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Extra point vs. Virginia: Blue Devils unable to shake turnover woes in deflating loss

<p>Despite Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong making his first start, Duke struggled to prevent the Cavaliers from making plays downfield.</p>

Despite Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong making his first start, Duke struggled to prevent the Cavaliers from making plays downfield.

Duke once again failed to take care of the ball against an ACC opponent, resulting in a 38-20 loss to Virginia on Saturday afternoon. The Blue Zone has you covered with three key takeaways, stats and a look forward for a Blue Devil squad searching for consistency:

Three Key Takeaways:

1. Offensive line struggles

After losing starting center Jack Wohlabaugh to an ACL injury just before the start of the season, expectations were lowered for the offensive line. However, the play that was shown on the field against Virginia was just flat out bad. Duke was only able to rush for 56 yards in the game, with all but 14 of those yards coming from two plays. The line simply did not create the space Deon Jackson and Mataeo Durant needed to create big plays. And it was nearly impossible for any Duke quarterback to survive in the pocket while looking to pass, as Brice was sacked five times and threw four interceptions after being hounded by Virginia’s pass rush. On top of that, the Blue Devils fumbled the ball twice. This type of play needs to improve if Duke wants to have any chance of competing this season.  

2. Depleted secondary has issues

With both starting cornerbacks out indefinitely, the pressure was on backups Leonard Johnson and Jeremiah Lewis to contain Virginia’s downfield attack. They were given a bit of hope coming up against inexperienced Cavalier quarterback Brennan Armstrong in their first starts of the season. Unfortunately, the personnel change was not a narrative change for Duke, and once again they were seen giving up impressive numbers to opposing receivers. Lavel Davis Jr. and Billy Kemp IV combined for 11 receptions and 171 yards, with Davis scoring two touchdowns. Without their starters, the Blue Devils will need to find a way to contain receivers in the future.  

3. Katrenick has success

In his only drive of the game, backup quarterback Chris Katrenick stepped in with a bit of flare.  After two consecutive turnovers by both Chase Brice and Gunnar Holmberg, the Illinois native stepped in and took the reigns well, leading Duke 40 yards downfield with just two completions.  The drive would later stall due to two sacks, however, Katrenick may have just shown enough to create some competition at quarterback. Chase Brice has thrown six interceptions in the last two games, after being hailed for his accuracy in the preseason. If this trend continues, we may see a change in the lineup, with Katrenick putting in a brief strong showing.  

Three Key Stats

1. Seven turnovers

Seven. Seven times Duke gave the ball to Virginia. That number makes the five turnovers last week seem alright. But it is not. Duke was already 51st in turnover margin in the FBS before the Virginia game, and it’s only going to get worse. Taking care of the ball needs to be a focal point of this team. Squandering scoring opportunities is simply not an option when the offense already struggles to get downfield. 

2. Three penalties for 25 yards

Among the positives from today’s game were the penalties. Only being flagged three times in a game is something even NFL teams would praise. Many times, flags can stall drives or push the defense backward. For a team that was visibly out of sorts for a lot of the game, it was refreshing to see such a positive number. Many coaches believe that winning starts with a well-disciplined, low-penalty team.  If Duke wants to bounce back from three straight losses, perhaps building upon this notion is the place to start.

3. 40 fewer yards on offense

Virginia did not beat Duke. Duke beat Duke. If you weren’t convinced already, another stat to prove it would be the fact that the Blue Devils only produced 40 fewer yards on offense, but somehow that translated to 18 fewer points. This comes right back to the high turnover rate, especially with turnovers close to the red zone. Late in the third quarter, Chase Brice and Jalon Calhoun attempted a double pass, when the latter lobbed the ball up only for it to be intercepted. Virginia went on to take the lead back after the turnover. The same thing happened on the next drive, where directly after a Brice turnover, Virginia would build upon their lead. The offense can move the ball, it just needs to be less careless. 

Looking forward: 

Giving up the lead right after a great opportunity to build it hurts. Head coach David Cutcliffe needs to use that hurt and fire that into the squad for the next game if he wants to avoid an 0-4 start.  The next contest is coming against Virginia Tech, a team that has been ravaged by COVID-19 so far this season. While Duke would much rather get its first win against a full-strength team, any momentum they can build will be useful.  Look for the Blue Devils to come out with a fire and try to win their first game of the season at home.  

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