Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer has spent all week reminding his players (and reporters) that the Hokies’ opponent Saturday, Duke, is just three points away from being 5-2 instead of 3-4. And before last year’s 44-7 rout, the Blue Devils gave the Hokies fits in their previous two games.
That’s not to say Duke won those games – it hasn’t beaten Virginia Tech since 1981. This, though, might be the best Blue Devils team in quite some time, especially offensively.
Quarterback Sean Renfree is completing more than 67 percent of his passes, and wide receivers Connner Vernon (47 catches, 652 yards, 4 TDs) and Donovan Varner (34 catches, 397 yards) form a receiving tandem that’s every bit as potent as what Clemson (Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins), Virginia Tech (Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale) and Miami (Travis Benjamin and Tommy Streeter) have to offer.
Duke has wins over Boston College, Florida International and Tulane this year, and last week fell behind Wake Forest, 17-0, before mounting a comeback. But Demon Deacons wide receiver Chris Givens had a game-winning 66-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter to give Wake Forest a 24-23 win.
To slow down the Blue Devils’ passing attack, the Hokies will likely turn to their nickel package because whip linebacker Alonzo Tweedy will not play due to a high ankle sprain. Virginia Tech has used this five defensive back look to great success this year, largely because of the versatility cornerback Kyle Fuller provides.
The Hokies will also get cornerback Jayron Hosley and defensive end James Gayle back from injuries Saturday. Gayle will get plenty of opportunities to test his balky ankle rushing the passer, while Hosley should face action early and often. Duke is tops in the ACC in passing attempts per game (42) and has the league’s worst rushing offense in terms of yards per game.
Safety Matt Daniels leads the Blue Devils’ defense in tackles with 69, as they tend to bring him up in the box to stop the run. That strategy worked against Virginia Tech early in the season, but with the way quarterback Logan Thomas has played of late, it’s a risky move.
Over the past three weeks, Thomas is completing 66.7 percent of his passes for 858 yards and 11 total touchdowns (6 passing, 5 rushing), becoming the first quarterback during the Beamer era to lead the Hokies to three-straight games with more than 470 yards of total offense. Combined with the fact that running back David Wilson leads the nation in rushing yards, it has made Virginia Tech quite unpredictable.
The Hokies, who are in the driver’s seat as the lone one-loss team in the ACC Coastal Division, get a much-needed bye week to prepare for a huge Thursday night affair at Georgia Tech after this trip to Durham, N.C. The deciding factor this week will come down to whether they’ll overlook Duke as a result, because the Blue Devils have the offense to pull off an upset.
Though my guess is Virginia Tech won’t run away with this one, nothing indicates Duke’s defense will be able to slow down the Hokies suddenly potent attack.
My prediction: Virginia Tech 41, Duke 21