Can 0-2 Blue Devils hang tough?
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.”
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.