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Duke Blue Devils vs. Virginia Cavaliers Preview and Prediction

David Cutcliffe

David Cutcliffe

The Duke Blue Devils began the season with a 6-1 record, seemingly in control of the ACC Coastal Division as they were ranked as high as 22nd in the nation. However, the team has lost three straight games, which includes their controversial loss to the Miami Hurricanes. 

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While Duke (6-4) can no longer win the division title, the team can still qualify for a solid bowl game. The Blue Devils will first have to snap their losing streak by defeating the Virginia Cavaliers this weekend. 

The Mike London era appears to be coming to an end as with last week’s 38-31 loss to the Louisville Cardinals, Virginia (3-7) will not qualify for a bowl for the fourth straight season. 

The Duke-Virginia rivalry dates back to 1890 and the series is tied at 33-33. The Blue Devils have won six out of the last seven meetings, which includes last season’s 20-13 Duke win in Durham. 

Duke at Virginia

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. EST
TV Channel: ESPN3
Spread: Virginia -2.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Thomas Sirk

Duke starting quarterback Thomas Sirk missed last week's 31-13 loss to the Pittsburgh Panthers because of an upper-body injury. Sirk is expected to play this week and his playmaking ability is something the Cavaliers will have to be aware of this week. 

Sirk leads Duke in both passing and rushing yards. While Sirk’s statistics (1,979 passing yards, 555 rushing yards and 17 total touchdowns) doesn't say Heisman Trophy Award winner, he is a duel-threat quarterback that can hurt the Virginia defense, which is 78th in the nation. 

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2. Taquan Mizzell
Virginia also has a duel-threat playmaker on its offense, but it is at the running back position. Taquan Mizzell is 14 receptions away from setting the ACC single-season record by a running back, set by Boston College’s Andre Callender with 76 in 2007.

He has 63 catches this season, tied for fourth-most all-time with former Virginia running back Alvin Pearman.

Mizzell is also just 123 rushing yards and 72 receiving from having 700 yards in each category. 2007 was the last time anyone rushed for 700 yards and recorded 700 receiving yards in the same season. Boston College’s Andre Callender (989 rushing, 720 receiving), Florida’s Percy Harvin (764 rushing, 858 receiving) and Nebraska’s Marlon Lucky (1,019 rushing, 705 receiving) were the last players to accomplish this feat. 

3. Blue Devils defense 
In Duke’s first seven games of the season, the team had the nation’s No.4 rank defense in the country. During its three-game losing streak, that unit has taken a step back. 

In Duke’s last three games, its defense has given up an average of 514 yards per game. It has also allowed 42.3 points per game as well. 

All-American safety Jeremy Cash doesn’t have an interception on the season, but he has done what he can in run support and he still needs to be accounted for on every play. Cash needs help from the other 10 members of the Duke defense for the team to return to the level they were playing at during their first seven games. 

Final Analysis 

With two winnable games against Virginia and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons to end the 2015 season, Duke can still finish with a respectable 8-4 record. If Sirk and their defense don't play up to their capabilities, Virginia can easily come away with the victory. 

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If Cavaliers' quarterback Matt Johns can have another day throwing the football like he did against Louisville when he finished 25-of-41 for four touchdowns and zero interceptions, Virginia can win this game. 

The problem is, Johns has been inconsistent the entire season as he has thrown an interception in every game except last week against Louisville and Notre Dame in Week 2. 

Prediction: Duke 31, Virginia 28

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.