Last week the magic number was two. And this week, the Blue Devils have the chance to do something they have not done since 1994.
When Duke (5-1, 2-0 in the ACC) takes on Virginia Tech Saturday at the Hokies’ Lane Stadium at 12:30 p.m., they will be the only ACC team with an opportunity to earn a bowl berth this week.
The major question for the Blue Devils is who will start for them at quarterback, after Anthony Boone led the offense in last week’s 42-17 win against Virginia with Sean Renfree nursing an elbow injury.
Boone threw for 212 yards and four touchdowns in the effort. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe has not named a starter, citing Renfree’s health as the main limitation in his decision, although he is listed as probable on the team’s injury report .
“With Sean Renfree, I am going to wait until later in the week to make a decision.” Cutcliffe said Tuesday. “He and Anthony [Boone] are going to both trade reps and work, and we are just go to see where his health is.”
On the other side of the ball, the defensive line has been menacing, already registering 15 sacks. Redshirt senior Kenny Anunike leads the team with 4.5 and is tied with Walt Canty for the lead in tackles for a loss, with 5.5 so far.
The defensive backfield has also seen success, with junior cornerback Ross Cockrell registering his ACC-leading fourth interception of the year last Saturday. Cockrell leads a unit that has picked off opposing teams seven times, and will certainly have more opportunities this week against a pass-heavy Virginia Tech offense. In the Hokies’ 48-34 loss to North Carolina last Saturday, quarterback Logan Thomas was called on to pass the ball 49 times.
“That group has held up exceptionally well, and they’re going to leave a very large legacy for those that come behind them,” Cutcliffe said.
Last week’s romp against Virginia garnered some respect from the nation, as Duke received three votes in the AP poll, the first time a Duke team under Cutcliffe has garnered any such votes.
With a win this week at Lane Stadium, the Blue Devils would not only be bowl eligible, but also would possibly shock the national scene by taking down a 10-point favorite.
Virginia Tech (3-3, 1-1) enters the contest on a two-game losing streak, looking to rebound after the defense was shredded for 533 yards by North Carolina. The game was dominated by Tar Heel sophomore running back Giovani Bernard, who ran for 262 of North Carolina’s 339 rushing yards.
“There is a lot of football to be played,” Beamer said in his weekly telephone conference. “It is disappointing that we have lost the last two and disappointing on how we played.”
At the helm of the Hokie offense is Logan Thomas, a redshirt juinor. Duke has yet to face a quarterback of Thomas’ stature, who stands at 6-foot-6, 260-pounds. Bringing him down will be more difficult than the average quarterback, as he originally entered college as the top-rated tight end in the nation.
“That’s a big boy. Big guy, impressive arm—obviously he’s not scared to run. He’s 260 [pounds] so I wouldn’t be scared to run either if I was that big,” Boone said. “He has the ability to punish a defense with his arm and with his feet. He can obviously extend plays. You get a feeling that they run their offense through him.”
Thomas is in the middle of a solid season, throwing for 10 touchdowns and averaging 241 yards per game. These numbers would be higher, but he has been faced with several dropped passes in each of his games. Thomas is also a mobile quarterback, running for four touchdowns on the year.
The Hokies, who annually pride themselves on their special teams, let up an extremely rare kick return for a touchdown last week, with North Carolina’s Sean Tapley taking his first return of the game 94 yards for the score. The last time Virginia Tech let up a kick return for a touchdown was in 1993, with Tapley’s return breaking a streak that lasted 237 games.
Virginia Tech has made a bowl game in every season since the 1993 campaign, but at .500 they are off to their worst start since the 1992 season.
As far as matching up against the Hokies, Duke’s defense seems to be on pace with Virginia Tech’s offensive output. The Hokie’s offense averages 376 yards per game, and Duke’s defense lets up 372. Virginia Tech has put up 29.0 points per game, and the Blue Devils have kept opponents to 25.2, while putting up 37.8 per contest.
Football, however, is not always a game of numbers. One intangible factor that the Hokies have going in their favor is their home crowd on homecoming weekend. Virginia Tech is undefeated at home this year, including its season-opening overtime win against Georgia Tech.
In 2007, ESPN ranked the Hokies’ Lane Stadium the second scariest place to play in college football. This past September, it was ranked No. 3 by CBS Sports on a list of the loudest stadiums in college football. In preparation for the hostile environment, Cutcliffe has been playing particularly loud music in practice to simulate the environment.
The crowd will certainly be behind their Hokie team, which is looking to turn its season around and keep its winning streak alive.
“When you go to Blacksburg, you better bring your best chinstrap,” Cutcliffe said. “And you best bring your “A” game, because that is just the way it is.”