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Extra Point vs. Virginia Tech: Duke suffers first loss of the season in ACC opener

<p>Brittain Brown's 35 rushing yards were not enough to lift Duke over Virginia Tech.</p>

Brittain Brown's 35 rushing yards were not enough to lift Duke over Virginia Tech.

After entering the AP Top 25 for the first time in three years, the No. 22 Blue Devils hoped to finally earn some respect as a competitive football school with a big home matchup against Virginia Tech. Instead, a 31-14 defeat leaves fans hoping Duke’s season won’t spiral out of control yet again. 

The Blue Zone gives three key takeaways and stats and looks forward for the Blue Devils:  

Three key takeaways: 

1. Secondary struggles amid injuries 

With both All-ACC cornerback Mark Gilbert and backup Michael Carter II out, Duke’s secondary was short-staffed Saturday, and it showed. Even without starting quarterback Josh Jackson, Virginia Tech tore the Blue Devils apart through the air, with backup Ryan Willis tossing for 332 yards and three scores. Whenever it seemed as if the momentum was finally turning in Duke’s favor, the Hokies would quickly put those hopes to bed with a huge play downfield. The Blue Devils must make this issue a focal point of their bye week if they wish to stay in the hunt for the ACC Coastal title.

2. Running game can’t get anything going 

After a field day against N.C. Central last week, in which it totaled 372 rushing yards, Duke couldn’t get anything going on the ground Saturday against Virginia Tech. The eighth-ranked rushing defense in the country limited the Blue Devils to just 71 yards on 36 attempts, less than two yards per carry. Redshirt sophomore Brittain Brown led the way with 35 yards, with true sophomore Deon Jackson trailing just behind at 34. Duke is going to need a balanced attack on offense to stay competitive as it continues conference play. 

3. Daniel Jones returns  

Daniel Jones was not expected to return for Duke’s matchup with the Hokies Saturday. The initial diagnosis of his fractured clavicle appeared to indicate that the redshirt junior would be out until at least the Blue Devils’ bye week. But Jones returned early and looked like he hadn’t missed any time at all. He connected on 23 of his 35 passes for 226 yards and one touchdown.  

This stat line may look like a downgrade compared to his performance at the beginning of the season, but it was clear Duke’s offense was stronger with the Charlotte, N.C. native under center. Jones was simply able to make the difficult throws that backup Quentin Harris couldn’t, especially in short-yardage plays. Despite the loss, the Blue Devils are glad to have their starting quarterback moving forward. 

Three key stats: 

1. 19.5 

The biggest indicator of Duke’s struggles on defense Saturday has to be the Hokies’ 19.5 yards per catch. Virginia Tech tight end Dalton Keene led the team in receiving with 82 yards on a mere two receptions, with three other Hokie receivers averaging at least 20 yards per catch as well. It was these kinds of big plays that destroyed the Blue Devils’ momentum, ending any hope for a comeback. 

2. 1 

Contrary to Virginia Tech, the Blue Devils were absent of any big plays on offense, especially on the ground. The Blue Devils totaled just one running play of double-digit yards, a 10-yard scamper by Daniel Jones in the first quarter. If they can’t keep defenses honest with an effective running game, it’s going to be a long season ahead for the Blue Devils. 

3. 2.0 

Despite their inability to stop Virginia Tech’s aerial attack, the Blue Devils did to a successful job mitigating their rushing offense. The Hokies managed only 81 yards on 41 carries, an average of just under two yards per attempt. In a game highlighted by struggles on both sides of the football, at least Duke fans can have one thing to feel positive about heading into the bye week. 

Looking forward: 

After receiving their first AP Top 25 ranking since 2015 following its win last week, Duke is likely to lose that honor following its first loss of the season. The Blue Devils now enter their bye week, where they hope to regroup before they visit Georgia Tech for their second ACC contest of the year Oct. 13.