X-Factor: Duke needs to lean on Jalon Calhoun to overcome Virginia

Jalon Calhoun is ranked third in the ACC in receiving yards.
Jalon Calhoun is ranked third in the ACC in receiving yards.

After a tough first loss of the season against the Jayhawks, Duke returns home on Saturday for a matchup against Virginia. The Blue Zone takes a look at a player from each team who will make a difference: 

Duke: Jalon Calhoun

The wideout has become a focal point in a Duke offense that has averaged 272.5 yards through the air per game, and this week’s contest in Durham will likely be no different. Calhoun has led the Duke wideout squad in total receiving yards with 291, a statistic that also ranks him third overall in the ACC. The senior has made some impressive plays through these first four weeks, including an acrobatic touchdown over the hands of a Kansas cornerback late in the Blue Devils’ most recent game. 

Opposite the Duke receiving corps, the Virginia secondary has struggled to defend attacks through the air. The Cavaliers have conceded 217 passing yards per game, and in their most recent game were punished in the air by Syracuse quarterback Garrett Shrader, who threw for 277 yards with a 67% completion rate. 

As the Blue Devils look to rebound after a difficult loss to Kansas, they should plan on utilizing the speed and agility of Calhoun. The talents of the receivers Jordan Moore, Eli Pancol and Calhoun combined with the arm strength of Riley Leonard have the potential to push the Cavaliers downfield with deep balls and keep the Virginia defense on its heels. 

Head coach Mike Elko has a lot of confidence in his entire receiving corps, as he said in his Monday media availability.

“I think it’s a five-headed monster in the receiver room. I think we got five kids that are playing really well and we feel really good about those guys getting out there,” said Elko. 

Virginia: Brennan Armstrong

Virginia’s defense was one of the worst in the country last year, and while there has been significant improvement on that front, it is not by any means stellar. However, the Cavaliers have been strong on the other side of the ball. Their offensive attack is led by senior quarterback Brennan Armstrong who, much like Kansas’ Jalon Daniels, poses a dual threat to opposing defenses. 

Armstrong has 848 passing yards through four weeks, averaging 212 per game, but his rushing numbers are more remarkable. He has the second-most on the team with 44.8 rushing yards per game, including a 64-yard touchdown run. 

On offense, Armstrong and returning fifth-year wide receiver Keytaon Thompson have proven to be a lethal combo, with Thompson sitting right behind Calhoun at fourth in the ACC in receiving yards with 290.

“[Armstrong] has a lot of arm strength, throws the ball really well, can do things with his feet and is a really gritty, tough football player. He is a kid that we got to pay a lot of attention to,” said Elko on the Cavalier’s quarterback.

If the Blue Devils want to shut down this Virginia offense, their game plan will have to revolve around stopping Brennan Armstrong, both in the air and on the ground.


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