After a brutal last-minute 31-27 loss against Georgia Tech, the Blue Devils look to bounce back for the elusive first conference win when they match up against Virginia. Ahead of the game, the Blue Zone takes a look at a player from both sides who can become the difference-maker in Charlottesville, Va.
Duke: Wide receiver Jalon Calhoun
Through the first month of play for the Blue Devils, it seemed as if senior captain Jake Bobo was the clear-cut top receiving option for the offense. That may still be true, but Jalon Calhoun’s underrated performance throughout the non-conference slate and a red-hot start to ACC play have the junior playmaker looking like a key component of Duke’s offensive scheme.
After nearly reaching the 100-yard mark against North Carolina A&T in the home opener, Calhoun has 103 receiving yards in consecutive weeks against North Carolina and Georgia Tech. While the offense has mainly run through star running back Mataeo Durant and Bobo still leads the Blue Devils in yards, targets and receptions, Calhoun has demonstrated how his explosiveness and stellar route running can change any game in an instant. While Duke still lost handily to the Tar Heels on the road, 38-7, Calhoun’s breakaway 80-yard score is a terrific example of that spark. Virginia gave up a similar play last week against Louisville, as the Cardinals scored on a long touchdown toss on their first play from scrimmage.
The need to put up points against Virginia—the ACC’s top offense in terms of yardage—is sure to be a common theme in the lead-up to Saturday’s bout. Calhoun’s emergence as the explosive yin to Bobo’s yang could help the Blue Devils achieve the sort of offensive success they will need to pull off the win.
Virginia: Linebacker Nick Jackson
The Cavaliers may boast a high-flying offense, but to this point, their defense hasn’t been something to strike fear into the hearts of their opponents. They rank last in the conference in forced turnovers, have struggled to get to the quarterback, and easily top all other ACC teams for the most rushing yards allowed, giving up more than 200 yards on the ground per game.
Consistently winning battles in the run game has to be a point of emphasis for Virginia against the Duke offense—one that handed the ball off to senior running back Mataeo Durant 43 times last week. Much of that will fall on the shoulders of junior linebacker and preseason All-ACC selection Nick Jackson, who ranked second in the conference in tackles a year ago. Working behind an unheralded defensive line and again performing at a high level, his ability to blow up plays in the backfield and direct traffic in the second level could be crucial in Virginia’s effort to slow down Durant.
Virginia took last year’s contest with ease, 38-20. Against this year’s version of the Duke offense, it will need a statement performance from its star defender to earn a seventh straight win against the Blue Devils.
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