Saturday’s matchup pits Duke against one of the nation’s stingiest defenses and the leader of the ACC Coastal Division in No. 16 Virginia Tech. The contest will kick off at 3:30 p.m. at Lane Stadium where the Hokies are 4-0 this season.
“Frank Beamer and his staff know how to win football games,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “They understand the critical factors of winning football games. There’s no question that you can make those things happen with defense. Those critical factors are certainly all over the place with sacks and limiting explosive plays.”
Last Saturday’s comeback victory against Virginia gave Duke (5-2, 1-2 in the ACC) an opportunity to display its resilience. Although Duke teams of the past may have started strong and rolled over, the Blue Devils flipped the script and fought back from being down 22-0 to score 35 unanswered points in the win.
“You never like to go down 22 on anybody but we also had a confidence about us,” offensive guard Dave Harding said. “We knew we were capable of scoring 22 and then some to win the game. We never gave up hope. But we’d like to come out a little stronger in the future.”
Duke’s defense has come on strong in the past three games, especially in the second half. The Blue Devils held both Navy and Virginia scoreless in the second half of their past two contests. The defense will look to continue their success against a Virginia Tech (6-1, 3-0) offense that ranks 110th in the FBS in yards per game.
“It’s a great feeling [to post a shutout in the second half],” linebacker Kelby Brown said. “It’s one of the awesome things you get to do on defense. That feels awesome to show the team, show the offense that we can hold our end too. Both sides just clicked when we had that second half shutout.”
The defense will face a familiar challenge this week, facing Hokie quarterback Logan Thomas for the fourth consecutive season. He has nine touchdowns and six interceptions this season, though he has completed only 55.2 percent of his passes. The 6-foot-6, 254-pound signal-caller is the biggest quarterback the Blue Devils will see all season, and the defense will have to be more physical than usual in order to bring him down.
“We know exactly what to expect,” Brown said. “We’ve played Logan Thomas for three years in a row now and we know he’s gonna try to run the ball and he’s not gonna take any losses. He’s trying to get forward. He’s a big, strong dude who can throw the ball. We know what to expect, we’re just going to have to go out there and hit and be physical.”
While Thomas is can make plays, the Hokies have not been overpowering on offense. This sets up the matchup between Duke’s high-scoring offense and the Hokie defense, which ranks second in the nation in yards allowed and fifth in points allowed per game.
“Talent mixed with a great scheme is tough to play offense against,” Harding said. “We know we’ve got our work cut out for us this week. Obviously going to Blacksburg is also a challenge but it’s something that I personally enjoy and look forward to.”
On the offensive side of the ball, the Blue Devils have scored at least 35 points in the past four games. Redshirt junior quarterback Anthony Boone has been hot in his return to action and has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes this season and has thrown for five touchdowns in the past two games.
Saturday’s contest will be the opportune time for the Blue Devils to notch a signature win. It would be the first time since 1994 that Duke has defeated a ranked opponent and though defeating Virginia Tech at home is a feat they have yet to accomplish, the Blue Devils are confident in their chances Saturday.
“I think sometimes we can perform better on the road,” Brown said. “It’s a different environment, a different kind of energy. There’s something about a hostile environment that kinds of gets me going. I’m excited to get up there. It’s a fun place to play.”