As Virginia's football players straggled back to the locker room outside Duke's Wallace Stadium, they looked like a team eager to forget.

Eager to forget a 51-17 defeat that turned into a rout by the second minute of the third quarter. Eager to forget the sight of Blue Devil quarterback Ben Bennett throwing for 291 yards and three touchdowns in three quarters.

And eager to forget the dropped passes, blocked punt, fumbled kickoff and assorted other blunders that sent Virginia to its third loss in three starts.

"The way it looked today, we're not as good a team as we were three weeks ago when we started the season," said George Welsh, the Virginia coach. "I thought our defense had been playing well. I thought it would hold out."

The collapse began late in the second quarter. Both teams had been moving the ball well, though Virginia seemed unable to sustain a drive long enough to score.

On three of the Cavaliers' six possessions in the first half, they moved at least 40 yards. But when Jeff Walker retreated to punt with 1:15 left before intermission, his team trailed, 13-3.

That's when the game got away. Duke's 6-foot-4 defensive tackle Chip Anderson came through the center of the line to block Walker's punt, with Duke recovering on Virginia's six. Three plays later, Bennett completed a nine-yard touchdown pass to tight end Carl Franks, and John Tolish's point after made it 20-3 at the half.

Duke dominated thereafter.

After Bennett overthrew Franks to open the second half, tailback Mike Grayson hit into the middle of the line at his own 32, cut left, and was finally dragged down along the sidelines 37 yards later. Before the reeling Cavaliers could catch their breath, Bennett threw to split end Chris Castor on a post pattern for a 31-yard touchdown.

Castor had earlier caught a six-yard scoring pass from Bennett to open the game's scoring at the 3:33 mark of the first quarter. In three games this season Castor has five touchdowns.

Already leading, 27-3, Duke recovered a fumble by Virginia's Malcolm Pittman at the Cavalier 22 on the kickoff following Castor's second score. A third-down pass from Bennett slipped through Castor's hands at the goal line, and Tolish kicked a 33-yard field goal and the score was 30-3.

It was 37-10 when Bennett went to the bench, opening the way for a ragged fourth quarter as both teams played out the clock.

The victory left the Blue Devils (3-0 and 1-0) as the ACC's only unbeaten team. In getting off to its best start since 1971, Duke amassed 612 yards in total offense, the second-most productive afternoon in school history.

It was the most points Duke has scored since a 52-0 win over Pennsylvania in 1954.

In a game of superlatives for Duke, Bennett was clearly the central figure. Operating a wide open attack, Bennett completed 21 of 30 passes.

"We got beat on one-on-one too much today," Welsh said. "We blitzed them and and we couldn't get to them . . . We tried to zone and they picked the zone apart."

Bennett's three touchdown passes gave him 24 for his career, tying the junior for the school record. He also set the school record of most consecutive pass attempts -- 107 -- without an interception. [TABLE OMITTED] INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING--Virginia: B. Word 6-65, Q. Walker 9-63, Rice 15-61, K. Word 8-28, Porter 1-10, Pittman 2-7, Montanez 1-0 Schuchts 6-minus 9, Eck 6-minus 23. Duke: Grayson 8-102, Blunk 9-56, Grantham 8-43, Boone 4-16, El-Masry 1-7, Bunker 1-0, Bennett 3-minus 16.

PASSING--Virginia: Eck 5-10-1, 61 yards; Schuchts 9-19-0, 90; Porter 0-1-0, 0. Duke: Bennett, 21-30-0, 291; Sally 3-5-1, 49; Clinkscale 2-2-0, 48; Walsh, 1-1-0, 4.

RECEIVING--Virginia: Griggs 5-51, B. Smith 3-43, Merrick 2-37, Lewis 1-13, Pittman 1-3, Rice 1-3, Montanez 1-1. Duke: Castor 7-111, Tillery 4-45, Franks 3-34, Frederick 2-51, Militello 2-38, Herring 1-40, Russell 1-29, Long 1-11, Atkinson 1-9, Reed 1-8, Grantham 1-9, Grayson 1-5, Poor 1-4, Boone 1-minus 2.