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Making the grade: Duke disappoints against Virginia Tech

<p>Chris Taylor narrowly missed on two early big plays.</p>

Chris Taylor narrowly missed on two early big plays.

After four consecutive wins to start the year, then-No. 22 Duke suffered their first defeat of the year to then-unranked Virginia Tech 31-14 in the Blue Devils’ first conference battle of the year. The Blue Zone grades each unit on their performance vs. the Hokies:

Offense: C-

Pass: The return of Daniel Jones did not open up the Duke passing game as much as Duke fans expected. Even though their star quarterback looked sharp, the Blue Devils were a mess. Wideout Chris Taylor had two catches barely bounce off his outstretched hands in the first quarter, and with Duke trying to trim the Virginia Tech lead to three just before the half, Scott Bracey dropped a sure touchdown in the end zone, resulting in a Duke missed field goal. Jones completed 65.7 percent of his passes, but had little time to throw as the Hokie defensive line dominated up front, sacking Jones three times. 

Rush: The Blue Devils’ offensive line didn’t have much success in the run game either, as Virginia Tech held Duke to just 2.0 yards per rush. Running backs Brittain Brown and Deon Jackson fought off swarms of Hokies in the backfield when their guards could not open up any holes. The longest Blue Devil run on the night came from Jones on a read option play that went for a gain of 10.

X’s and O’s: Virginia Tech’s pressure up front never allowed Jones any time to throw, so the offense was forced into throwing many screen passes over the course of the night. After the two deep attempts to Taylor in the first quarter, the Blue Devils rarely looked down the field again. The most telling stat of the night was Duke’s abysmal 4-16 conversion rate on third downs, as poor runs on previous plays gave the offense too many long-yardage situations to handle.

Defense: C

Pass: Perhaps the most demoralizing part of the night for Duke was how badly their secondary was beaten. The Blue Devils allowed the Hokies’ backup quarterback to throw for 332 yards and 3 TDs, and repeatedly gave up key third and longs that could have gotten the defense off the field. Duke’s struggles came from a combination of little to no pressure up front and inexperience in a secondary that is reeling the absences of Mark Gilbert and Michael Carter II.

Rush: Even in a game where the Blue Devils looked lost, Duke can always count on linebackers Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris to stuff the opposing team’s run game, and Saturday was no different. The Hokies could only squeeze out 2.0 yards per carry on the night, and Duke never let the Virginia Tech runners get away for huge gains.

X’s and O’s: With the offense struggling to complete long drives all game, the Blue Devils could have used a spark from their defense, but Duke hasn’t forced a turnover since Leonard Johnson’s game-sealing pick six against Baylor in Week 3. Co-defensive coordinators Matt Guerrieri and Ben Albert will have to use the bye week going forward to find a scheme that can get adequate pressure on the quarterback without leaving their young cornerbacks on an island.

Special Teams: C-

Duke continues to search for their first reliable kicker since Ross Martin, the ACC’s second all-time leading scorer, as kicker Colin Wareham missed his only field goal attempt from 42 yards out. T.J. Rahming returned four punts but wasn’t able to net even a single yard on those returns, forcing Duke into poor field position all game. The one positive for the Blue Devils was punter Austin Parker, who routinely flipped the field to the tune of six punts averaging over 47 yards per punt.