After a 41-23 Homecoming victory over Georgia Tech, Duke enters a critical stretch of consecutive road games against ACC Coastal opponents. First up is a matchup against Virginia in Charlottesville.
Offensively, the Cavaliers rely on redshirt senior quarterback Bryce Perkins to make plays with his arm and legs. With Perkins rushing for 1,114 yards in 19 games as the starter, Virginia’s offense has excelled, especially in the red zone and on third down. The Cavaliers often spread the field with three and four-receiver sets, giving Perkins open throwing windows, and route combinations play a major role in creating the matchups in the intermediate and deep passing games.
With a slot receiver running a simple in-route about fifteen yards downfield, a safety, who is playing closer to the line of scrimmage because to the threat of Perkins using his legs, is taken out of the picture for helping on the left outside receiver running a deep post. This means the Notre Dame cornerback has no help over the top, and Perkins leads the receiver perfectly for a huge gain. When given a clean pocket, Perkins can be accurate, as evidenced by his career 64.7 percent completion rate.
The diversity of the Cavaliers offense is best evidenced by the different roles that their running backs and receivers take on. When running screen plays, they are often asked to block downfield in order to create lanes for a substantial gain.
A running back in motion creates a four-receiver set to the right side of the formation, and the outside linebacker cannot fully commit to the running back due to the continuous threat of a quarterback draw by Perkins. Now with a numbers advantage on the perimeter, the blocking by the receivers and the running back sent in motion allows the slot receiver to find an alley towards the sideline. This results in a simple first down and further forces the opposing defense to cover the entire field.
Mendenhall’s credentials as an elite defensive mind are supported by ranking No. 32 nationally in points per game allowed by the Virginia defense. Virginia’s play in the trenches dictates their overall success on defense, as the Cavaliers average 4.5 sacks per game, good enough for second in the country.
Mendenhall and defensive coordinator Nick Howell utilize different fronts and techniques to get pressure, including both 4-3 and 3-4 looks, as well as stunts to force opposing guards to adjust their protections. This disrupts the pocket and forces an opposing quarterback to either get rid of the ball quickly or improvise outside the pocket. Blitzes from different positions also help put pressure on the quarterback.
Against Florida State, a nickel cornerback rushing from his slot position forces a running back or tight end to chip block to give the quarterback more time to deliver the throw. This puts the onus on the deep safety to play the middle of the field with discipline, as an experienced pocket passer can find a matchup quickly. Seminoles quarterback James Blackman is able to fire a strike as he gets nailed by a Virginia defensive lineman who has broken free due to the confusion created by the nickel blitz.
In order for the Blue Devils to improve to 5-2 on the season, they will need to contain Bryce Perkins by using an athletic linebacker—potentially Koby Quansah—to spy the dynamic Cavalier quarterback. Preventing Perkins from breaking contain will help Duke get off the field on third downs and hold Virginia to field goals in the red zone.
Offensively, expect Quentin Harris to get rid of the ball quickly to Jalon Calhoun, Noah Gray, and other options in the passing game. The Blue Devils will need to limit mistakes and make tackles in the open field in order to come away with a crucial road win.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.