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Film room: Duke football must shut down revenge-seeking Hokies to go 7-3

Quarterback Riley Leonard has breathed new life into Duke's offense.
Quarterback Riley Leonard has breathed new life into Duke's offense.

Duke returns home Saturday to take on Virginia Tech. The Blue Zone is here to break down film from the Hokies prior to the 12 p.m. matchup:

College football requires that every team play its best week in and week out, regardless of odds or predictions, and Duke certainly lived up to the task in back-to-back road wins against Miami and Boston College. Now 6-3, the Blue Devils have surpassed their combined win total from the 2020 and 2021 seasons and have earned bowl eligibility. Duke looks to improve to 4-2 against ACC opponents with a win Saturday against Virginia Tech in its first home game since Oct. 15.

Conversely, the 2022 season has been agonizing for the Hokies. After beginning the year 2-1, Virginia Tech has lost its past six games and has gone 0-4 in one-score contests. The Hokies look to finish the year strong in head coach Brent Pry’s first season as they hope to build a foundation for future seasons.

Virginia Tech’s struggles in close contests were captivated in a game of polarizing emotions against N.C. State Oct. 27. After going down 3-0 at the half, the Hokies scored three straight touchdowns in the third quarter to take a commanding 21-3 lead. The best of these was an incredible deep strike from quarterback Grant Wells to wideout Kaleb Smith. A perfectly thrown ball combined with just enough separation from Smith resulted in an 85-yard touchdown, the longest play of the night for Virginia Tech.

Despite the strong lead, N.C. State had the Hokies’ number down the stretch, scoring 19 unanswered points to take a 22-21 lead with 7:38 left. Wells struggled mightily in the fourth quarter, making just one of his three pass attempts and taking two sacks. Virginia Tech’s last drive was a microcosm of this, as Wells overthrew Smith on first-and-10 and took a sack on second down where he waited much too long in the pocket to find an open receiver. A penalty and short pass on third down resulted in a punt, and the Wolfpack would run out the remaining 5:35 to cap off a tremendous comeback.

Mistakes like these, turnovers and a low completion percentage from Wells have all resulted in the Hokies having the third-lowest passing efficiency in the ACC. Duke’s defense has allowed the most passing touchdowns and second-most passing yards per game of any team in the conference, however, presenting an intriguing matchup for the Blue Devils. Playing against a North Carolina team featuring one of college football’s best quarterbacks in Drake Maye Oct. 15, Duke’s defense was completely overwhelmed from the start, allowing a 53-yard strike from Maye on the first play of the game.

Of course, Wells isn’t Maye, and Virginia Tech has a poor record due to its inability to close out games against ACC opponents. Still, the Blue Devils cannot underestimate their opponent, as the Hokies are a highly competitive football team with a nothing-to-lose attitude that looks to regress in a positive way from their recent losses. Duke must focus its efforts defensively on Virginia Tech’s passing game through pressure in the interior and strong coverage to secure its seventh win of the season.  


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