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Film room: Duke football must be prepared for a number of Virginia game plans

Big plays like cornerback Mark Gilbert's interception against Boston College are going to be needed to beat Virginia this week.
Big plays like cornerback Mark Gilbert's interception against Boston College are going to be needed to beat Virginia this week.

Following an embarrassing loss to Boston College in Week 2 of the season, the Duke Blue Devils look to bounce back on the road against the Virginia Cavaliers in Virginia’s first game of the year. The Cavaliers will feature several new facets to their offense this season, including sophomore quarterback Brennan Armstrong. As a six-point favorite, Virginia looks to continue building their program after a successful nine win year in 2019.

The Cavaliers are led by fifth year head Coach Bronco Mendenhall, who, much like head coach David Cutcliffe for Duke, has been fundamental in the turnaround of their football program. Mendenhall has achieved a record of 25-27 during his time at Virginia and previously posted a staggering 99-43 record during his eleven years at BYU. To put it simply, Mendenhall knows what it takes to win. Last season, the Cavaliers went 9-5 and won the program’s first ever ACC Coastal title. However, due to several key players leaving, including cornerback Bryce Hall and starting quarterback Bryce Perkins, the true strength of this team is still unknown. 

Armstrong, who will be the starting quarterback against Duke, is a redshirt sophomore recruit out of Ohio. As the backup for Perkins, he only attempted 25 passes, but threw for 258 yards and two touchdowns. Backup quarterback and Mississippi State transfer Keytaon Thompson may be the long term quarterback with his talent, but Armstrong’s familiarity with the system helped win him the job for the meantime. Armstrong, as a 6-foot-2 and 220-pound quarterback, certainly has the strength to throw the ball all over the field but he is also a prolific runner. Watch for him to have some key runs throughout the game Saturday. 

The Cavalier’s running game is spearheaded by junior Wayne Taulapapa and graduate transfer Shane Simpson. The veterean duo could prove to be a problem for the Duke defense, who has let up 131 yards of rushing per game. Simpson, who gained FCS All-American status in 2018, was forced to sit last season due to injury. Taulapapa posted an impressive 12 touchdowns and 473 yards his sophomore season, while running for 4.1 yards per carry. A third back may appear for the Cavaliers during the season, as Indiana transfer Ronnie Walker Jr. is awaiting his waiver appeal by the NCAA. If all things go right for Virginia, they could be supporting a deep backfield. 

Defensively, the Cavaliers return eight of their 11 starters from last season. In total, the returning players have started in 75 games, making the Virginia defense one of the most experienced in the country. All-American Bryce Hall, who suffered a season ending injury last season, is the biggest loss for this squad, but two seniors with playing experience are ready to fill his place. The biggest weakness for their defense in 2019 was defending the rush, where they ranked 40th in the nation. Last season, Duke gave up five turnovers to the Cavaliers, including three fumbles and two interceptions. In order for the Blue Devils to be effective come Saturday, they must find a way to keep the football in their possession. 

Duke is going to have a long, uphill battle against the Virginia Cavaliers this Saturday after a rather ugly loss against Boston College. They must find ways to create opportunities while focusing on defensive play, and look to attack the opposing defense early and often. As an underdog, the Blue Devils should be ready to play. 


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