If last Saturday's contest with Virginia looked like a giant mudbath because of the weather, head coach David Cutcliffe expects this week's game at Virginia to more closely resemble a wrestling match.
At his weekly media luncheon Tuesday, Cutcliffe praised the Cavaliers (3-4) for their toughness and physicality, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
"When I think about Virginia, it's because of coach [Al] Groh," Cutcliffe said. "The physical defense, this is the hardest-hitting team that we will play. They are loaded for big hits—their secondary is special. There's a reason they lead the conference in pass defense, so what a matchup in that regard."
The Cavaliers have also shown toughness of the mental variety. A disastrous 0-3 start included a 12-point home loss to FCS William and Mary—bad memories of Richmond, anyone?—but Virginia has recovered nicely, winning three of its last four games. The most recent loss came against surging Georgia Tech, and the Cavaliers have already beaten Indiana by 40 points at Scott Stadium.
Still, Duke isn't worried so much by Virginia's mental state, but by its unusual defensive scheme.
The Cavalier defense runs out of the 3-4 alignment, Cutcliffe said, which includes just three down linemen versus four upright linebackers. The scheme allows linebackers to blitz more frequently and out of more unique positions than the traditional 4-3.The 3-4 is common in the NFL, but is utilized less frequently at the college level.
"The 3-4 defense lends itself to being an excellent zone blitz format, which is something we don't see that often," Cutcliffe said.
That zone-blitzing scheme has elevated Virginia's pass defense to the top of the ACC, although that statistic is a bit misleading since two of the Cavaliers' conference opponents, Georgia Tech and North Carolina, rank in the bottom two in passing offense. Virginia's other ACC opponent, Maryland, ranks in the middle of the conference in passing offense, while Duke tops that list.
If Thaddeus Lewis and the Blue Devils fall from their perch as the ACC's best passing team Saturday, you can thank Virginia's unique defense for it.
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