. Now, the focus shifts to the Blue Devils, but it’s still unclear who will be suiting up.
“We’re still in the middle of the pandemic, that weight is certainly not off of us, and we cannot let up. We’re still working on it on a literal day-to-day basis,” Fuente said. “We’re trying to do the best we can to patch it together and get ready to travel to Duke.”
Each of the last three Saturdays, Duke (0-3) has fallen by 14 or more points at the hands of an ACC opponent. In their most recent game at Virginia, the Blue Devils led late in the third quarter, but five second half turnovers allowed the Cavaliers to pull away to a 38-20 victory.
Offensive mistakes have been the story of 2020 for Duke, as their 14 turnovers leads the nation through the first month of the season.
“They’ve had some issues turning the football over that has put their defense in some unfortunate situations,” Fuente said. “David Cutcliffe is a heck of an offensive coach, and I know they’re in the midst of working on those offensive issues.”
Many of these struggles have stemmed from the play of quarterback Chase Brice. After transferring from Clemson, Brice was expected to be a huge get for the Blue Devils on the offensive side, but his inability to take care of the ball has cost Duke games already.
“I think they’ve got points that they’ve left on the field that I know and heard Coach Cutcliffe talk about. I know he’ll get those things fixed and get Chase back playing at a high level,” Fuente said. “He’s a talented, big, strong-armed kid who can really deliver the ball really all over the place. I haven’t seen a throw that the guy can’t make.”
The Duke defense has allowed over 30 points per game, but keeping points off the board can be tough when defending a short field. The Blue Devils’ defense has been the strength of the team so far this season, and will look to continue that on Saturday afternoon.
“I’m telling you they are really good. They pressure, they play man coverage, they play some quarters. They mix in their looks, they have some guys over there who have played a tremendous amount of snaps,” Fuente said. “They have played, and I know you guys can talk about their record, but they have played at a high level in all three games.”
The strength of the Blue Devils’ defense has been the pass rush, which starts with Victor Dimukeje at defensive end. Dimukeje’s four sacks leads the nation through week four of play. Paired with other ends, Chris Rumph II and Drew Jordan, the Blue Devils have been getting after the quarterback consistently this season.
“We’ll have to do a good job mitigating their pressure and trying to find a way to run the football,” Fuente said. “This is going to be a group that is disciplined, is gap sound, and that is physical.”
In order to attack the Blue Devils’ defense, the Hokies hope to continue their success on the ground. A phenomenal performance from the offensive line led to the Hokies rushing for over 300 yards on the day, averaging over eight yards per carry. That is a performance that Tech would surely like to repeat against Duke.
“I think our kids played at a high level. We had them pinned down in terms of what they were doing schematically, and our kids went out there and executed. We got the ball to the unblocked hat a couple of times, and made the unblocked hat miss, which led to some pretty explosive plays.”
This will also be the first time that the Hokies will travel this season, which brings other factors into play. Tech’s program has already had to shut down due to COVID-19 concerns within Blacksburg, so caution must be at an all-time high on the road.
“We’re going to be masked up all the way down and all the way back,” Fuente said. “There’s a bunch of those things that we need to adhere to that we’ll do a good job with.”
The Hokies will march into Durham with momentum on their side and the desire to leave last year’s disastrous matchup with the Blue Devils in the past, but they’re sure to face a Duke team looking to improve upon a winless September.
“We’ll have a different challenge this week. We’re going to face a really good, talented defense that certainly understands their scheme and executes it at a high level,” Fuente said. “Our execution last week was pretty high, our kids had a good handle on it. We had been working on that scheme for two weeks, and now we only have six days to get ready for this one, so it’s a new challenge.”