After originally scheduled dates with NC State (Sept. 12) and Virginia (Sept. 19) were postponed due to the coronavirus, Virginia Tech finally kicked things off last Saturday with a 45-24 victory at home over the Wolfpack. When you factor in that the Hokies were without 23 players, including starting quarterback Hendon Hooker, and a few coaches, namely defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton, due to COVID-19 protocols, injuries, and other health-related issues, it makes their opening effort look even more impressive.
Following the game, Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente stated, "I think we were excited to play. Obviously, it's been a long time since we've been on the field. I know they're tired of practice, I can tell you that much. They came out and executed pretty well early on. We were excited and ready to play."
Meanwhile, Duke fell to 0-3 on the season following a dispiriting 38-20 performance on the road against Virginia. The Blue Devils were leading 20-17 entering the fourth quarter before imploding on both sides of the ball as the Cavaliers scored 21 straight points.
Duke head coach David Cutcliffe stated, "We took a lead in the second half after being down at halftime and couldn't finish the work. Without question, we've got to evaluate what we're doing on offense, how we're doing it and what's happening."
Virginia Tech at Duke
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 3 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Virginia Tech -10.5
When Virginia Tech Has the Ball
With starting quarterback Hendon Hooker unavailable due to what head coach Justin Fuente hinted was a medical issue unrelated to the coronavirus, the Hokies had to adapt on the fly and decided to stay grounded against NC State. The approach worked, as Virginia Tech finished with 314 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 41 carries (7.7 ypc). Khalil Herbert, a graduate transfer from Kansas, led the way with 104 yards on just six carries. Five other Hokies got into the act on the ground with several runs going for 20 or more yards. With Hooker's status still uncertain, don't be surprised if Fuente decides to stick to running the ball against a Duke defense that is giving up 150 rushing yards per game.
Since Braxton Burmeister and Quincy Patterson both got significant snaps because of Hooker's absence, Virginia Tech should be in decent shape at quarterback. Burmeister got the start and was effective (7-for-11, 106 passing yards, along with 46 rushing yards) but was removed from the game after his right hand started cramping up early in the second quarter. From there, Patterson took over and produced three total touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) and, more importantly, didn't turn the ball over.
When Duke Has the Ball
Quarterback Chase Brice had a rough game against Virginia, to put it mildly. He completed 16 of his 36 pass attempts (44.4 percent) for 246 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions. He also was sacked four times and was replaced by backup Gunnar Holmberg in the fourth quarter, who promptly fumbled the ball away to give the Cavaliers possession in the red zone (scored on next play). Chris Katrenick then came on for the Blue Devils' final drive, which ended on downs. It remains to be seen if head coach David Cutcliffe will make a change at quarterback for this game.
Whoever is under center needs more help from the running game. Duke is averaging just 88 rushing yards per game, although playing stout defenses like Virginia and Notre Dame (other loss was to Boston College) have a little to do with that lack of production. But when you're leading rusher (Deon Jackson) is averaging just four yards per carry and the team under three yards per attempt (2.7) on the season, all of the blame can't be put on the quarterback's shoulders. Pass protection (10 sacks allowed) and turnovers (ACC-worst 14) have been problematic as well. Virginia Tech didn't completely shut down NC State, as the Wolfpack totaled 386 yards, 139 of those on the ground. But the Hokies recorded two interceptions and six sacks, which bodes well from them matching up against the Blue Devils' discombobulated offense.
Duke is off to its worst start since 2010, when it lost its first six games. Chase Brice is battling, but with little offensive assistance around him, it would not be surprising to see David Cutcliffe turn to Gunnar Holmberg at some point (maybe even start?) to see if that may make a difference. For a Duke team that seems to run out of gas in the second half, it will be imperative that the Blue Devils find some semblance of a running game for them to have a chance against Virginia Tech.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Duke 13
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