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Playing at Va. Tech could prove daunting for Duke

The road has been bumpy for Virginia Tech over the last four weeks, and that's because the Hokies have been playing on it most of the time.

After putting together a five-game winning streak, which included three victories at home and catapulted the Hokies to No. 20 in the country, the team left Blacksburg, Va. for three of its last four contests, all against ACC opponents. Virginia Tech dropped all three, starting with a 28-23 loss to Boston College Oct. 18 and ending most recently in Miami with a 16-14 defeat.

So when the Blue Devils head into Lane Stadium-- Saturday-a venue notorious for its rowdy home crowd-they will be facing a Virginia Tech squad glad to be back in its comfort zone, a place where the Hokies are undefeated so far this year.

"There's obviously not many people going in there to win, and the reasons for that are twofold," head coach David Cutcliffe said. "They have great support and great energy coming out of the crowd. Their crowd loves football. When I'm watching tape, I don't see an empty seat in the house, period.

"The other side of the coin is that they're just really good. They're fast, and they don't have any weaknesses."

For Duke, playing conference foes on the road has been just as unforgiving an experience as it has been for the Hokies. The Blue Devils are 0-3 in those contests, losing by an average of 18 points. And with starting quarterback Thaddeus Lewis still day-to-day with a foot sprain, and starting running back Clifford Harris out for Saturday's game with a broken arm, making up for that point deficit looks like an Herculean task.

Virginia Tech's defense ranks as the 17th best in the country and has excelled in winning the turnover battle, producing a plus-11 turnover margin for the season.

Such a disciplined, consistent and ball-hawking squad will certainly be difficult for Zack Asack, who will make his first start behind center since 2005 if Lewis is unable to play.

"Our team is bruised and bumped up a little bit," Cutcliffe said. "There's some physical problems, but I think probably they're more with our mental make-up after playing so poorly in Clemson.... [We're] looking forward to another great road trip, another great venue, another school with a great football tradition. You have to love these challenges, and it will certainly be one."

Virginia Tech has been downright dominant on defense at home. Opponents have averaged less than 13 points per game in Blacksburg.

Virginia Tech is known for beginning games strong and fast defensively, having allowed just three first-quarter touchdowns all season. But Asack is welcoming the game ahead rather than letting himself become overwhelmed.

"I've never played in their stadium, but I've only heard how crazy of a place it is," Asack said. "We have a great challenge ahead of us in Virginia Tech. It just comes down to execution, converting third downs and putting points up on the board."

But the hardest part for the Blue Devils may just be getting started on offense.

In three of Duke's four victories, it has scored at least one touchdown in the first half. On the flip side, the Blue Devils failed to find the end zone during the opening quarter in four of their six losses.

If the Hokies live up to their own standard as a stalwart defense and prevent Duke from getting on the board early, the game just might be over soon after it starts.

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