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A Look At The Virginia Tech Loss

This is by guest columnist Bob Green (not JD), who takes a closer look at the Virginia Tech loss.

Nov 15, 2014; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils head coach David Cutcliffe looks on against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Nov 15, 2014; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils head coach David Cutcliffe looks on against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

What went wrong? Everything. While that is a fair assessment let's narrow it down a bit. Turnovers, missed opportunities and bad decisions were the culprits that doomed the Blue Devils in their 17-16 loss to Virginia Tech, which dropped Duke to 8-2 on the season, 4-2 in the ACC.

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Turnovers were the primary problem with all 17 Virginia Tech points coming off of three Duke turnovers: two Anthony Boone interceptions and a DeVon Edwards fumble on a kick-off return. Two of the turnovers placed the Virginia Tech offense in great field position.

Boone's first interception was a pass that should have never been thrown. On the first play of the 2nd quarter, he attempted to force the ball to Shaun Wilson who was well covered at the goal line. Boone wasn't under pressure and should have thrown the ball away.

Duke was up 10-0 and driving toward another score. On 1st and 10 from the Virginia Tech 27 yard line, Boone dropped back to pass, drifted to his right, and with no one open forced the ball to Wilson who was locked up by Virginia Tech linebacker Deon Clarke who stepped in front of Wilson to intercept the pass and end Duke's early domination of the ball game.

Boone's second interception was a double whammy as not only did it lead to three points for the Hokies, it also prevented Duke from capitalizing on the lone Virginia Tech turnover in the game as it occurred three plays after Breon Borders intercepted Virgina Tech quarterback Michael Brewer.

On the play, Boone was under heavy pressure from his right and was hit by defensive end Dadi Nicholas as he went to throw the ball. The ball ended up in the hands of linebacker Derek Di Nardo for an interception. This one is on right tackle Casey Blaser who was soundly beaten by Nicholas on the play.

On the kick-off, after Virginia Tech's field goal which cut Duke's lead to 16-10, which was the first play of the 4th quarter, DeVon Edwards fielded the kick inside the 10 yard line was hit hard as he crossed the 25 yard line and the ball popped high into the air for Duke's third costly turnover of the game. Six plays later Michael Brewer threw his second touchdown pass of the game and Virginia Tech was up 17-16.

Duke turned the ball over to Virginia Tech on the first play of both the 2nd and 4th quarter.

Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity took place on Duke's second drive of the 3rd quarter. With the score 13-7, Duke forced a Virginia Tech three and out with a defensive series that included two quarterback sacks. Duke took possession with great field position on the Hokies 49 yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, Isaac Blakeney ran a quick slant and beat his man to the inside, but Boone's pass was high and Blakeney could not haul it in even though he got his hands on it. On an afternoon when Duke struggled to put the ball in the end zone, this play would have been a certain touchdown had Boone delivered an accurate pass or even a slightly less inaccurate pass.

Ross Martin's missed 40 yard field goal attempt with 2:33 remaining in the game was another missed opportunity. Duke was provided excellent field position after Virginia Tech faked a punt but failed to pick up the 1st down turning the ball over on downs. Duke methodically moved the ball from their 42 yard line to the Virginia Tech 23 in five plays setting up Martin for a potential game winning kick but it wasn't Martin's day as he was unsuccessful for the second time in the game.

There were multiple bad decisions made in this game with the aforementioned Anthony Boone interception on the first play of the 2nd quarter leading the way. Another bad decision occurred on Duke's first possession in the 3rd quarter with Duke facing a 2nd and five on the Virginia Tech 24 yard line. Boone dropped back to pass and had time but he threw a screen pass to a covered Johnell Barnes who was immediately dropped for a six yard loss. After an incomplete pass on 3rd and 11, Duke had to settle for a field goal. If Boone had looked downfield or thrown the ball away, Duke could have faced a manageable 3rd and five.

Enough of the negative stuff...

Two specific positive plays which warrant recognition are the Thomas Sirk pass to Shaq Powell for a 1st down on 4th and two, and Max McCaffrey running down Virginia Tech linebacker Derek Di Nardo to prevent a touchdown after Di Nardo intercepted Anthony Boone.

With Duke facing 4th and two at the Virginia Tech 26 yard line, Coach Cutcliffe opted to leave his offense on the field with Thomas Sirk taking over at quarterback and Boone lined up as a wide receiver. We've seen this play multiple times this season so everyone in Wallace Wade Stadium, including the Virginia Tech defense, knew Sirk was going to take the snap and bull his way straight forward in an attempt to gain the yardage needed.

What transpired was a combination of great play calling and solid execution. The staff called a screen pass to Powell to the wide side of the field, Sirk delivered the pass and Powell ran for the 1st down behind blocks from tight end Erich Schneider and wide receiver Blakeney. Five plays later Ross Martin kicked his third field goal of the game to extend Duke's lead to 16-7.

On the third play after Breon Borders picked off Michael Brewer giving Duke possesion on the Virginia Tech 37 yard line, Boone was hit while thowing a pass and the ball fluttered into the hands of linebacker Derek Di Nardo, who immediately dashed down the sideline on his way to a Pick Six, except wide receiver Max McCaffrey refused to quit on the play and chased Di Nardo down from behind tackling him on the nine yard line. If Duke had hung on and won, McCaffrey's hustle would have been the play of the game.

Duke held and the Hokies were forced to settle for a field goal that cut the Blue Devil lead to 16-10. McCaffrey deserves a lot of praise for his effort on the play.

Moving forward, Duke controls their own destiny in the quest to return to the ACC Championship Game. If the Blue Devils beat North Carolina and Wake Forest, they win the Coastal Division Championship and will be in Charlotte on December 6 to face the Florida State Seminoles. Losing either game means the Blue Devils stay home.

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