[caption id="attachment_712" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The Cavaliers return to Scott Stadium on Saturday to take on the Duke Blue Devils. Photo / Virginia Media Relations / Jim Daves"][/caption]
The Virginia Cavaliers return to Scott Stadium on Saturday to take on the Duke Blue Devils after a two-game road stint that left the Cavaliers bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007. The Blue Devils, however, have not been so fortunate - dropping their last 4 games, all conference bouts, falling to 3-and-6 on the season and 1-and-4 in the ACC. Despite the different moods within each program right now, there is little chance that the Cavaliers will be overlooking the Blue Devils this weekend as Virginia has lost 3 straight in the series. Indeed, Coach Cutcliffe seems to have the Cavaliers number - posting a perfect 3-0 record against Virginia since arriving in Durham. This is a new-look Virginia squad, however, boasting one of the nation's top 25 defenses and a balanced offensive attack that is thriving behind the play of quarterback Mike Rocco. To further up the ante, the Cavaliers are still in control of their own destiny in the ACC Coastal Division along with rival Virginia Tech. To keep those hopes alive, here are some key things Virginia needs to take note of on Saturday.
Stopping the Aerial Attack
I'm sure Virginia's defensive staff has nightmares of last year's Duke game - one that resulted in Jim Reid's defense giving up 489 yards and 55 points. No play was more defining of Virginia's performance in that game than a converted 4th-and-20 with under 2 minutes to play that would ultimately lead to Duke scoring the go-ahead touchdown with no more than a minute left to play. Fast forward a year, and Duke is still enjoying a strong passing game behind the arm of junior quarterback Sean Renfree - who has already eclipsed the 2,000 yard mark this season. A week ago, Virginia's defense did a good job of containing Maryland's passing attack - holding the Terps to under 300 yards passing and picking off 3 passes. The Cavaliers did struggle at times to defend the pass in long yardage situations, something that has been a concern all year for the Virginia defense. Again, Virginia safeties Corey Mosely and Rodney McLeod will need to have a big day. More importantly, freshman corner Demetrious Nicholson will need to be solid in coverage - there's no need to bite on play fakes from a Duke offense that averages just over 100 rushing yards per game. A 'hot' quarterback is a Virginia fan's worse nightmare.
Dominating the Line of Scrimmage
[caption id="attachment_714" align="alignright" width="236" caption="Virginia OG Austin Pazstor received ACC Lineman of the Week honors following a dominating performance against Maryland. Photo / Virginia Media Relations / Jim Daves"][/caption]
On the offensive side of the football, Virginia's offense just needs more of the same - blending a power running game behind a dominating offensive line who has also been providing adequate time for Mike Rocco to very effectively manage Virginia's passing game. The Cavaliers enter Saturday's contest averaging 428 yards per game, a stat that places them in the top 40 nationally. If the Cavaliers can put up another 200+ yards on the ground against the Blue Devils, Virginia will enjoy another very successful day on the offensive side of the football. A stat that bodes well for the Cavaliers: Virginia's offensive line, who is giving up less than a sack per game (putting them 12th in the nation in the category), is going up against a Duke offense that is averaging 1.56 sacks per game (putting them near the bottom third of FBS teams in that category). Through 10 weeks of play, Virginia's offensive line has garnered 5 ACC Lineman of the Week honors. Another could be in store after Saturday's game.
Looking across the line of scrimmage, Virginia will need to keep constant pressure on quarterback Sean Renfree on Saturday - the junior quarterback is too talented when allowed adequate time in the pocket. Much like Duke, Virginia has struggled to bring down the quarterback this season (tied at 1.56 sacks a game). Duke is giving up 1.67 sacks per game, not a bad stat considering how much they throw the football. That being said, the Cavalier defense line has done an excellent job in flushing the quarterback from the pocket - and it's always harder to throw on the run. If the Cavalier defensive line can keep similar pressure on Mr. Renfree, expect another solid outing from Virginia's defense. One player to watch here is Cam Johnson, who is simply due for a big game.
[caption id="attachment_715" align="alignright" width="248" caption="Mike Rocco and the Virginia offense need to protect the ball against Duke. Photo / Virginia Media Relations / Jim Daves"][/caption]
Going back to last year's game, it was mistakes that plagued the Cavaliers. Virginia was absolutely killed by the 103 yards in penalties and 3 interceptions given up against the Blue Devils. In fact, looking back at the previous 3 losses to Duke, Virginia has a combined 194 yards in penalties and an unbelievable 11 turnovers. It's clear that, more than anything, Virginia's propensity to get in their own way has cost them dearly when playing Cutcliffe-coached Duke teams. Fast-forward to this year, and Virginia has done a much better job in managing penalties - in fact, the Cavaliers are the 25th least penalized team in the FBS rankings. Turnovers, however, still continues to haunt the Cavaliers, who are 102nd out of 119 FBS teams with 21 give-aways on the season. If Duke comes away with a 'W' on Saturday, it will be because the Cavaliers continue their nasty habit of carelessly giving away the football.
The Virginia football program simply has too much going for it right now to enable the Blue Devils to invade Scott Stadium and come away with a heart-breaking 4th straight series victory, right? While Virginia has been hard to predict this season, two straight ACC road victories should give the Wahoo faithful enough confidence that their Cavaliers will take care of business this weekend. Last week, Virginia was able to shake both the 3 year November win-less streak and the bowl-eligibility monkey off of their back. If not for their recent woes against the Blue Devils, I could see the Cavaliers over-looking Duke as games against FSU and VT are looming. With a chance to keep their Coastal hopes alive, Virginia will be out for revenge on Saturday. Wahoowa!
Virginia 34 Duke 17Back to the Virginia Cavaliers Newsfeed