Daniel Jones will need to rekindle his Northwestern form to help Duke rebound against Virginia.

X Factor: Duke football vs. Virginia

Looking to avenge last year’s embarrassing 34-20 home loss to a Virginia team that finished 2-10, the Blue Devils head to Charlottesville, Va. looking to defeat the Cavaliers and recover from their first loss of the season last week to then-No.14 Miami.

Every week throughout the football season, the Blue Zone will break down a player on each team who could be the difference-maker in the upcoming contest. This week, we key in on Daniel Jones and Micah Kiser. 

Duke: Quarterback Daniel Jones

Ever since starting the season hot, collecting 645 total yards and accounting for seven touchdowns against North Carolina Central and Northwestern, Daniel Jones has cooled off significantly, completing only 53.6 percent of his passes, and turning over the ball three times, compared to only one touchdown. 

Duke’s recent offense woes can be attributed in part, leading to a dismal 26 percent third-down conversion rate and a long-pass play of just 28 yards against Miami. Although the rushing game has been strong, with over 218 yards-per-game, good for 29th in the nation, the lack of an aerial attack has allowed opposing defenses to stack the box and clamp down on Shaun Wilson, Brittain Brown and other Duke runners, which combined to average just four yards-per-carry against the Hurricanes, far below their season average.

If Jones can regain his early season form, the field will become far more spread out, giving the offense a chance to thrive. With a stout rushing defense, strong scoring support from the offense should lead the Blue Devils to victory.

Virginia: Linebacker Micah Kiser

The last time these two teams met at Wallace Wade Stadium, the Cavaliers forced six turnovers–five interceptions and a fumble—all to Jones' name. Kiser, although not credited directly with any of the turnovers, was all over the field, making 18 tackles, a sack, two tackles-for-loss, defending two passes and forcing two quarterback hurries.

Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, the senior is back and having a monster season, already recording 45 tackles and five sacks over four games. He anchors a defensive unit that is top-50 in almost every statistical category—points allowed, run defense, pass defense—and pairs well with fellow linebacker Jordan Mack, who ended Duke’s hopes for a comeback last year with a crushing blindside hit on Jones in the endzone, forcing a fumble. 

Kiser has the potential to cause problems for the Duke offensive line which ceded six sacks to Miami last week. If Kiser penetrates the backfield often, the vaunted Blue Devil rushing attack will suffer and Daniel Jones will see himself scrambling often – a position he does not want to be in with an already struggling passing offense.

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