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Scouting the opponent: Duke football hits the road to take on Virginia Tech

The Duke defense will have the chance to impact the game by taking advantage of the likely absence of Virginia Tech starting quarterback Braxton Burmeister.
The Duke defense will have the chance to impact the game by taking advantage of the likely absence of Virginia Tech starting quarterback Braxton Burmeister.

Winless. 

It’s the only way to describe Duke’s ACC play this season. 

Following five straight conference losses, the Blue Devils will attempt to break the streak Saturday at 3:30 p.m., in Blacksburg, Virg. They are coming off of a devastating, hardfought game in which Gunnar Holmberg went down in the end of the first half, and it is unclear if he will play Saturday. Virginia Tech hasn’t fared that much better. The Hokies are 4-5 overall and 2-3 in conference play and their last game against Boston College, the offense only put up three points. With two inconsistent teams, Saturday has endless possibilities. 

A common problem for both teams: the injuries to their starting quarterbacks. Virginia Tech quarterback Braxton Burmeister was injured in the first half against Boston College. The exact nature, and severity, of the upper body injury is unknown, and The Virginian-Pilot reported that head coach Justin Fuente said Burmeister will "play if he can." Through the first eight games, the quarterback threw for 1,495 yards, completing 54.1% of his passes, with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s only thrown for more than 250 yards once this season, when he recorded 254 yards against Georgia Tech. If he can’t suit up, backup Knox Kadum will get the start, who did just about nothing against Boston College. 

Duke quarterback Gunnar Holmberg also suffered an upper body injury in the first half of its game against Pittsburgh, not to return. Prior to leaving the game, Holmberg had thrown for 174 yards, completing 16-of-23 attempts with a touchdown. He had kept his team in it, only trailing by eight at the time. He is considered day-to-day. Backup quarterback Riley Leonard went 6-for-13 with 63 yards, a touchdown and a bad interception to end Duke’s hopes for a comeback. 

A bright spot for the Hokies in the tough loss was their running game. Junior Raheem Blackshear and freshman Malachi Thomas combined for 137 yards on the ground, nearly double the team’s entire receiving yards on the day. They both averaged over five yards per carry and threaten a Duke interior that has been inconsistent all season long. 

What Virginia Tech lacks on offense, it has the ability to make up for on defense. The defensive line has recorded 20 sacks, and the secondary has picked off opposing quarterbacks nine times. Defensive back Jermaine Waller leads the way with four interceptions of his own, as well as thee defended passes and 38 total tackles. Whoever is taking the snaps for Duke will have their work cut out for them in order to keep the ball out of Waller’s hands. They do, however, give up rushing yards, like the 234 that Boston College recorded last week. A run-heavy Duke offense, led by none other than Mataeo Durant, will face little resistance against a defense that gives up 185.7 rushing yards per game. 

Comparing both teams’ previous ACC matchups paints a lopsided picture. While both lost to Pittsburgh by sizeable margins, the similarities end there. The Hokies beat North Carolina, whom the Blue Devils lost to 38-7. Holmberg was held to 184 passing yards and the defense gave up 38 points to an offense that could barely score double digits on the Hokies. Virginia Tech’s victory was the result of three Sam Howell interceptions and if the trend holds true, the Blue Devil offense is in for a long game. 

With the quarterback statuses up in the air for both sides, it will depend on which offense can adapt and execute, and whichever defense can take advantage of the other team's quarterback woes.

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