CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA.—For Duke, its trip to Virginia was supposed to be about forgetting the past and looking ahead, both in terms of its dismal history against the Cavaliers and its dreadful performance against Boston College last Saturday.
But instead, this Saturday’s contest was much of the same for the Blue Devils.
Duke fell 38-20 to Virginia at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va., the team’s sixth consecutive loss to the Cavaliers. Turnovers were once again the story for head coach David Cutcliffe’s squad. The Blue Devils coughed up the ball seven times—including six times in the fourth quarter—after turning it over five times last week against the Eagles.
Quarterback Chase Brice provided most of the damage, tossing four interceptions before being benched late in the fourth quarter for backups Gunnar Holmberg and Chris Katrenick.
"I don't think I can go there that quick after a ball game, until I watch tape," Cutcliffe said of whether the would open up the quarterback battle again this week. "We work all three of those guys every week. We certainly will always be looking at that position just like any other position, but I don't need to create anything just yet. Let's see where we are and what exactly happened."
After Cutcliffe preached accuracy as the most important factor in the starting quarterback competition that Brice eventually won, the Clemson transfer wasn’t very accurate Saturday afternoon.
Brice finished 16-of-36 passing for 246 yards, tossing two touchdowns in addition to his four picks.
Perhaps the most costly giveaway, however, didn't come from the arm of Brice.
The Blue Devils (0-3, 0-3 in the ACC) held a 20-17 advantage in the waning minutes of the third quarter, with a first-and-10 just outside the red zone, when Brice turned left and fired a quick screen pass to sophomore wide receiver Jalon Calhoun.
It was then that the Blue Devil offense tried to get a little too sneaky.
Calhoun, a quarterback in high school, rolled back over the middle and, facing intense pressure from the Cavalier defense, tossed an errant pass off his back foot. The lob was intercepted, halting the Blue Devils’ chance to take control of the game.
Virginia (1-0, 1-0 in the ACC) made sure to take advantage of the mishap, with sophomore quarterback Brennan Armstrong quickly wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr. along the sideline for a 39-yard gain into the red zone and then in the back left corner of the end zone to put the home team up 24-20 with just under 13 minutes remaining in the contest.
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Davis Jr., a 6-foot-7, 210-pound true freshman, finished with four catches for 101 yards and two scores, while Armstrong posted 269 passing yards on 24-of-45 through the air.
Duke showed promise on its next drive with two long completions bringing the Blue Devils near midfield. But then Brice tossed his third pick of the day on a short pass over the middle, and four players later, the Cavaliers extended their lead to double-digits.
On the next possession, Brice tossed yet another interception downfield, the third consecutive Duke drive that ended with the ball in the hands of the opponent.
"Certainly I think there were a couple times the ball was forced. I think pressure had a lot to do with it—got to look at every bit of this and see where it all came from," Cutcliffe said of Brice's turnovers. "But we've got to protect the quarterback better and that's part of my job, to put ourselves in a position to do that. And then we always have to make great decisions at quarterback when it comes to taking care of the ball."
As is typical for a Duke football game this year, the game started quiet offensively for both teams.
Virginia quickly handed Duke prime field position to begin the contest, coughing up the opening kickoff. But per usual this season, the Blue Devils were unable to convert the red zone opportunity into a touchdown, settling for the field goal to go ahead 3-0.
Both offenses were quiet for much of the first quarter, with the two teams either punting or turning over on downs on each of the next seven total drives.
It wasn’t until there was just over a minute remaining in the first quarter that either team scored again, with Brice finding a wide open Jake Marwede across the middle, who sprinted untouched for the 55-yard-score.
For a Duke squad desperately looking for explosive plays downfield, the play appeared to be the spark the team needed. Little did the Blue Devils know that their touchdown would strike a fire in their opponents as well.
Virginia rattled off 17 unanswered points to take a seven-point lead into halftime, with Armstrong and junior running back Wayne Taulapapa each providing a touchdown on the ground.
Taulapapa tallied 95 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the afternoon, while Armstrong added 47 rushing yards of his own.
Duke would regain the lead via a Noah Gray touchdown late in the third quarter, but its array of late-game turnovers would begin shortly after.
Next, the Blue Devils return home to take on Virginia Tech next Saturday at 4 p.m, desperate to regain control of its season.
"This team has, like all teams around the country, been through a lot," Cutcliffe said. "And I've got to do a better job of helping them. And again, the only way that you can do that, [improve] the team psyche, is to help your teammates. And that's one of the things I pleaded with them, I said, 'We need to think about each other, not about ourselves.' And when you do that, that's probably the best healing process."