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Duke Blue Devils vs. Virginia Cavaliers Preview and Prediction

Quin Blanding

Quin Blanding

A rested Virginia team will have a chance to make a big statement in the ACC Coastal on Saturday as the Cavaliers play host to Duke. Since falling to Indiana in Week 2, Virginia has been a different team with consecutive blowout wins over Connecticut and at Boise State. In the second year under head coach Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia is off to its best start since 2007 and three wins shy of its first bowl appearance since ‘11.

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After a 4-0 start, Duke was brought back down to earth last week with a 31-6 loss at home to Miami. The Blue Devils had been impressive early on with three Power 5 wins, including one in conference, in their first four games. Under head coach David Cutcliffe, Duke has never been a team to let one bad performance snowball.

Virginia has won the last two contests in the series, including last year 34-20 in Durham. The Cavaliers forced six turnovers in that game. Virginia is the last team to open ACC play, but that changes on Saturday.

Duke at Virginia

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 7 at 12:20 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ACC Network

Spread: Virginia -2

Three Things to Watch

1. Daniel Jones

Duke’s sophomore quarterback could not have gotten off to a better start with more than 900 passing yards and 10 total touchdowns accounted for the first four games. Over that span, Duke was averaging more than 40 points per game. But against Miami last week, Jones (above, right) was held just 166 passing yards while completing a little more than half of his attempts in a game in which the Blue Devils did not score a touchdown.

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Jones will be facing a Virginia defense that has made significant strides since last season. The Cavaliers are led by pair of seniors – linebacker Micah Kiser and safety Quin Blanding. Virginia forced Jones into six turnovers (5 INTs, fumble lost) in last season’s victory in Durham and will be looking for more of the same this time. Jones had a pair of giveaways (INT, fumble) last week against the Hurricanes. The last time he played the Cavaliers, Jones was picked off once by Blanding and twice each by fellow defensive backs Juan Thornhill and Bryce Hall. In addition, Jones’ fumble in the latter part of the fourth quarter was recovered in the end zone for a game-sealing touchdown.

2. Andre Levrone

After catching just eight passes all of last season and a total of 25 in his first three at Virginia, Levrone has come into his own over the last two weeks. In wins over Connecticut and Boise State, the senior hauled in a total of nine passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns.

Levrone's 26.8 yards per catch average currently leads the country. His four touchdowns this season have covered 34, 73, 30 and 64 yards. Last week against Miami’s Ahmmon Richards, another athletic receiver capable of stretching the field, the Blue Devils struggled mightily, as he finished with 106 yards and a score on just three receptions. On the season, Duke is allowing 7.4 yards per pass attempt, which ranks 85th nationally. The Blue Devils cannot afford to get gashed for more big plays through the air on Saturday.

3. Duke pass rush

Jones has received most of the attention for the Blue Devils this season, but one area where they have been surprisingly good is when it comes to getting to the quarterback. Duke currently ranks second in the ACC with 19 sacks through four games -- just one behind conference leader Clemson. That also ranks fifth nationally.

Senior defensive tackle Mike Ramsay has been the main threat with 4.5 sacks, which ranks second in the ACC. Freshman defensive end Drew Jordan has three sacks and linebacker Joe Giles-Harris has 2.5. The good news for Virginia is that its veteran offensive line, which includes three seniors, has been good in pass protection, giving up just six sacks through four games. Quarterback Kurt Benkert has been outstanding for the Cavaliers this season and Virginia would be best served to keep him upright.

Final Analysis

Since a 34-17 loss to Indiana in Week 2, Virginia looks like a team playing its best football in a long time. The 42-23 victory at Boise State its last time out was the largest margin of defeat for the Broncos since 2001. The Cavaliers have improved immensely this season on both sides of the football.

Virginia: college football picks against the spread

Duke will arrive in Charlottesville in desperate need of a win to stay in the ACC Coastal race. The Blue Devils will be facing a team capable of neutralizing their pass rush and getting behind a secondary that has been beat deep this season. Virginia is the more rested team here and will be in front of its home crowd while playing with a lot of confidence.

Prediction: Virginia 29, Duke 24

— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the editor of The Daily Nole. Like The Daily Nole on Facebook and follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.