Although the past two and a half seasons have left Virginia with an abysmal 9-19 record, two of those wins came at the Blue Devils’ expense. 

Duke will look to flip the script, however, when it travels to Scott Stadium Saturday afternoon to take on a hot Cavalier team. 

Virginia is off to its best start in a decade, picking up its third win with a 42-23 beatdown on the road at Boise State two weeks ago. The Cavaliers have already surpassed their win total from last year and bring a disciplined group coming off a bye week of preparation, making them more than capable of handing Duke a second consecutive loss. 

“Our players are aware that Virginia is much better,” Blue Devil head coach David Cutcliffe said. “[I’ve] heard a lot about Virginia being open and Virginia coming off a huge win over Boise State, which is a program that is consistently a winner.” 

The Cavalier offense is led by veteran quarterback Kurt Benkert, who is no stranger to Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils. Benkert threw for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns at Wallace Wade Stadium last year and looks comfortable in his second year starting, already accounting for 10 touchdowns and just one interception. 

The redshirt senior leads a potent aerial attack that has posted 312 passing yards per game, but if there is one thing that separates this 3-1 Cavalier team from last year’s 2-10 squad, it is Virginia’s ability to take care of the football. 

The Cavaliers closed last season with 26 giveaways, more than all but nine teams in FBS. But they have committed only one turnover in four games this year, a number that only top-ranked Alabama can best. 

“Virginia is so well-coached that nothing’s going to come easy,” Cutcliffe said. “They make you execute.” 

The last time the Blue Devils traveled to Charlottesville, they allowed 21 points off three turnovers in a one-possession loss. That was followed by yet another head-scratching performance last year, in which the Blue Devils surrendered another 21 points off six Daniel Jones turnovers. 

Cutcliffe described last year’s offensive performance as “erratic” and credited the loss to Virginia’s ability to make plays. For Duke to pick up a road win this time around, though, it will want to take a page out of Virginia’s playbook and prevent giveaways.

“Defensively, they are as consistent with their system as anybody we will play.... Bronco Mendenhall is one of the best defensive football coaches I’ve ever talked to,” Cutcliffe said of the Cavaliers’ head coach. “They make you earn everything.” 

The past two matchups against the Cavaliers have not been occasions to remember for defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, but he brings in a far more confident group this year that boasts arguably the best rushing defense in the ACC. Cutcliffe has seen his squad continuously win the battle at the line of scrimmage, accumulating 18 sacks, creating an interesting matchup up front—Duke’s potent defensive line will go up against a team that has only allowed six sacks this season. 

In the defensive backfield, a vulnerable Duke secondary has the tough assignment of containing Benkert’s go-to target, Andre Levrone, who has racked up 268 receiving yards and three touchdowns in his last two games.  

“They do a lot of shifts and motions, and I think they like to play with teams a lot with that and confuse them,” Blue Devil safety Alonzo Saxton II said. “We’re simplifying our defense so that we don’t get distracted and confused.” 

Virginia will also bring a premier pass-rush to the table, led by preseason second-team All-American linebacker Micah Kiser, who ranks second in the ACC in sacks and could have a big day against a Duke offensive line that has struggled for the last three weeks. The Cavaliers’ secondary does not take a step back either, featuring first-team All-ACC safety Quin Blanding, and they return eight defensive starters in total from last season.

“They’ve played together, and when you play together for a while, you just continue to get better. You get a feel for the other players and how they think,” Blue Devil wide receiver Johnathan Lloyd said. “They’re a better team than they were, so we know it’s going to be a tough game.”

Michael Model and Ben Feder contributed reporting.