Third and goal: Duke football vs. Virginia Tech

T.J. Rahming and Duke's receivers will need to get better seperation if the Blue Devils want to pull off an upset.
T.J. Rahming and Duke's receivers will need to get better seperation if the Blue Devils want to pull off an upset.

After four straight losses, the Blue Devils are in desperate need of an ACC victory. And as Duke looks to avoid going winless for the first time in October under head coach David Cutcliffe, it returns to Lane Stadium—the site of one of the most memorable games in the program's recent history, a 45-43, four-overtime victory. Here are three keys for the Blue Devils' matchup with Virginia Tech Saturday night:

Tackle, tackle, tackle

Ever since Duke faltered in the second half at Virginia, its run defense has not been the same. The Cavaliers racked up 98 ground yards in the final 30 minutes before Florida State and Pittsburgh rushed for 228 and 336, respectively. The strange part about it all is that no one's been missing—the Blue Devils primary run-stoppers, Ben Humphreys, Joe Giles-Harris and Mike Ramsay have started every game this season.

The biggest issue is gap control. That trio, along with Edgar Cerenord and Victor Dimukeje, give the Blue Devils plenty of beef up front to slow down a multi-dimensional Hokie run game—Virginia Tech will likely utilize four running backs along with dual-threat quarterback Josh Jackson. And when Duke has the Hokies in its grasp, the Blue Devils will need to wrap up and not allow yards after contact.

Create space on the outside

It's hard to put the blame entirely on Daniel Jones for the Blue Devils' offensive struggles, especially when he has no one open to throw to. At the beginning of the season, there was a thought that Jones would be able to have a breakout year thanks to a deep group of wideouts. Instead, the Duke pass-catchers have averaged just 10.5 yards per catch and have tallied only nine touchdowns. 

Yes, the Virginia Tech defense—which has given up an ACC-best 12.7 pointers per game—will not be any easier than defensive units the Blue Devils have faced the last few weeks. But given the Hokies' run-stopping capabilities and the fact that the home team will likely be ahead for much of the game, Duke will need T.J. Rahming, Johnathan Lloyd and the rest of its wide receiving corps to help complete a couple of big chunk plays if the Blue Devils are to have any chance in Blacksburg.

Make it special

Simply put, Duke's special teams unit has not been special this season. In fact, it's been quite poor—the Blue Devils are third-to-last in the ACC in yards per punt return, fourth-to-last in yards per punt and have missed four of 15 field-goal attempts. Overall, the group ranks 107th in the nation in efficiency

Outside of Shaun Wilson's 75-yard kickoff return in Charlottesville, Va., a few weeks back, it feels like a long time since Duke has had a remarkable special teams moment. It's unlikely that unit will cost the Blue Devils Saturday, but a punt or kickoff returned for a touchdown could provide an extra spark as Duke looks to pull off the upset. 

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 


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