The ACC Coastal Division has been widely criticized as the weakest division among the Power 5 conferences. But halfway through the season, three teams remain unbeaten in the league and another has four overall victories.
Duke finds itself squarely in the mix at 2-0 in the ACC and 5-1 overall with their lone loss coming to Northwestern before the Wildcats were ravaged by injuries. David Cutcliffe's team features a very stingy defense, one that leads the nation by surrendering just 9.3 points per game.
Virginia Tech, on the other hand, finds itself faltering near the bottom of the Coastal standings. Injuries to key players, including quarterback Michael Brewer and cornerback Kendall Fuller, along with an inconsistent offensive line have been the main reasons for the Hokies’ struggles.
Virginia Tech has won 14 of the 22 meetings between the two schools.
College Football Podcast: Week 8 Preview
Duke at Virginia Tech
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Virginia Tech -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Michael Brewer Getting the Start
The senior quarterback returned to action in the second half against Miami. With the Hokies down 23-13, Brewer started out 3-for-3 and threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Ford to cut the Hurricanes' lead to three. He later threw an interception that ended any Hokie hopes, but he definitely added something to the passing game. Brenden Motley can make plays running the ball, but his three turnovers against Miami were disastrous and he is not the same passer as Brewer. The Hokies hope that the spark Brewer provided against Miami carries over to this Saturday.
2. Blocking the Duke Defensive Front
Brewer can only make a difference if the Virginia Tech offensive line, which has been a problem all season, can keep him on his feet and can open up holes for the Hokies running backs. Duke’s defense has not pressured the quarterback all that much this year, but that’s about all they don’t do. The defensive Devils allow just 121.67 yards rushing per game and 131.2 yards passing, and when you put those together you get FBS’ No. 4 total defense. Kyler Brown and the Duke defensive line are tough, but where they really excel is in providing space so that superstar safety Jeremy Cash and linebacker Dwayne Norman can make plays. Virginia Tech’s line showed some positive signs against Miami, but Duke’s defense is a lot stronger than the Hurricanes’.
3. Duke’s Running Game
The Blue Devils don’t have big offensive numbers, but their 181 rushing yards per game is more than respectable. Quarterback Thomas Sirk is the team’s leading rusher and Duke features a deep group of running backs that includes Shaquille Powell, Shaun Wilson and Jela Duncan. Bud Foster’s Hokie defense is still strong but they have been susceptible to effective ground games, ranking 84th in rushing defense. Duke will take a shot in the passing game only after the running game is established.
Perhaps Brewer’s return can give the Hokies a lift. But that seems to be Virginia Tech’s only hope. They have been laboring while the Blue Devils are surging. The Hokies' shaky offensive line goes against one of the best defenses in the country. Duke should be able to pick up some yardage on the ground and they have one of the best kickers in the country in Ross Martin, who is 12-of-12 with a long of 53 yards. Duke probably won’t score a ton of points, but they won’t need to. The Devils go to 6-1 with a win in Blacksburg.
Prediction: Duke 20, Virginia Tech 13
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.