Mildly put, Saturday will likely be an uphill battle for the football team.
No. 14 Virginia (5-1, 2-1 in the ACC) will visit Wallace Wade Stadium Sunday at 1 p.m. to take on the struggling Blue Devils (1-5, 0-3).
The Cavaliers are beatable, as then-No. 7 Florida State proved last weekend when it crushed Virginia 36-3. The Seminoles moved the ball down the field with accurate passing and shut down quarterback Marcus Hagans and the Virginia offense.
Unfortunately for Duke, the Blue Devils do not have the weapons Florida State has on either side of the ball.
“Play it on paper or in the newspaper, there wouldn’t be any reason to do it,” head coach Ted Roof said. “But we are playing on the field for a reason, and we will find out where we are.”
Al Groh’s Cavaliers have an explosive and balanced offense led by Hagans. The junior has completed 88-of-127 passes this year for 1,209 yards and five touchdowns, while throwing only two interceptions.
Virginia is also very productive running the ball. Featured tailback Wali Lundy has rushed for 516 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Cavaliers lead the ACC in total offense, rushing offense, passing offense and scoring.
On the other hand, Duke is next to last in the conference in total defense, rushing defense, pass defense and points allowed. Roof is well aware of the quality of this weekend’s opponent.
“We do have a tremendous challenge, but it is also a great opportunity,” Roof said. “As far as we match up, well, they lead the ACC in everything for a reason. They have good coaches and good players.”
In order to have a chance, Duke will need to sustain offensive drives to keep Virginia’s attack off the field and score touchdowns when it moves the ball into the red zone. Virginia is going to score, and Duke will just have to control the time of possession and score itself in order to win, Roof said.
Duke’s offense will be aided by the improved condition of starting running back Cedric Dargan. After early-season leg injuries that forced him to miss several games, Dargan is finally back in game-shape, Roof said. The team has missed its starting tailback, who had 114 yards on 20 carries against Navy in the season opener.
“We do have to score more,” Roof said. “We have to execute and take care of the football and make some plays. We have to make some plays that we are in position to make to keep drives alive to get some big plays and loosen things up.”
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
At the start of the season, Duke, at times, strung together numerous first downs. But since the start of ACC play, the Blue Devils’ attack has been mostly stagnant. Despite its recent struggles, Groh understands that Duke is capable of scoring and hanging tough against comparable competition.
“[Duke] had two games right there in the beginning... Navy and Connecticut, that they were right at the end of the game with the opportunity to win,” Groh said. “Now, obviously, they didn’t. That they were there with the opportunity says significant things about them. That they didn’t win; it says other significant things.”
Michael Mueller contributed to this story.