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Virginia Cavaliers vs. Duke Blue Devils Preview and Prediction

Daniel Jones

Daniel Jones

Both the Duke and Virginia football teams got off to inauspicious starts this season. After lighting up North Carolina Wesleyan for 49 points in the season opener, the Blue Devils' offense went dry in losses to Wake Forest and Northwestern.

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For Virginia, it was even worse. The Cavaliers dropped their first game of the year to Richmond and followed that up with losses to Oregon and UConn. The defeat in Storrs, Connecticut, was especially painful as the Cavs missed a short field goal to tie as time expired.

But week four was much better for both squads. Virginia took down previously unbeaten Central Michigan and Duke went to Notre Dame and stunned the Fighting Irish. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe is 6-2 versus Virginia during his tenure in Durham, but saw his team get upset by the Cavaliers last year in Charlottesville. This will be Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s first time facing Cutcliffe or Duke. Mendenhall was 2-4 against ACC teams when he was at BYU from 2005-15, including 1-1 against the Cavilers.

Virginia at Duke

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 1 at 12:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ACC Network/ESPN Extra

Spread: Duke -4

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Three Things to Watch

1. Protecting Daniel Jones

The Duke redshirt freshman quarterback had a big game against Notre Dame and should look forward to matching up against Virginia’s 119th-ranked pass defense, assuming he stays clean. While the Cavaliers have given up a lot of yards through the air, they also have 10 sacks on the season. Jones has proven that he can find T.J. Rahming, Anthony Nash, and Johnathan Lloyd. If he is given time to throw, he will have more success against the Cavs.

2. Kurt Benkert

After throwing for a school record 421 yards against Central Michigan, all eyes will be on the graduate transfer fromEast Carolina. Specifically, all the eyes of the Duke defense will be on Benkert. The Virginia running game has gotten off to a slow start this year and Benkert has been Virginia’s primary weapon. Duke gave up 387 yards passing to Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer last week and Benkert will be a formidable foe this Saturday.

3. Putting a Helmet on Micah Kiser and Quin Blanding

The Virginia defensive duo combined for 232 tackles last fall and their strong play has continued into 2016. Blanding (above, right) is second on the team in tackles with 39 stops, 12 of which came against CMU. Kiser, a linebacker, leads UVA with 40 tackles and is a versatile player that can pressure the quarterback as well as defend the run. This is not a great Virginia defense, but these two players can force the opposition to make key mistakes.

Final Analysis

If Virginia is going to beat Duke, it will be on the arm of Benkert. The Cavaliers haven’t run the ball well and their defense has been torched, especially by the pass, early this season. Duke established the run against Notre Dame and Jones has gotten better each week. The Duke defense has also had more success than Virginia’s, though Notre Dame is the only real high-powered offense the Devils have faced. Duke has to come off the Notre Dame high, which will not be easy. But they will once again find a way to win.

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Prediction: Duke 31, Virginia 28

— 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.