Quentin Harris and the Blue Devils take on the Hokies in Lane Stadium on Friday night
Duke and Virginia Tech both come into this weekend's game off an open date with matching 2-1 records. But the two teams have much different outlooks based on what has transpired in the first few weeks of the season.
Virginia Tech can't be all that confident after turning the ball over five times in a Week 1 loss to Boston College, struggling to put away Old Dominion despite the motivation of avenging last year's defeat, and trailing FCS Furman 14-3 at halftime. Meanwhile, Duke rebounded from its opening loss to Alabama by pounding North Carolina A&T and Middle Tennessee.
Virginia Tech leads the all-time series 17-9 and has won the last three meetings. The last Duke win came in Blacksburg in 2015.
Duke at Virginia Tech
Kickoff: Friday, Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Virginia Tech -3
When Duke Has the Ball
It's been only three games — two of which have come against inferior competition — but Quentin Harris has looked the part as Duke's replacement for Daniel Jones at quarterback. The fifth-year senior has completed 72.5 percent of his passes and thrown eight touchdowns against two interceptions. Making this even more remarkable is the fact that the Blue Devils are breaking in a new receiving group after losing their top three targets from last year. But Harris has developed a good rapport with tight end Noah Gray and freshman wideout Jalon Calhoun.
The running game that was expected to provide so much stability has been okay, averaging 181 rushing yards per game. Harris leads the team with 203 yards on the ground, and veteran Deon Jackson has chipped in 177. The Virginia Tech defense is 88th nationally against the run, so this may be a week when the Devils decide to feature Jackson and Brittain Brown, if he is healthy after missing last week's game with a shoulder injury.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Duke offense so far this year has been the performance of the offensive line in pass protection. Opponents have just one sack of Harris, which is especially noteworthy considering the team they played in week one. Duke's ability to keep its quarterback clean is a key component of this game, as Bud Foster's Hokie defense can bring pressure. Led by linebackers Rayshard Ashby and Chamarri Conner and lineman Emmanuel Belmar, Virginia Tech is 17th in the nation with 3.33 sacks per game.
When Virginia Tech Has the Ball
While there wasn’t much about the Furman game that could be considered a positive, it was the first time this year that Virginia Tech didn't lose the turnover battle. They were minus-two against Old Dominion and an ugly minus-four against Boston College. Holding onto the football is priority number one against Duke, a team that has forced only three turnovers — all fumble recoveries — in their three games.
Another nice aspect of the Furman game was the play of freshman running back Keshawn King, who ran for 119 yards on 12 carries. The next step is to perform against a Power 5 team, which he will attempt to do this weekend versus a fairly stingy rush defense. Alabama rushed for only 145 yards on 42 attempts against the Devils, who will be a strong test for King and the Hokies running game.
When Virginia Tech has been successful offensively in the past couple of years, it's because Ryan Willis has been able to throw the ball. There's no doubt that will be the game plan going into this week. The Duke secondary is strong, and star Hokie receiver Damon Hazelton Jr. has not yet played due to a hamstring issue; his return this week is questionable. But Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson are more than capable targets for Willis.
If ever a team needed a week off this early in the season, it was Virginia Tech. The loss in Chestnut Hill was devastating in that the Hokies essentially gave the game away with turnovers. Then there were the two uninspiring wins that followed. They needed time to regroup. But playing Duke is never easy, and the Devils are a well-balanced team that has handled a better schedule more effectively early in the season. Duke will go into Lane Stadium and establish balance once again and will force the Hokies to become one-dimensional by slowing down King. In a close one, Harris throws a late touchdown pass to propel the Devils to victory.
Prediction: Duke 27, Virginia Tech 23
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.