After an entertaining but tough loss against Kansas, Duke is looking to rebound and get to 4-1 as it welcomes 2-2 Virginia to Durham. Under the lights Saturday at 7:30 p.m., the Blue Devils start a new season, ACC play, which has not been kind to them in recent years.
In 2021, Duke went 0-8 in ACC regular season play, losing each game by an average of nearly 32 points. This stretch included a 48-0 loss to Virginia, a game in which then-junior Cavalier quarterback Brennan Armstrong passed for 364 yards and accounted for three total touchdowns.
Last season, Virginia went a respectable 6-6, earning a bid to the Wasabi Fenway Bowl, which was ultimately canceled due to COVID-19. The Cavaliers held the fourth-best scoring offense in the ACC, averaging 34.6 points per game. This year, however, their production has slowed down, with the team averaging just 18.3 points per game through its first four outings.
However, Duke head coach Mike Elko realizes the offensive talent that Virginia has carried over to this year.
“From a skill standpoint, it's still the same kids right?” Elko said in Monday’s media availability. “That group that was terrifying the ACC last year scoring all those points … not many of them have left, and so we certainly have a lot of respect for what they're capable of being.”
So far, Virginia’s defense is ranked fifth in the ACC in scoring, allowing just 19.3 points per game. Moreover, it leads the ACC in sacks with 14. Although he is suspended for the first half of Saturday’s game in Durham due to a targeting penalty picked up Friday in Virginia’s 22-20 loss to Syracuse, Elko named senior Nick Jackson as a linebacker to watch. The Atlanta native picked up 10 tackles and a sack despite missing the fourth quarter.
“I know he won’t play the first half but he’s certainly one of the best linebackers not only in the ACC but also in the country,” Elko said about Jackson.
On the offensive side of the ball, Virginia and the aforementioned Armstrong have struggled. Along with four interceptions, Armstrong is completing 52.1% of his passes and has three touchdown passes. However, he is averaging 44.8 yards per game on the ground, the second-highest rate of his career.
Kansas junior quarterback Jalon Daniels tore Duke up on the ground last week, rushing for 83 yards on 11 attempts. For the Blue Devils, a key to this matchup will be throwing different looks at yet another dual-threat quarterback.
“I think we've got to do a much better job up front of disrupting the quarterback,” Elko said. “We've got to be able to change the looks up a little bit so that he's not getting the same clean picture that he wants to see.”
Fifth-year Keytaon Thompson headlines the Cavaliers' receiving room, leading the team with 26 receptions for 290 yards. Senior running back Perris Jones has stood out as the lead back with 50 rushing attempts, far more than his three from last year.
In what has the potential to be Duke’s first ACC win since Oct. 10, 2020, the Blue Devils, under new leadership, will surely be fired up to right their wrongs and capture a positive conference result.
In other daunting news, Duke has yet to beat Virginia since 2014, when a 20-13 result in Wallace Wade Stadium went in favor of the home team. Saturday night, Elko’s team has a chance to alter history.
“We've lost seven straight games to them and so we know what they're capable of,” Elko said. “We certainly expect that we're going to get their best on Saturday night.”
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