Both Duke and Virginia Tech are in the midst of losing seasons as the teams prepare to square off Saturday in Blacksburg, Va. Ahead of the contest, we have three keys to the game as the Blue Devils work around an injured quarterback and a winless conference record:
Uncertainty under center
Duke and Virginia Tech’s quarterbacks, Gunnar Holmberg and Braxton Burmeister, respectively, suffered injuries in their latest games. Both went down in their respective first halves, not to return. Both teams suffered without their starting signal callers and lacked the offensive production necessary to win.
It very might well be a battle of the backups in Blacksburg. The statuses of both Holmberg and Burmeister are still unclear. Look for quarterbacks Riley Leonard for the Blue Devils and Knox Kadum for the Hokies to get the call if the starters are unable to go. Leonard has looked like a freshman with potential in relief and garbage time this season. His rushing touchdown against Wake Forest highlighted his athleticism, but he threw a costly interception against Pittsburgh that cost the team any hope of a comeback. Kadum didn’t do much of anything against Boston College. He completed only seven of 16 attempts for a 43.8% completion rate and had a single red zone drive that ended in a fumble. If he is on the field on Saturday, he is a weakness that the Blue Devils must exploit.
Running back Mataeo Durant started the season red-hot, scoring nine total touchdowns through the four non-conference games. He has two total touchdowns in the five conference games since. The breakout star broke the 1,000-yard mark on the season last Saturday against Pittsburgh. Even in a losing battle, Durant can rush for at least 100 yards, providing a seemingly endless spark for the Blue Devils offense.
Though it sounds like a broken record, it’s never been truer: Durant needs to have a huge game if the Blue Devils are going to win. He is facing a Hokies defense that gives up an average of 185.7 rushing yards per game—third-worst in the ACC. A strong showing from Durant takes pressure off of whoever lines up under center for Duke and speeds up the game. When the Blue Devils were on their hot streak in the beginning of the season, it was due to Durant’s dominant rushing and a quick-tempo offense; other teams couldn’t keep up. If Duke can return to their run-heavy, fast-paced offense, Saturday has the potential to be a high-scoring day for the Blue Devils.
Stop the run
After Burmeister left during the Hokies second possession, Kadum only threw for 73 yards. All of Virginia Tech’s limited offensive production came from the ground game—running backs Malachi Thomas and Raheem Blackshear combined for 137 rushing yards. Whether Kadum gets the start or a not-100% Burmeister is able to suit up, the Hokies are likely to lean heavily on the rush.
This presents linebacker Shaka Heyward and the Duke defensive line with an opportunity: shut down the run, and force whoever is under center for Virginia Tech to attempt to throw the ball. Especially with the unknowns for the Blue Devil’s offense this week, locking up the line of scrimmage is their best shot at giving themselves a chance to gain their first ACC victory of the season.
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Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle’s 118th volume.