When: 3:30 p.m. (EST)
Where: Lane Stadium
Line: VT by 13.5
When asked what a win against Virginia Tech would mean for his team, Duke coach David Cutcliffe responded, “I'll put it this way, we do have an open date after beating them because we'd probably all be on Cloud 9”. Obviously a win against a once powerhouse Hokie football team would be huge, but is there that much of a difference in skill level between these two teams? Virginia Tech prides itself on its stout defense while Duke’s offense can score with anyone in the nation outside of Eugene, Oregon. Last year, Duke shot out to a 20-0 lead in Blacksburg but then gave it all back and more in a 41-20 loss. This year’s team has something that last year’s team lacked, and that’s confidence. This is perfectly personified through sophomore safety Jeremy Cash. "We’re one of the best second-half defenses in the country," Cash said following a shutdown of the UVA offense in the second half last week. “The next level for me would be to play a whole game like that. There’s nothing stopping us but ourselves.” It’s this kind of attitude that makes this team very capable of playing with the top tier teams in the ACC. The Blue-Devils are heading into Blacksburg with a bit of a chip on their shoulder to prove this.
Virginia Tech is a very unbalanced football team. While boasting the 2nd overall defense in the nation, their offense is average at best, but steadily improving. The biggest improvement has to be at the quarterback position, at least compared to last year. In ACC play this year, Logan Thomas has completed 65 percent of his passes with 5 touchdowns and no interceptions. Unlike last season, his wide receivers are getting open and making plays, allowing him to not have to make the perfect throws everytime. What makes this team dangerous is the defense. They rank 3rd against the pass nationally and 6th defending the run. Freshman corners Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson have made a huge difference; both are fast and can shut down the opponents best receiver. Senior corner Antone Exum is also likely to make his season debut after tearing his ACL over the offseason. They go eight deep on the defensive line and start 5 seniors on the front 7. We know Virginia Tech’s defense will keep them in it, the debate is whether or not the offense can put up enough points to keep pace with Duke.
Duke is coming into this game on an emotional high. After being down 22-0 to UVA in Charlottesville, they stormed back to beat the Wahoos 35-22. Beating Virginia is always great, but Duke players know how much sweeter a victory in Blacksburg would be. Since returning from injury two games ago, Anthony Boone has played very well, throwing 5 touchdowns to only one interception while very easily beating a very formidable Navy team. Like every week though, the question will be whether or not Duke can stop the opposing team’s offense. Virginia Tech has absolutely no running game to speak of so it will be up the secondary and players like Ross Cockrell to stop Logan Thomas & company through the air. None of the seniors on the defense have ever beaten Virginia Tech, and outside of the bowl game last year, this is the biggest game of their careers. Beating the Hokies, or even keeping pace with them will prove to the rest of the ACC that the Blue Devils are indeed for real and teams cannot continue to take them lightly.
I have very little bias either way on this pick. I love my Blue Devils almost as much as I love most of my family, and my hatred for the Hokies stems back many years. The keys to this game will be whether or not Duke can put up points on Virginia Tech’s stout defense and which Logan Thomas shows up. Will it be the inconsistent, interception prone Thomas from last year, or the consistent game manager he has become this season. I believe Duke will score just enough points and Thomas will make a costly late interception to seal the game for the Blue Devils 27-23.