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Scouting the opponent: Duke football looks to finally break through against Virginia

Duke has lost four consecutive matchups to the Cavaliers, including an embarrassing 48-14 defeat last October.
Duke has lost four consecutive matchups to the Cavaliers, including an embarrassing 48-14 defeat last October.

For Duke, this week is all about forgetting about the past and moving forward.

In the wake of a disheartening display against Boston College, the Blue Devils head back on the road, this time to Charlottesville, Va., to face off against Virginia this Saturday at 4 p.m. in Scott Stadium. This matchup serves as an opportunity for Duke to both avenge last season’s 48-14 loss to the Cavaliers and get this season back on track. 

“It’s been a unique year to say the least, dealing with all of the time away that the squad spent and getting back in rhythm,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “[We] didn’t play near as well the second week as the first week, which puts the pressure right here. I’m 100 percent responsible for that because our standards have to be set by the head football coach.”

Despite the fact that Duke is already two weeks into the 2020 campaign, Virginia will be stepping on the gridiron for the first time since last December's loss to Florida in the Capital One Orange Bowl. The Cavaliers were originally supposed to face Virginia Tech Sep. 19 in their season-opener, but the game was postponed until Dec. 12 because of a COVID-19 outbreak within the Hokies’ program.  

Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall has instilled a culture built upon toughness in Charlottesville, evidenced by the program’s first victory against Virginia Tech in 16 years and an ACC Coastal Division Championship in 2019. Since Mendenhall took over following the 2015 campaign, the Cavaliers have beaten Duke in four consecutive matchups. 

“They’re really a good defensive, systematic team. I think they’re as intricate defensively as anybody we play. They’ve done a good job of recruiting players [and] their players are well-prepared,” Cutcliffe said. “I’ve known Bronco for a long, long time. They’ve had some good fortune with some guys. [Former quarterback] Bryce Perkins coming in there made a huge difference.”

However, the Cavaliers now have to replace the dynamic Perkins, who was the main source of production for their offensive unit over the past two seasons. The San Diego native accounted for 67 total touchdowns and a school-record 7,910 yards of offense in 27 starts.

With sophomore Brennan Armstrong set to take over for Perkins, the Blue Devils will look to put the heat on Virginia’s new signal caller. Senior Victor Dimukeje is coming off a dominant 3.5-sack performance last week against the Eagles, and redshirt junior Chris Rumph II has been extremely effective at bringing initial pressure as well.

In what is another clear sign that Mendenhall has turned his program around, Virginia’s offensive line figures to be a strength in 2020. The Cavaliers bring back seven linemen who started at various points last season, which will make Duke’s ability to put heat on the inexperienced Armstrong a challenge. 

“I think it comes down to a physical line of scrimmage,” redshirt junior defensive tackle Ben Frye said. “I know they’ve got an older offensive line, and I think we have a really good defensive line, so I think the battle will be won up front. We have to stop the run and then get after the quarterback.”

Offensively, the Blue Devils will need to take care of the football, something that they did not do last week against Boston College nor in last season’s lopsided loss to the Cavaliers. With Mendenhall’s 3-4 scheme likely to be executed well by Virginia’s defensive personnel, Duke has adopted the mantra of valuing the football even more this week. 

“As football players, since we were young, the theme has been, 'Don’t turn the ball over,'” junior wide receiver Jake Bobo said. “It’s definitely something we’ve got to go at this week.”

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