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Duke Preview and Prediction

The Hokies were finally able to break the curse of Heinz Field. It took a gritty effort and for the first time in a long time, the offense had to pick up Bud Foster’s defense. That is not something that happened often in the Beamer era. In big games on the road, only one thing matters and that’s winning. The Hokies found a way to win at Heinz Field and now are in the driver’s seat for the Coastal division.

The word of the week is focus. Top 25 teams get upset every week by unranked opponents. There are no easy wins in the Power 5. Teams need to show up focused. It’s not easy to come off a big win on the road then come ready to play the next week. Earlier this season, the Hokies notched a huge win against UNC then put up a dud against Syracuse the next week. Let’s hope the Hokies learned from that experience.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 13th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 41st
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 8th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 19th

Duke

Overall S&P+ ranking: 72nd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 88th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 44th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 108th

On paper, the Hokies have a significant advantage in this matchup. Duke is without their starting QB, Thomas Sirk, he was lost for the season in August. They are also without their top running back, Jela Duncan. This is a team that should struggle to move the ball against the Hokies’ defense. They also have a quarterback who has thrown nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns. This seems like an offense that Bud Foster’s group should be able to slow down.

Duke can give teams trouble when they are on defense. They are good at limiting teams thru the air but have been prone to give up the big play from time to time. The Hokies are going to have to try to stretch the Duke defense by going deep to one of their three deep threats. Like they did against Pitt. The Duke defense is also good at limiting teams in the red zone, which the Hokies struggled with last week. They will have to be better this week.

Duke is a team to worry about because David Cutcliffe teams do not beat themselves. Every FBS game that Duke has played this year was decided a margin of 14 points or less. Duke does not get blown out. They don’t commit many penalties and play solid defense. They are not the type of team you can expect to walk over.

If there are two areas the Hokies can look to turn the game, it’s turnovers and special teams. This may be a game where the Hokies can show off a little new-look Beamerball. Daniel Jones has thrown 9 interceptions this year. Duke is ranked 125th in the nation with 12 lost fumbles. And they have not been particularly strong on special teams (see S&P+ ranking above).  They particularly struggle on punt coverage and converting field goals. Keep an eye out for turnovers and special teams in this game.

This game will not be a cakewalk. Duke is a legit team and can absolutely upset the Hokies. The same way Syracuse did. If the Hokies show up focused like the did against Miami and Pitt, they should be fine and roll to a comfortable win. If they start slow or sleepwalk like they did against Syracuse, they could be in trouble. I do think there will be a bit of an emotional letdown after the Pitt game. I still think the Hokies win and pull away in the 4th quarter.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Duke 17

Duke Preview and Prediction

The Hokies have to win this game if they hope to make a bowl this season. A loss would put the Hokies at 3-5 and would mean they would have to finish 3-1 in order to make a bowl. They do not want to put themselves in that position. On paper, this is a game where the Hokies are favored and if they play like they are capable of, they should win this game.

Duke’s offense is even more anemic than the Hokies’ offense. They rely on the running game and a running quarterback (uh oh). Even with the youth in the secondary, the Hokies should be able to limit the Blue Devils’ passing game. The key to this game will be limiting QB Thomas Sirks’ rushing yards and limiting the Duke RBs from getting involved in the passing game. As long as the Hokies’ defense can play disciplined defensive football in these two areas they should be able to limit Duke offensively.

In theory, the Hokies should move the ball better with Michael Brewer behind center but there are a couple of things about this matchup that concern me. Michael Brewer isn’t particularly mobile and Duke likes to show a lot of blitzes and coverages. Michael Brewer needs to be able to recognize the blitzes and get the ball out of his hands quickly. We cannot have a sack fest like we saw against Pitt.

The Hokies would be well served to lean on their running game. They need to feed the ball to Travon McMillian early and often. If he is rushing for 7+ YPC, don’t take the ball out of his hands. The Miami game would’ve gone much differently, if the coaching staff had kept giving Travon the ball.  This will help Michael Brewer and open up the play action passing game. Michael Brewer cannot be successful if he has to drop back on every down against an aggressive Duke defense.

This will be a tough challenge for the Hokies but it is a game that they can win. Let’s hope the team hasn’t packed it in. If they can play smart and disciplined football, they stand a good chance to win this game. This is a game where the defense will have to stand tall in order for the Hokies to win.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 17, Duke 10

Duke Q&A with Mike Kline from DukeFootballBlog.com

You can follow Mike Kline on Twitter at @MikeKlineDSB and read his blog at DukeFootballBlog.com.

What are your thoughts on your team so far?

So far I’ve been pretty pleased with Duke’s season, though that loss to Northwestern seems less and less impressive as the Wildcats have fallen off the last few weeks. This is the best defense I’ve seen in Durham probably ever. The defense is fast and aggressive and much better than advertised. The offense is, however, not and have struggled against Power 5 conference teams. Quarterback Thomas Sirk has struggled with accuracy on the deep ball and decision making and the running game has been sporadic. There are weapons there just not consistent.

What are your expectations going into the Virginia Tech game?

I expect a close if not ugly game that could come down to a possession or two either way. In short similar to last years game. It will be a battle.

Do you still see Lane Stadium as a “tough place to play”?

Lane Stadium is one of the best venues in the ACC. I’ve been there and the atmosphere and tradition is second to none in the conference. It is still a big time advantage for the Hokies against most team.

At this point, how do you see the Coastal division shaking out? Which team do you think will end up winning the division?

Right now as much as I’d like to pick Duke I think the Blue Devils lose a game or two along the way and I think this game could be one of them. I feel like, as much as I hate to say it, that North Carolina and Pitt have been the class of the Coastal to date. That could change in a weeks time, as per the usual in the Coastal. I think the division comes down to those three Duke, Pitt, and Carolina. Whoever has the strongest finish wins.

What is your prediction for the game?

Like I said earlier, I expect a very close game, probably low scoring. I think if Duke can muster enough offense they will win the game with their solid defense, if Virginia Tech can keep the Duke offense in check and get some opportunistic play on offense or special teams they could squeak out with the victory. If I have to make a prediction I’ll go homer and say Duke wins 17-10, but wouldn’t be shocked if the score were the other way around. This game feels like a push to me.