CHARLOTTESVILLE – Duke makes its second trip of the season to the Commonwealth, taking on slumping Virginia on Saturday. Last month, the Blue Devils absolutely embarrassed Virginia Tech, 45-10, in Blacksburg.
Now, they visit UVA for a pivotal ACC Coastal Division clash. The winner of this retains at least a share of first place.
Just like Duke, Steve Wiseman is back for another visit to our Ask An Opposing Beat Writer series.
An Illinois native and Illinois State graduate, Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he's worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL's Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.
All season long, we'll bring you a look from the other side, getting the insight and thoughts of newspaper beat writers from Virginia and Virginia Tech's opponents. These are the local journalists who cover these teams on a daily basis. We hope it reminds you the value of reading local newspapers and their websites.
Wiseman took time out to answer four downs worth of questions about Duke going into Saturday's game at Virginia.
1) When we were preparing for the Duke-Virginia Tech game, I asked you if had a good handle on how good or bad Duke might be this season. At that point, the Blue Devils had been blown out by Alabama and had dominated two lesser teams. Since then? They pounded Tech, lost a wild one to Pitt and blew out Georgia Tech. So, same question: How good is Duke?
Certainly capable of reaching six wins and another bowl trip, which I wasn't sure was possible in preseason. Offensive line and wide receivers are better than I expected. Defense is reliable and Harris, while not great, is a serviceable replacement for Daniel Jones. Last six games will be difficult but Duke should find at least two wins to give it seven bowl trips in the last eight seasons.
2) Statistically, this is a different looking Duke team, one that's winning by running the ball and playing great defense. Do the numbers match what you see each week and what led to this shift?
The personnel dictated the shift to a larger reliance on the running game. Duke has two good backs in Deon Jackson and Mataeo Durant, even with Brittain Brown lost for the season due to a shoulder injury. Harris is a threat in the running game too. Cutcliffe even installed some triple option packages that Duke has utilized with success. If the Blue Devils get a lead in the second half, they can effectively burn clock to protect it. I thought the defense would be a strength thanks to experience and depth up front and in the secondary. That's proven true with the major exceptions being the Alabama game (duh) and the final series against Pitt when the Panthers needed four plays to score the winning touchdown.
3) UVA has lost star cornerback Bryce Hall. Quentin Harris has been very effective at quarterback for Duke (11 touchdowns and just four interceptions), despite not appearing to have a go-to receiver. You wrote about the emergence of the Blue Devils young receivers on Saturday. How will they attack Virginia's now depleted secondary?
Duke's young receivers have proven to have reliable hands to go with impressive athleticism. The Blue Devils want to get them the ball in space and let them make plays. I would anticipate the staff will find creative ways to get Jalon Calhoun, Jake Bobo and Eli Pancol the ball in hopes of them making a defender miss for a big score. Also watch out for Deon Jackson out of the backfield. Duke used that play to score late against Pitt when the Panthers lost him in coverage.
4) Virginia's defense has been stout on third down. Duke's offense has been one of the best in the league in converting on third down. What's made the Blue Devils so good at extending drives and how do you see that matchup playing out this weekend?
The key to being successful on third down is a good running game on first and second downs. Duke's offensive line has provided the space for the backs (including Harris) to run. In addition, they haven't allowed many sacks and Harris has been good with quick-strike throws on first and second downs. That's set up plenty of third-and-short plays which mean a high percentage of conversions.