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X-Factor: Grayson Loftis' increased confidence will help Duke football against Virginia

<p>Grayson Loftis threw for three touchdowns and ran for another against North Carolina.&nbsp;</p>

Grayson Loftis threw for three touchdowns and ran for another against North Carolina. 

As Duke football looks to right the ship against Virginia, the Blue Zone is here with a key player on either side to keep an eye on:

Duke: Grayson Loftis

Grayson Loftis emerged as an unexpected catalyst for Duke last week in its rivalry game against North Carolina. Although his statistics from this season may not leap off the page, Loftis' performance against the then-No. 24 Tar Heels speaks volumes about his potential impact in the upcoming game against struggling Virginia.

Loftis, the third-string freshman quarterback, faced off against none other than the highly coveted Drake Maye, a potential top-two NFL Draft pick. In this showdown at Chapel Hill, Loftis showcased composure and resilience beyond his years. Despite being the underdog, he threw three touchdowns and ran one into the endzone himself. Notably, the Gaffney S.C., native orchestrated a late-game drive that culminated in a 30-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Jordan Moore. This play not only secured a three-point lead for the Blue Devils with a mere 41 seconds remaining but also hinted at Loftis’ ability to perform under pressure and deliver when it matters most.

Now, as Duke prepares to face the 2-8 Cavaliers, Loftis' effort against a much more formidable opponent positions him as the player to watch. His performance suggests that he possesses the potential to be a game-changer. Against Virginia, a team still struggling to find its footing, Loftis could capitalize on his momentum and further solidify his status as a rising star. All eyes will be on the signal caller to see if he can build on the promise he displayed in the face of tremendous adversity and guide the Blue Devils to victory against the Cavaliers.

Virginia: Malik Washington

Trying to pull his team out of a three-game losing streak is Virginia wide receiver Malik Washington. The graduate student has proven to be a force to be reckoned with, climbing the ladder looking to break numerous records for the Cavaliers.

At home, Washington has thrived, tallying 510 yards on 33 receptions at an impressive average of 15.5 yards per catch, securing four touchdowns along the way. Within the conference, the multiple-time ACC Receiver of the Week has emerged as a pivotal figure, contributing 798 yards on 63 receptions, averaging 12.7 yards per catch and finding the end zone five times. His clear ability to elevate his game in front of the home crowd and in crucial matchups adds an extra layer of anticipation for Duke who will face him in an ACC battle on his turf.

What makes Washington particularly intriguing is his consistency, exemplified by becoming only the third Cavalier ever to record three consecutive 100-yard receiving games in a single season, currently on a five-game streak of that production level. In the face of the Blue Devils’ recent defensive struggles, notably conceding 47 points to the Tar Heels, Washington’s skill set poses a significant challenge. His explosive speed, precise route-running and knack for finding the end zone make him a constant threat, capable of exploiting any defensive lapses.


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