Justin Fuente's Hokies look to rebound from last week's stunning loss to ODU when they take on the undefeated Blue Devils
With Duke off to a fast start, including two Power 5 wins, Virginia Tech had to be looking forward to this week’s trip to Durham for a big ACC Coastal battle. I guess they were looking forward to the meeting a bit too much.
The Hokies laid an egg on Foreman Field last Saturday, losing 49-35 to previously winless Old Dominion. And it was not some fluke occurrence: Old Dominion simply outplayed Virginia Tech for the entire 60 minutes. And with Duke now ranked &mdash and Virginia Tech still unbeaten in the league — the importance of the game at Wallace Wade Stadium remains high.
Duke has won two of the last three games in Blacksburg, but they have not beaten the Hokies at home since 1981.
Virginia Tech at Duke
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 29 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Duke -5
Three Things to Watch
1. Virginia Tech quarterback situation
Ryan Willis replaced Josh Jackson when the Hokies starter broke his leg against ODU, and the transfer from Kansas will get the call this week in Durham. His stats last Saturday were not awful, as he completed 9-of-18 passes for 131 yards and a score. That doesn’t mean, however, that he is locked in as the permanent replacement from here on out. Redshirt freshman Hendon Hooker, a more talented runner though a less developed passer, may get more opportunities if head coach Justin Fuente wants to spread things out.
2. Duke’s bumps and bruises
Star defensive back Mark Gilbert was lost for the season after injuring his hip in the Northwestern game. Also that day, quarterback Daniel Jones went down with a broken collarbone. But the Blue Devils have pressed on to 4-0, led in part by new quarterback Quentin Harris and receiver T.J. Rahming. Both of those players had to leave Saturday’s game against FCS opponent North Carolina Central with injuries. Both are expected to be healthy enough to play against Virginia Tech, but the big news came Saturday morning when it was announced that Jones would not only return, but start at quarterback after missing just two games. As good as Harris played, Duke is a completely different team with Jones running the offense. But will he be 100 percent? Will head coach David Cutcliffe rotate between Jones and Harris?
3. Duke receivers vs. Virginia Tech secondary
The health of Harris and Rahming is a major factor as Duke will look to exploit a Hokies defensive backfield that was torched by the Old Dominion passing game. The Monarchs' Travis Fulgham and Jonathan Duhart combined for 18 catches that resulted in 330 yards and four touchdowns. Rahming and Jonathan Lloyd, who is averaging nearly 19 yards a catch and has three scoring receptions, are both seniors who know how to take advantage of gaps in coverage. With Tech’s most accomplished pass rusher, Trevon Hill, no longer on the team, much more will be needed from the Hokies' young, reeling secondary.
It is interesting how quickly things can change. Seven days ago, Virginia Tech was undefeated, ranked No. 13 and coming off a rest week thanks to Hurricane Florence. Now they have to recover from an inexplicable loss without their starting quarterback and perhaps their best defender, doing so on the road against a Top 25 team with a balanced offense, a solid defense and an outstanding head coach. I do believe that we will see a different Hokie team this weekend at Duke. Ryan Willis will get help from running back Steven Peoples, and Tech will have some success on offense. But after the Hokies gave up 49 points to ODU, questions surround Bud Foster’s defense. The Virginia Tech coordinator will get his guys to play with more energy, but Duke's veteran pass catchers along with the running of Brittain Brown and Deon Jackson, as well as the unexpected return of quarterback Daniel Jones, will push the Blue Devils to 5-0.
Prediction: Duke 34, Virginia Tech 31
— 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.