Can 0-2 Blue Dev­ils hang tough?

The Charlotte Observer - - NEWS - BY MADE­LINE COLEMAN AND TODD M. ADAMS

Duke foot­ball is off to a rocky start on of­fense in 2020 to say the least with seven turnovers and just two touch­downs.

That high rate hasn’t hap­pened since 2016, when Duke tal­lied five fum­bles against N.C. Cen­tral and three to­tal turnovers against Wake For­est the next week. The team went 4-8, 1-7 ACC that year, but opened the sea­son 1-1.

If there’s any chance for the Blue Dev­ils to win at Vir­ginia on Satur­day for the first time since head coach Bronco Men­den­hall took over the Cava­liers in 2016, Duke needs to shake this turnover bug.

“The sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in this past game against Bos­ton Col­lege was just the turnovers,” Men­den­hall said to the me­dia on Mon­day when asked what has stood out about Duke. “That got in the way of Duke win­ning that game, which is not char­ac­ter­is­tic of a Duke foot­ball team.”

It will be Duke’s third game of the sea­son and Vir­ginia’s sea­son opener.

BY THE NUM­BERS

Records: Duke 0-2 (0-2 ACC); * Vir­ginia 9-5 (6-2)

Duke of­fense: 9.5 ppg | 342.5 ypg | 238.0 pass­ing ypg | 104.5 rush­ing ypg

Vir­ginia de­fense: 27.1 ppg | 371.9 ypg | 233.7 pass­ing ypg | 138.1 rush­ing ypg

Vir­ginia of­fense: 32.1 ppg | 388.4 ypg | 267.1 pass­ing ypg | 121.2 rush­ing ypg

Duke de­fense: 26.5 ppg | 412.5 ypg | 281.5 pass­ing ypg | 131.0 rush­ing ypg

*Vir­ginia num­bers are from 2019-20 sea­son

DUKE RUN GAME VS. VIR­GINIA RUN DE­FENSE

In­di­vid­u­ally, Duke’s run­ning game has been solid so far. Deon Jack­son has 126 rush­ing yards on 30 at­tempts (4.2 per at­tempt) and Mataeo Du­rant has 66 on 10 (6.6 per at­tempt). The is­sue is the Blue Dev­ils have trailed for much of their first two games and had to go to the air. Ex­pect them to try and es­tab­lish the run early to show a more bal­anced at­tack.

Vir­ginia’s rush de­fense was sus­cep­ti­ble at times last year, al­low­ing 138.1 yards per game. The Cava­liers do re­turn a pair of se­niors at de­fen­sive end in Richard Bur­ney and Mandy Alonso. They also have three up­per­class­men among their lineback­ers unit, an im­por­tant group in stop­ping the run in a 3-4 de­fense.

Duke will need to do a bet­ter job hold­ing on to the ball, though. The Blue Dev­ils fum­bled five times in the first two weeks — and lost them all.

DUKE PASS GAME VS. VIR­GINIA PASS DE­FENSE

It’s al­ready been men­tioned that Duke’s of­fense has been forced to be mostly one-di­men­sional in the sec­ond halves of its first two games, and that hurt the pass­ing at­tack. Quar­ter­back Chase Brice has been hot and cold, com­plet­ing 43 of 79 passes for 479 yards, a passer rat­ing of ex­actly 100.0.

He also has a pair of in­ter­cep­tions and has been sacked five times, some­thing Vir­ginia will try and ex­ploit with its ex­pe­ri­enced front seven. Ex­pect the Cava­liers to try and bring the heat.

VIR­GINIA RUN GAME VS. DUKE RUN DE­FENSE

The Cava­liers ac­tu­ally list two po­si­tions at run­ning back on their depth chart — “speed back” and “big back” — although the speed back gen­er­ally plays much more than the big back. While the Cava­liers had some at­tri­tion with this group in the off­sea­son, ju­nior Wayne Taula­papa — whose 473 rush­ing yards was sec­ond on the team last year to quar­ter­back Bryce Perkins’ 769 — is back and could get a lion’s share of the car­ries. Se­nior Shane Simp­son is the pri­mary backup and should get some touches as well. Sopho­more Mike Hollins is listed as the top big back, and could get some car­ries es­pe­cially in short yardage sit­u­a­tions.

Duke’s run de­fense has al­lowed 131.0 yards per game so far, not ter­ri­ble as they’ve mostly been down in their first two con­tests.

VIR­GINIA PASS GAME VS. DUKE PASS DE­FENSE

This could be the key matchup Satur­day.

The Cava­liers have a new quar­ter­back, Bren­nan Arm­strong, to fill the hole left by Perkins, who ac­counted for 67 to­tal touch­downs, 6,210 pass­ing yards and 1,692 rush­ing yards dur­ing the past two sea­sons at Vir­ginia and now plays for the Los An­ge­les Rams.

Arm­strong will face a thinned Duke pass de­fense with cor­ner­backs Josh Black­well and Mark Gil­bert out in­def­i­nitely af­ter un­der­go­ing surg­eries this week. Leonard John­son, who has start­ing ex­pe­ri­ence af­ter the last two sea­sons, and Jeremiah Lewis are ex­pected to fill in for the two starters.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the sopho­more quar­ter­back will need to avoid Duke’s high-end pass rush, who have tal­lied nine sacks in two games. Vic­tor Dimukeje had 3.5 sacks against Bos­ton Col­lege — the sec­ond-most in a game in Duke his­tory.

DUKE IN­TAN­GI­BLES VS. VIR­GINIA IN­TAN­GI­BLES

For the third week in a row, Duke will face an op­po­nent with­out any fresh film, leav­ing some un­knowns even with UVA’s strong re­turn­ing squad.

“They’re re­ally a good de­fen­sive sys­tem­atic team,” Duke head coach David Cut­cliffe said. “I think they’re as in­tri­cate de­fen­sively as any­body we play. They’ve done a good job of re­cruit­ing play­ers. Their play­ers are well­pre­pared. I’ve known Bronco for a long, long time. They’ve had some good for­tune with some guys. You know Bryce Perkins com­ing in there made a huge dif­fer­ence. They were coastal divi­sion cham­pi­ons for a rea­son a year ago, and they’ve got a lot of play­ers back that re­turn.”

The bright side of that is that Duke has played two games while this is Vir­ginia’s opener. The Blue Dev­ils have un­doubt­edly worked out at least some of the early-sea­son kinks that the Cava­liers will ex­pe­ri­ence, like first-game jit­ters and gen­eral rust.

Fi­nally, Duke is tied for last in the ACC and in the coun­try in red zone con­ver­sions, tal­ly­ing three scores on six trips inside the op­po­nent’s twenty yard line, with a sin­gle touch­down and two field goals. How­ever, last sea­son the Blue Dev­ils were 20th na­tion­ally and 2nd in the ACC (90.6 per­cent) in red zone con­ver­sions.

“As a re­ceiver unit, we feel like we have the fire­power and the abil­ity to go make plays ev­ery Satur­day,” Bobo said. “We haven’t nec­es­sar­ily shown that.”

NELL RED­MOND AP

Duke head coach David Cut­cliffe talks to quar­ter­back Chase Brice af­ter Brice threw an in­ter­cep­tion against Bos­ton Col­lege dur­ing the sec­ond half Satur­day in Durham. The Blue Dev­ils fell 26-6 to the Ea­gles.

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