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Under the Friday night lights, Duke football looks to take down Virginia Tech in ACC opener

Jalon Calhoun will look to build on his already stellar freshman campaign.
Jalon Calhoun will look to build on his already stellar freshman campaign.

Described as one of the best entrances in all of college football, when Virginia Tech fans begin jumping around to the tune of Enter Sandman, it will present quite the test for a young Duke squad facing its first ACC opponent of the season. 

If the idea of commotion from metal bleachers, screaming fans and Metallica's guitars is going to phase the Blue Devils, they don't seem to show it right now. 

There will no doubt be a raucous crowd on hand Friday night in Lane Stadium when Duke faces Virginia Tech in its conference opener at 7 p.m. on ESPN. The Blue Devils have won just two out of their last six ACC openers and have not beaten the Hokies since 2015. 

“It will be loud for sure, but it’s nothing we haven’t dealt with," wide receiver Scott Bracey emphasized. "We started the season off playing Alabama in the Mercedes Benz Stadium. We just have to continue what we were doing then and make sure we’re communicating.” 

Last week against Middle Tennessee, the Blue Devils were aided by a quick start which led to a 31-3 halftime lead. The Blue Raiders' crowd never got in the game and the score was never close. Duke will look for more of the same as it goes into its second consecutive hostile environment. 

“You can’t count on [a fast start]," Cutcliffe explained. "Literally, you’re trying to attempt that. You talk about it as a staff. You plan what you’re trying to accomplish early offensively, early defensively and early in the kicking game. It’s critically important, but you can’t depend on it.” 

Duke’s last win in Lane Stadium turned into an instant classic and program defining win for Cutcliffe as then starting quarterback Thomas Sirk accounted for 379 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-43 win that took four overtimes. In many ways, that win was the grind-it-out win you'd expect against a tough opponent in the ACC, and the 2019 Duke team could use the same approach coming into Friday's bout.  

“I think they do have to understand that there is no gift," Cutcliffe said on his squad's mentality on the road. "[The 2015 team] earned that win. There were multiple times we could have lost the game. When you’re on the road, and it’s not just Virginia Tech, but when you’re on the road in the Atlantic Coast Conference, you have to earn the win. Yeah, we hope we start fast, but often you earn it in the fourth quarter.” 

Virginia Tech (2-1) torched the Blue Devil defense last season thanks mostly to quarterback Ryan Willis, who is back for his senior season as the most game experienced signal caller in the Coastal Division. The six-foot-four quarterback had all day to throw in last year's matchup, passing for 332 yards and a trio of scores. With his dual-threat abilities, the Duke defensive front will be called upon more than ever to put Willis under duress. 

That may very well come from redshirt-sophomore Chris Rumph II, who had his breakout game against the Blue Raiders, totaling four tackles for loss, including two sacks. His blend of speed and ability to shoot small gaps has had a substantial impact this year. 

"I kid with Chris all the time.... I told him that he does a great job turning 230 pounds into 180. He can get through a crack that big. He's got a knack. We use him in a lot of different ways, and we'll continue to do that." 

The road environment at Lane Stadium is enough to intimidate any freshman, but Duke should be comfortable with the way its youth has impacted the team thus far, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Wide receivers Jalon Calhoun and Eli Pancol have combined for five touchdowns on the season, and new tackles Casey Holman and Jacob Monk have anchored an offensive line that's only given up one sack in 2019. 

“Our young players have played a significant role so far in our first few games," Bracey said. "That’s going to be a major impact for us going on for the rest of the season and being able to have depth and play a lot of people. That’s going to help us out in the long run.” 

The Blue Devils (2-1) can also expect to see an experienced and familiar face back on the field as wideout Jake Bobo is back on the depth chart in his starting role after suffering a clavicle injury in preseason. The sophomore was on the field against Middle Tennessee two weeks ago, but a timeout was taken before the play was run. 

The Blue Devils will surely be tested in their ACC opener, but will return home for the next two weeks. 

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