Third and goal: All eyes are on the running game as Duke’s football looks to break through against Virginia
Duke football is back on the road this weekend, this time for a clash with Virginia and her top-flight attack. As the Blue Devils look to secure their first conference victory of the season, the Blue Zone brings you three keys to a Duke victory:
Sol and book
With a week off a record-breaking 43 carries, 152 yards from senior running back Mataeo Durant, the Blue Devils will need to keep pushing football forward against the CCA’s worst defense. Week after week, the question was whether Durant’s supernatural start to the season would hit a wall. It turns out that after racking up 788 rushing yards in six games, the Plum Branch, SC, native is the wall. The senior can resume play if he sees the smaller hole and can create options for the Blue Devils in the passing game.
The owner of the fourth-most rushing yardage in the nation will need to wrap up a fifth straight 100-yard game to help the Blue Devils avoid their seventh straight loss to Virginia. The Cavaliers’ lackluster defense was bailed out by Power Five football’s best passing offense, and Duke will need to raise the bar in the goals department with Durant’s seemingly tireless legs in the foreground.
This task is easier said than done as the junior redshirt quarterback is enjoying his own historic season. With nearly 5,000 yards and 35 touchdowns, Brennan Armstrong of the Cavaliers is a force to be reckoned with. His downline passing skills are as sharp as any and he’s helped by a deep receiving body – six Virginia players have over 15 catches compared to Duke’s two.
That being said, Virginia has a pretty one-dimensional attack, where running the ball can be practically ruled out except in obvious rushing situations. But on the other side of the ball from those powerful receivers is a lower-than-average secondary who has so far allowed five touchdown passes over 50 yards, including three in the last two games.
The match in Charlottesville, Va. Is the ultimate test for the secondary unit, which has seen improvements and breakout play from Leonard Johnson, Jeremiah Lewis and Jalen Alexander, to name a few. Ultimately, it’s a story of depth as the Blue Devils deploy a decent defensive line to get to Armstrong before praying for a white jersey to be in range to make a play.
There’s probably only one streak Duke wants to pursue throughout the weekend, which is the Durant yardage streak. On the flip side, head coach David Cutcliffe’s Blue Devils have several nasty streaks to put in the rearview mirror before the hour is too late. First off, Duke just needs to get back into the winning column for the first time since their rambling win over Kansas. The Blue Devils are also enjoying a 1-10 streak and five-game losing streak on the road, with the only win since September 2019 being a 38-24 game against Syracuse which was one of the very first breakout performances. by Durant.
The Blue Devils 3-3 are also 2-16 against opponents in the conference. Duke’s seemingly first-rate offense that destroyed North Carolina A&T and took care of Northwestern and Kansas came in exclusively for non-conference games. The Blue Devils need to put everything in place to clinch their first conference victory of the season in three tries.
Finally, Duke has lost six straight games to Virginia dating back to 2014, the longest streak in the program to an ACC Coastal team. Expect the Blue Devils to come out in a trend reversal mentality as they aim to start over and erase those streaks. Who knows how much weight the coaching staff will place on these trends, but the current Blue Devils are surely eager to get the conference season back on track.
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