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Asack may lead charge as bowl hopes diminish

Thaddeus Lewis, or Zack Asack?

It's the question on the minds of every Duke fan heading into this weekend's matchup against Virginia Tech.

But as the Blue Devils try to snap a three-game losing streak amidst a muddled quarterback situation in one of the fiercest stadiums in the country, where the Hokies are undefeated this season, perhaps a different question ought to be asked.

Does it really matter?

Reeling from numerous injuries on both sides of the ball, Duke (4-6, 1-5 in the ACC) will face many question marks Saturday in Lane Stadium, as a loss would eliminate the Blue Devils from bowl contention.

Virginia Tech (6-4, 3-3) is coming off a crushing loss to Miami that dropped it into the middle of a messy Coastal Division, and another defeat this weekend would surely eliminate the Hokies from a chance at the ACC Championship game.

Lewis didn't practice Tuesday because of a midfoot sprain suffered in last weekend's 31-7 loss at Clemson, and he is currently still listed as day-to-day. Nevertheless, the tone taken by head coach David Cutcliffe at his weekly press conference did not seem optimistic.

Asack, who came in for Lewis after the second drive of the game, appeared rusty and uneasy at times, finishing 10-for-22 with 61 yards and two interceptions. But perhaps with a week of practicing as the team's starter under his belt, some of those nerves may melt away. After all, this program has seen Asack perform well before, finishing seventh nationally among rookie quarterbacks with 966 passing yards and earning ACC All-Freshman honors in 2005.

"I'm very confident in Zack," Cutcliffe said. "He's capable of playing better and will play better. We don't know what's going to happen [with Lewis,] but he's got to go in there with the mentality that he's going to play on Saturday."

During the course of this season, Asack has been utilized mostly for his hard-nosed running ability, coming in on short-yardage situations to plow forward through the line of scrimmage. But after Duke attempted to use this same strategy over the course of a full game-Asack ran designed quarterback draws on seven of the first eight first-down plays he directed-and came up with only six plays from inside Clemson territory, the Blue Devils will most certainly have to open the playbook a little bit more Saturday.

And as new as that might be for Asack this season, Duke is counting on the fact that the Hokies are just as in the dark as to what to expect from Duke's backup signal caller.

"It is a little hard [for Virginia Tech] because you go in the game and all the film that is on me is running," Asack said. "Defenses are preparing for me to run. But that is why I am trying to work on my passing and become really good at passing, keep the defense on their heels and have them really not know if I am running or passing."

As has been the case in recent weeks, with the offense mustering an average of 16 points over the last four games, the Blue Devils will continue to lean on their staunch defense. Although Duke ranks tenth in total defense in the ACC, the numbers don't paint the true picture.

The Blue Devils have shown they are more than capable of producing with their backs against the wall, placing in the top half of the conference in opponents' third-down conversions, turnover margin and red-zone defense. This could prove to be a key factor for a Duke upset as Virginia Tech is ranked dead last in total offense.

But a stingy defensive effort will not be enough for the Blue Devils, who are 17-point underdogs, as the hopes of a victory, and the slimming chances of a bowl berth, will rest heavily on the shoulders of whoever lines up behind center.

If it's Lewis, how much will his injured foot hamper him? If it's Asack, how much can he improve from last week's poor showing?

Whomever Duke decides to send out there, one thing is certain.

He better be ready to answer the call.


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