The Hokies are coming off three losses in four games, including consecutive defeats to Cincinnati and North Carolina the past two weeks. The offense has struggled to run the ball and a once-formidable defense can’t seem to stop anyone.
With the teeth of its schedule still remaining, Virginia Tech’s eight-year streak of 10-win seasons is in serious jeopardy and some have wondered what might happen should the Hokies drop their third straight game.
“I just had a radio interview and the guy asked me how I’d feel not to go to a bowl game,” quarterback Logan Thomas said Tuesday. “I was like: ‘You don’t gotta worry about that. We’ll be in bowl game.’ ”
If Virginia Tech wants to assure itself of that, the Hokies would be wise to get past resurgent Duke, which at 5-1 is off to its best start since 1994. And Saturday’s affair will likely come down to quarterback play.
Thomas had his best performance of the year last week at North Carolina, throwing for a career-high 354 yards and accounting for three touchdowns. He’ll likely need to do more of the same because, at this point, the passing game is the Hokies’ most reliable weapon.
Virginia Tech could also get a boost from the return of senior running back Tony Gregory and the fact that Duke allowed Virginia to rush for 184 yards in the first half last week. Over the course of the afternoon, though, the Blue Devils began loading the box against the Cavaliers, forcing Virginia to throw the ball deep on its 4-2-5 scheme anchored by talented safety Walt Canty and cornerback Ross Cockerell, who leads the ACC in pass breakups.
As for Duke’s offense, it remains unclear just who will start under center. Senior Sean Renfree, who is completing an ACC-high 71.6 percent of his passes this year, missed last week’s game with an elbow injury. But he has been deemed probable for Saturday’s contest.
To complicate things, sophomore Anthony Boone has performed well in Renfree’s place. Last week against Virginia, the dual-threat Boone threw four touchdowns passes. Coach Frank Beamer said Virginia Tech is preparing to see both.
“We’re really not very different,” said Duke Coach David Cutcliffe, who plans to make a decision Friday before the Blue Devils travel to Blacksburg. “We’re having to work with both of them, and we can’t teach two different offenses for everybody else.”
Last year in Durham, N.C., Duke gave Virginia Tech a scare, and the Hokies only emerged with a 14-10 victory after a couple dramatic fourth-quarter stops by their defense. Whether they’ll be able to repeat that tightrope act this year is a huge question mark, given Duke’s improvement and the recent play of Virginia Tech’s defense.
But no matter who plays quarterback, the Blue Devils are bound to see a desperate Virginia Tech. The Hokies have a three-game stretch with road games at Clemson and Miami and a Thursday night game in Blacksburg against Florida State looming after this. So a loss to Duke would not only put a damper on Virginia Tech’s chances of winning the wide open Coastal Division, it would make the prospect of not qualifying for a bowl game a reality.
I just don’t see that happening, even though it has become clear this will end up being the worst team Beamer has fielded (record-wise) in quite some time.
Duke has simply beaten some bad teams to begin the season. The Blue Devils’ five wins this year are over teams with a combined 10-18 record and their only victory over someone with an above-.500 record came against North Carolina Central of the Football Championship Subdivision.
I’m guessing the cake walk ends Saturday.
My prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Duke 21
But what do you think? Can Duke score its first win over Virginia Tech since the Hokies joined the ACC? Or will Virginia Tech avoid its first three-game losing streak since 2003-04 and begin to turn around a season that has veered off course over the past month? Vote in the poll below and let me know how you think things play out in the comments section.