CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.—The Blue Devils' defense and special teams units could only do so much to help them score.

Their best efforts were not enough to bail out Duke's flailing offense that was as ineffective as it has been all season, leading to a second straight loss.

In a defensive struggle Saturday at Scott Stadium, Virginia outlasted the Blue Devils 28-21. Duke quarterback Daniel Jones struggled for the third straight game, completing just 14-of-42 passes for 124 yards and throwing two interceptions—including one to Quin Blanding that was returned for a 58-yard touchdown. 

The Blue Devils got the ball with a chance to tie it with just more than three minutes left and picked up three first downs to advance to the hosts' 30-yard line. But they were unable to finish the drive, as Virginia linebacker Charles Snowden got to Jones for a critical third-down sack, and T.J. Rahming lost a one-on-one battle downfield with his defender on fourth-and-16 to seal their fate.

"The most disappointing thing is we got whipped so bad in the second half as a team," Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. "Had we played as well as we could play—and that’s my job—we could have had a different outcome. But we didn’t."

After an empty Blue Devil possession to start the second half with the game tied at 14, Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert led his team 79 yards down the field for the go-ahead score. Benkert connected with junior Olamide Zaccheaus three times on the drive and capped it off with a five-yard touchdown pass to Doni Dowling at the goal line.

On that drive, Duke (4-2, 1-2 in the ACC) was whistled for a costly pass interference penalty on second-and-goal to give the Cavaliers a fresh slate of downs and negate a potential third-and-long situation. It was the fourth penalty the Blue Devil secondary committed on Virginia's first two touchdown drives.

The Cavaliers (4-1, 1-0) padded their lead with an 80-yard drive that burned more than seven minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter. Benkert threw another touchdown pass to Dowling, who punctuated the score with a celebratory flip into the end zone, but Duke's defense shut Virginia down on its last two drives to take the game down to the wire.

"At the end of the day, it’s still an L. There’s nothing you can say besides you lost, so if one side plays well, it doesn’t matter," Blue Devil linebacker Joe Giles-Harris said. "We’re going to win games as a team and lose games as a team."

Trailing by two scores, Duke didn't go down without a fight. Shaun Wilson nearly took the ensuing kickoff to the house to set backup quarterback Quentin Harris up for a short touchdown run with 6:14 left.

Although left tackle Gabe Brandner went down with an early injury in the first half, the Blue Devils' pass protection was more effective than it was last week against Miami. But Duke's receivers did not do Jones any favors, as T.J. Rahming and Chris Taylor each dropped a deep ball down the right sideline in the first half.

"The obvious is the obvious," Cutcliffe said. "We’re malfunctioning in the passing game when it looked like we could be a special team in that regard."

The Blue Devil running backs Brittain Brown and Wilson were more effective, each averaging at least four yards per rush, but they combined to carry the ball just 17 times, as Duke's offense unsuccessfully tried to emphasize the deep passing game. 

Neither offense started the afternoon well—Blanding's pick six opened the scoring, but Benkert gifted Jeremy McDuffie a 42-yard interception return touchdown of his own to tie the game at seven. 

"I dropped back into the flats and saw the running back drop out," McDuffie said. "I knew the quarterback would try to dip it off to him, and I just jumped it."

Jones completed only one of his first 12 passes for -1 yards before orchestrating a 15-play, 88-yard touchdown drive, capped by a pass through a tight window to redshirt junior Davis Koppenhaver in the end zone. Duke took a 14-7 lead with the touchdown, but could not replicate that success the rest of the afternoon.

After a quick three-and-out for the Blue Devils with about three minutes left in the half, the Cavaliers capitalized on their extra opportunity with a quick touchdown drive. A defensive holding call on McDuffie negated another interception return for a touchdown for Mark Gilbert and two pass interference whistles pushed Virginia into the red zone.

"We just had to come out and play aggressive. We weren’t going to let up on our man," McDuffie said. "If they were going to call it, they were going to call it, but we were going to play as hard as we could every time."

Benkert capped the drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Olamide Zaccheaus, the third time this season Duke has surrendered a touchdown in the last minute of the half.

"The possession before, we had an opportunity and we did nothing with it," Cutcliffe said. "You put a tired defense back on the field late in a half, and you never want to do that. That’s what I mean by team responsibility."

The Blue Devils will be back in action at Wallace Wade Stadium next Saturday for their first meeting with Florida State since the 2013 ACC championship.