Hokies look to break losing streak at #19 Duke

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  • Date/Time: Saturday, November 15, 2014, Noon
  • TV: ESPNU
  • Virginia Tech-Duke rostercard: Click here
  • Game notes from Hokiesports.com: Click here
  • For Duke links, see our Links page
  • Durham Weather: Click here
  • Gameday information: Click here
  • Duke favored by 5.5

The Hokies will be looking to avoid their fourth straight loss when they travel to Durham on Saturday to face red-hot Duke.

Last year, Tech lost to Duke in Blacksburg in a game in which neither quarterback seemed to want to win. Here are the stats from Logan Thomas and Anthony Boone.

Thomas: 21 of 38 for 214 yards, 0 TDs, 4 INTs
Boone: 7 of 25 for 107 yards, 0 TDs, 4 INTs

It was a rough day for Thomas, but he also rushed for 100 yards, and on the whole he outplayed Anthony Boone (which isn’t saying much). Tech also held Jamison Crowder to four catches for just 38 yards, and outgained the Blue Devils 387 to 198. Yet somehow, they managed to lose the football game. (I’m looking at you, Cody Journell.)

Duke is becoming quite good at winning football games on the scoreboard despite not winning them in the box score, as we’ll find out later in this preview.

Advanced Stats from FootballOutsiders.com

FEI Offense: #37 (#70 in explosive plays, more on that later)
S&P+ Offense: #43
FEI Defense: #14 (#111 in methodical drives, more on that later)
S&P+ Defense: #49 (#3 in IsoPPP and #115 in Havoc Rate, more on that later)
FEI Special Teams: #1

Duke’s offense has been fairly efficient this year, but they are only #70 in explosive plays. That’s a good sign, as the Hokies have struggled at stopping big plays this season. If Tech can shut down Jamison Crowder, they have a very good chance of limiting the Blue Devils’ big plays.

Defensively, there is a big difference between Duke’s FEI rank and their S&P+ rank. However, a few things are clear…

1: Duke doesn’t give up big plays (#3 in IsoPPP).
2: Duke does give up long drives, which is the only way the Hokies have scored this year.
3: Duke doesn’t have many playmakers on defense, as their Havoc Rate shows.

I think Tech can keep a clean pocket for Michael Brewer, and they should be able to avoid turnovers. Big plays are unlikely against a smart Duke defense that rarely makes mistakes. The Hokies are going to have to drive the length of the field to score touchdowns.

Duke’s special teams ranking is very impressive. You can’t get better than #1, and clearly David Cutcliffe’s teams are winning the field position battle this year. That explains how they have been able to win games such as UVA and Syracuse without putting up big offensive numbers.

Duke vs. ACC opponents

Duke is 4-1 in the ACC, and they are on pace to win the Coastal Division for the second year in a row. However, you wouldn’t know it from looking at the box score. Check out Duke’s total yardage totals in comparison to their opponents’ in their five ACC games.

At Miami, 22-10 L: Outgained 426-264 (-162)
at GT, 31-25 W: Outgained 483-373 (-110)
vs. UVA, 20-13 W: Outgained 465-334 (-131)
at Pitt, 51-48 W: Outgained 594-438 (-156)
at Syracuse, 27-10 W: 259-224 (+35)

Duke has been outgained by at least 110 yards in four of their five ACC games. It’s almost hard to believe they aren’t 1-4 rather than 4-1, when you look at total yards. In fact, their offense isn’t very good, to be brutally honest. Their non-conference schedule was a joke (four teams with a combined record of 9-29, including FCS Elon) so let’s focus in on their ACC games.

Miami: 264 total yards, 85 rushing yards, 179 passing yards, 3.4 yards per carry
GT: 373 total yards, 242 rushing yards, 131 passing yards, 5.1 yards per carry
UVA: 334 total yards, 155 rushing yards, 179 passing yards, 5.2 yards per carry
Pitt: 438 total yards, 172 rushing yards, 266 passing yards, 6.4 yards per carry
Syracuse: 259 total yards, 98 rushing yards, 161 passing yards, 3.0 yards per carry

(Note that Duke has played three of the same opponents VT has: Miami, GT, and Pitt.)

Duke is averaging 333.6 yards per game against ACC opponents. Virginia Tech is averaging 349.6 yards per game against ACC opponents. I bet you didn’t expect to read that, did you? Defensively against ACC opponents, it looks like this…

Duke: 438.4 yards per game
VT: 370.6 yards per game

Virginia Tech’s offense is putting up 16 more yards per game against ACC opponents than Duke, while Tech’s defense is outperforming the Duke defense by about 68 yards per game. Yet the Blue Devils are 4-1, and the Hokies are 1-4. That tells me two things:

1: Duke wins the hidden yardage game. They are #1 in special teams efficiency for a reason.
2: As a team, Duke just knows how to win games at the end.

I think there is also a bit of a luck factor involved, but that doesn’t diminish the two points above at all.

I’ve never been sold on Anthony Boone as a quarterback. He tossed four picks against the Hokies last year (and Tech still somehow managed to lose), and he’s actually the worst quarterback Duke has had since very early in the David Cutcliffe era. Guys like Sean Renfree and Thad Lewis were way better than Boone, and both have been in the NFL since leaving Duke. However, Boone has a much better team around him, which is why the Blue Devils are succeeding.

Boone has cut down on his picks this year (only four total), but he has struggled to make big things happen in the passing game. Here are his stats for Duke’s five ACC games.

Miami: 22-of-51 for 179 yards, 0 TDs and 2 INTs
GT: 16-of-26 for 131 yards, 1 TD and 0 INT
UVA: 22-of-37 for 176 yards, 1 TD and 0 INTs
Pitt: 23-of-31 for 266 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs
Syracuse: 15-of-33 for 161 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT

That’s a total of 98-of-178 (55.1%) for 913 yards, with seven touchdowns and three interceptions. That’s a quarterback rating of 107.74. Compare that to Michael Brewer’s numbers against the ACC.

116-of-179 (64.8%) for 1,173 yards, 4 TDs, 4 INTs, 122.75 QB rating

Despite the fact that Brewer has no help at all from a running game and mostly freshmen receivers, he’s still been more efficient than Boone. The big difference is that Michael Brewer has to put up big numbers to give the Hokies a chance to win. All Boone has to do is protect the football because he has a good offensive line, three effective tailbacks and an All-ACC receiver around him.

The Running Game

Despite David Cutcliffe’s reputation as a coach who likes to throw the ball around, the reality is that he is very capable of adapting to his strengths. Quarterback is not his strength this year. Instead, it’s a good group of running backs and a solid, experienced offensive line. As a result, Cutcliffe is leaning more on the running game this season.

Here’s a look at Duke’s top rushers…

Shaun Wilson (5-9, 180, Fr.): 58 carries, 535 yards, 9.2 ypc, 4 TDs
Shaq Powell (5-10, 205, Jr.): 74 carries, 376 yards, 5.1 ypc, 2 TDs
Josh Snead (5-9, 190, r-Sr.): 62 carries, 315 yards, 5.1 ypc, 2 TDs
Anthony Boone (6-0, 225, r-Sr.): 49 carries, 247 yards, 5.0 ypc, 4 TDs
Totals: 243 carries, 1473 yards, 6.06 ypc, 12 TDs

As you can see, Duke goes at opponents with a running back by committee approach. Shaun Wilson is a very impressive freshman who plays bigger than he is. Shaq Powell is a talented veteran, while Josh Snead is an experience complement. Anthony Boone does a nice job running the read option, and though he’s not a great runner, he is effective behind Duke’s good offensive line.

Duke has surpassed Virginia Tech in terms of offensive line talent. Laken Tomlinson is projected to be a third or fourth round pick, while guys like Takoby Cofield, Matt Skura and Casey Blaser are amongst the better players in college football for their respective positions and classes.

LT Takoby Cofield (6-4, 310, r-Sr.): #31 OT in 2015 Draft
LG Lucas Patrick (6-4, 305, r-Jr.): #82 OG in 2016 Draft
C Matt Skura (6-4, 305, r-Jr.): #13 C in 2016 Draft
RG Laken Tomlinson (6-3, 330, r-Sr.): #7 OG in 2015 Draft
RT Casey Blaser (6-5, 285, r-So.): #44 OT in 2016 Draft

Now, compare that to Virginia Tech’s starting offensive line from left to right…

LT Laurence Gibson: #58 OT in 2015 Draft
LG Wyatt Teller: #3 OG in 2018 Draft
C David Wang: #28 C in 2015 Draft
RG Augie Conte: #34 OG in 2017 Draft (or Caleb Farris, who is ranked #57 OG in the 2015 Draft)
RT Wade Hansen: Unranked

Virginia Tech has an edge at left guard, where Wyatt Teller is already the best lineman on the team. Teller definitely has an NFL future. However, the talent level for the Blue Devils at all the other spots is much higher than it currently is in Blacksburg. That explains why Duke can run the football, and the Hokies can’t.

Tech has to stop the Duke rushing attack. If they can stop the running game and put the ball in the hands of Anthony Boone, I like the Hokies’ chances to pull the upset. However, if Duke is able to establish a ground game, it’s going to be another long afternoon for the good guys.

Fourth Quarter has been kind to Duke recently

In their last three wins, Duke has been money in the fourth quarter:

UVA: Duke outscored the Hoos 7-0 in the fourth quarter, and they won by 7.
Pitt: Duke outscored Pitt 13-10 in the fourth quarter, and they won by 3.
Syracuse: Duke outscored Syracuse 17-0 in the fourth quarter, and they won by 17.

Those stats tell the story a lot better than I can. The Blue Devils know how to close, plain and simple.

Jamison Crowder

Jamison Crowder (5-9, 175, Sr.) is a small guy, but he’s a big-time player. Here are his career numbers:

Receiving: 256 catches for 3,291 yards, 12.9 ypc, 21 touchdowns
Punt returns: 61 returns, 765 yards, 12.5 ypr, 3 touchdowns

Crowder has speed, explosiveness, and he plays much bigger than he is. He reminds me a bit of Steve Smith of the Ravens, an NFL receiver who is also 5-9, 175, but is known for playing more like he’s 6-3, 210.

The Hokies have to limit Crowder’s big plays. He is capable of taking it the distance at any point, so there can’t be any breakdowns in the secondary, and there can’t be any mental errors on the punt coverage team.

Jeremy Cash: The ideal Whip

Virginia Tech hasn’t had a full-time whip linebacker since Cody Grimm back in 2009. The perfect guy for the position plays for Duke. Jeremy Cash (6-2, 205, r-Jr.) started his career at Ohio State where he played as a true freshman, but he transferred to Duke and developed into a big time football player.

Cash plays the “Strike” safety position for the Blue Devils, which means he lines up in the slot, and he’s equally good at playing the run or the pass. Here are his numbers from the 2013 and 2014.

2013: 121 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 4 INTs, 2 FF
2014: 82 tackles, 5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 6 PD, 3 FF

Whenever you watch a Duke game, you always see #16 around the football. His versatility makes him very valuable, and he’s one of my favorite defensive players to watch in the ACC.

Cash is part of a defense that plays a bend but don’t break style, as the advanced stats show. The Blue Devils don’t make a lot of tackles for loss or sacks, and they will give up lengthy drives. However, collectively they have a high football IQ, and they don’t blow assignments or give up big plays.

Final Thoughts

I have some good news, and bad news. We’ll start with the bad news. Duke is 8-1 overall and 4-1 in the ACC, and they have won 16 of their last 19 football games. Meanwhile, the Hokies are 4-5 overall and 1-4 in the ACC. They are 5-9 in their last 14 games against FBS opponents. That last number in particular makes me want to bury my head in the sand.

Besides all that, the Blue Devils have a good offensive line, a top notch receiver, better running backs than the Hokies, the #1 ranked special teams unit in America, a head coach who is on a roll, a lot of confidence, a ton of momentum, and they are a team that just seems to know how to win. Tech has lost three in a row, they start a ton of freshmen, and they seem to make a habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

All of that represents the bad news. However, there is good news as well.

Those numbers against ACC opponents show that Duke is very beatable. They have been living on the edge in wins against Pitt, UVA and Georgia Tech, and even the Syracuse game was 10-10 early in the fourth quarter. The Blue Devils and Hokies aren’t as far apart as their records would indicate. Just scroll back up and look at the numbers against ACC teams. Duke is obviously good because they win a lot games, but they aren’t that good.

I also mentioned above that Tech is only 5-9 in their last 14 games against FBS competition. That doesn’t sound promising, but two of those five wins have come on the road against ranked teams … last year against Miami, and this year against Ohio State. I think this year’s win over the Buckeyes was nothing but Fool’s Gold, but nevertheless, the point still stands. Another one of the five wins – UVA in 2013 – was on the road. This team seems to play better on the road, particularly against ranked teams. Well, this weekend the Hokies will be facing a ranked team on the road.

A lot of people will tell you that Tech doesn’t stand much of a chance to win this football game, but a closer glance at the stats shows that there isn’t much separating these two teams. The big difference is that Duke has closed out games better, made the plays in those 2-3 critical plays per game, and the Hokies have done the opposite.

If past weeks are any indication, Saturday’s game is going to be close in the fourth quarter. The first nine games tell us that Duke will make the plays to win over the last few minutes, or the Hokies will make the plays to lose, or some combination of the two. But to me, Duke isn’t playing well enough to win out, and the Hokies aren’t playing poor enough to keep losing. I’m picking Tech to pull the upset this week.

That’s not a homer pick, by the way. I picked Tech to lose to Pitt, and I picked Tech to lose to Boston College. I made those picks by looking at the numbers, statistics, matchups, and going with my gut feel. I feel like Tech has a better matchup this week, and both the Blue Devils and Hokies are due for something different to happen to them. There’s a good chance I’ll regret this at 3:30pm Saturday afternoon, but…

Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Duke 24

Will Stewart’s Take: Duke is 18-3 in their last 21 regular season games, including seven straight wins in games decided by one score (seven points or fewer). The only one-score game they have lost since losing 58-55 to Pitt early in 2013 was their 52-48 Chick-fil-A Bowl loss to Johnny and the Manziels last season. As Chris pointed out, Duke knows how to win, and really knows how to win the close games.

VT, on the other hand, has perfected the art of losing, since their 13-10 loss to Duke last season. Starting with that game, the Hokies are 6-9 in their last 15 games, including losing seven straight one-score games.

How about that.

If you’re a glass-half-full kind of person, you’re thinking, “Sweet. Both streaks are going to end.” If you’re a glass-half-empty kind of person…

I think this game is the very definition of a toss-up. Usually, in the case of a toss-up, I good-naturedly throw it over to the good guys. But let’s look a little closer at two things: playmaking ability and mistakes.

Playmakers: Duke has the best playmaker on the field in this game in Jamison Crowder, and he’s not alone. If you watched Duke vs. Syracuse, the Blue Devils won because Crowder returned a punt for a touchdown and Issac Blakeney made a great 54-yard TD catch to seal the deal.

Playmakers make the difference in a close game. Tech’s best opportunity for a game-changing play comes from the defense (paging Kendall Fuller) and perhaps Bucky Hodges. (Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips aren’t quite there yet, though they’re excellent receivers for freshmen.)

Mistakes: let’s look at penalties and turnovers.

  • Duke is #17 in the country in penalties, at 39.3 yards per game. Virginia Tech is #96, at 62.7 ypg.
  • Duke is #8 in the nation in turnover margin, at +1 per game. Virginia Tech is #100, at -0.44 per game.

All else being equal, the Hokies simply make too many mistakes when compared to Duke. The disparity in mistakes leads to the disparity in winning and losing close games. That trend may reverse itself, because all trends end, and (1) VT has cut down on the penalties in the last two games, and (2) the Hokie offense didn’t turn it over in the last game — special teams did.

This one is going to be close, possibly very close, and I just don’t like VT’s ability — or lack thereof — to win close games. But like I said, it’s a toss-up, so we’ll see.

Will’s Prediction: Duke 24, Virginia Tech 20

Who will win the VT-Duke game?

  • VT wins by 20+ (4%, 33 Votes)
  • VT wins by 10-19 (16%, 145 Votes)
  • VT wins by 1-9 (39%, 347 Votes)
  • Duke wins by 20+ (3%, 27 Votes)
  • Duke wins by 10-19 (14%, 123 Votes)
  • Duke wins by 1-9 (24%, 218 Votes)

Total Voters: 893

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16 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Duke: Excellent special teams, Solid line play, Good running game and a QB who manages the game by not screwing it up. VT: mediocre special teams, pathetic O line, horrible running game and a QB with a history of turning the ball over. Duke is in control of the Coastal and VT has already been eliminated. It is uncanny how these two teams have completely switched roles. They’re basically us from 2004 or 1996. Looking at the QB pass attempts, etc. I had to laugh. Looks a lot like the numbers we used to put up when we won a ton of games and people scratched their heads and said “WHY are they winning?” Beamerball lives in Durham now guys.

    1. VT has played poorly after a week off
      VT should beat Duke but the jury is still out on whether this team has thrown in the towel.
      Too much noise around the program on th negative side.

  2. “…better running backs than the Hokies”

    You honestly believe that their running backs are better than Williams (and Trey and McKenzie if they were healthy)? they may have better numbers because of a better offensive line but truly better running backs?? I don’t buy that one.

    1. As a group they’re better than Marshawn…Trey & Shai aren’t playing, so they’re irrelevant for Sat.

  3. Duke is way overdue to lose a fourth quarter, and the Hokies are overdue to string together four solid quarters of good football. Hokies carry the day, 27-21.

  4. Hey Chris, regarding this comment: “Duke has been outgained by at least 110 yards in four of their five ACC games. It’s almost hard to believe they aren’t 1-4 rather than 4-1, when you look at total yards. In fact, their offense isn’t very good, to be brutally honest.”

    The same could be said of VT during our 10-win streak…

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