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Scouting the opponent: Duke football must prepare for Virginia's air raid

Quarterback Gunnar Holmberg leads the ACC with a 72.5% completion rate.
Quarterback Gunnar Holmberg leads the ACC with a 72.5% completion rate.

Duke is packing its bags for Family Weekend.

The Blue Devils will be competing against Virginia at 12:30 p.m. for the Blue Devils first out-of-state match of the season.

Heading into its third conference game with two ACC losses, Duke is in for an entertaining trip. After a momentous win streak throughout September, Duke fans have been met with disappointment this month, watching the Blue Devils lose to Georgia Tech and North Carolina. On the contrary, the Cavaliers are riding into Saturday 4-2, coming off narrow wins against Miami and Louisville. If Virginia's 38-20 victory against Duke last year at Scott Stadium taught us anything, it’s that the Blue Devils are going to need to create some momentum to duel the Cavalier reign.

Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong is going to put up a fight this weekend. Armstrong usurps national rankings at first in passing yards with a whopping 2460 recorded in six games, a staggering improvement from an already impressive 2117 passing yards in nine games last season. 

Despite the clear advantage in passing yards, any Duke fan paying attention this season knows that quarterback Gunnar Holmberg has some tricks up his sleeve. Holmberg carries a 138-yard edge on Armstrong in terms of rushing yards and in his first entire season as a starting quarterback, he finds himself with the highest throw accuracy in the ACC, hoisting a completion rate of 72.5%.

Armstrong went 24-of-45 on his passes in the matchup last year, a critical reason Cavalier running back Wayne Taulapapa rushed for 95 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Laurel Davis Jr. hauled in 101 receiving yards and also pulled in two touchdowns, enough to overcome the efforts of the Duke offense, which was highlighed by tight end Jake Marwede's 59 receiving yards and touchdown.

Though we know he has been productive rushing and passing, Holmberg is still in for a big challenge. Armstrong has already earned the ACC Quarterback of the Week title three times this season, with last week’s game being the most recent time.

Don’t be deceived by the close score against Louisville last weekend; Armstrong completed 40 of his 60 passes for 487 yards. Holmberg’s closest comparison is the Kansas game, where he completed 22-of-29 passes for 328 yards, an impressive feat that landed him four rushing touchdowns, tying Duke’s program record. 

However impressive we’ve seen Holmberg play thus far, a win against Virginia is going to require some additional prowess. With the offensive shootout that could happen Saturday, expect some big numbers from both quarterbacks.

On the flipside for Duke, Virginia’s history this season shows some areas that the Blue Devils can exploit. Though we have yet to see a Duke-Louisville or a Duke-Miami competition in 2021, the Blue Devils’ second most recent game was the North Carolina matchup, a team which Virginia also lost to two weeks prior. Rocking back from an upsetting first quarter, the Cavaliers went on to gain a four-point advantage in the second quarter. However, they were quickly shut down in the second half, when the Tar Heels gained a 20-point advantage.

Taking a side-by-side look at how each team matched up against North Carolina is a grim pathway for Duke. The Cavaliers went for 577 total yards on offense, in contrast to the 308 the Blue Devils accumulated. While Virginia leads the way in total yards, 554 of them were passing, meaning the Blue Devils hold a clear advantage in terms of rushing with their 130 yards to the Cavaliers' 24. If Duke plays at the same level it did at the Kansas game, achieving 607 total yards—this should be a game for the record books.


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