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Duke Football: Looking Ahead To Virginia

It’s been awhile since Duke beat the Cavaliers

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NCAA Football: Duke at Georgia Tech
Oct 13, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Duke Blue Devils running back Deon Jackson (25) runs the ball against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the second half at Bobby Dodd Stadium. 
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia 32 Duke 24. Virginia 34 Duke 20. Virginia 28 Duke 21.

Those are the scores of the last three Duke-Virginia football games, a disturbing trend after David Cutcliffe won six of his first seven meetings with the Cavaliers.

The last two Virginia wins have come under Bronco Mendenhall, lured away from BYU to replace Mike London, dismissed after going 27-46 over six seasons.

“I turn on the tape and it’s a Bronco Mendenhall football team,” David Cutcliffe says. “They tackle well, they block well. They play the kicking game well. They’re aligned well. It is just a staple of really good football. They don’t beat themselves.”

The streak?

“Those games don’t impact this one. There’s no streaks,” he says, “unless you don’t change the style of play. It’s not a matter making up your mind that you’re going to play better. It’s a matter of preparing and focusing on the things you need to do win football games.”

Why have they been so successful against Duke in recent years?

Some themes emerge.

“We know it’s going to be a physical game,” defensive tackle Trevon McSwain says. “We know going out there that it’s going to come down to whose defense is prepared to be more physical.”

Center Zach Harmon agrees.

“Every year is a battle. They’ve bested us the last three years. It’s a physical game. They’re very stout and very strong up front. They don’t make many mistakes.”

Cutcliffe says Duke prepared for Virginia’s physicality with its most physical practice of the week this morning.

“You don’t run from it, you run to it. The best way to play a physical football game is to be the most physical team. I thought we were the most physical team in Atlanta and that’s why we won the game.”

Cutcliffe identifies turnovers as a key. Starting in only his fifth game, Daniel Jones had six turnovers against UVA two seasons ago and an early pick-six put Duke in a hole last season.

“The theme is that they play tight coverage, zone or otherwise. They do a good job of getting a body on you about as well as anybody I’ve seen. It’s up to me to train our quarterback to understand what’s open and what’s not. And we’re always going to be working on ball security. I wasn’t overly pleased with the turnovers last week.”

He adds better tackling and limiting explosives as additional keys to beating the Cavaliers.

Cutcliffe calls mobile Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins an “x-factor. He might be the fastest player on their team. He’s big, he’s strong. The thing that probably concerns me the most about him is that when he does scramble, he’s been very good about finding open people down field and making plays.”

Linebacker Joe Giles-Harris has some thoughts on handling Perkins.

“We can force him into mistakes, force him to run when he has people open, force him to be more than he is. The more we can force him into bad situations, the better off we can be. We need guys who are hungry for sacks.”

It’s going to be chilly and rainy Saturday. Harmon is from Ohio and offensive linemen love getting down and dirty in the muck and mire.

“I love it,” Harmon says of the weather forecast. “I just count down the days until the weather starts cooling down. I try not to get bothered by the rain. A couple of years ago, the Hurricane [Matthew] went through and we played in that monsoon against Army. I was thrust into the center position when Austin Davis went down. So ever since then I’ve had confidence playing in the rain.”

Harmon adds that Duke practices wet-ball-drills every week, regardless of the weather forecast.

McSwain notes that it’s easier to go from preparing for an option team to a conventional offense than the other way around.

“It’s just what we normally do. When we’re trying to cut off our motor and slow down and play the triple-option defense like we do, that slows us up.”


Expect Chris Rumph to move back to defensive end now that Duke is finished with option teams for at least the regular season.

“Chris has our wheels turning,” Cutcliffe says. “He gives us some variables defensively that give us some versatility. We’re looking at some things for him. He’s going to make plays for us. We have to put him in position to make plays.”

Why did Mataeo Durant not play at running back against Georgia Tech?

Cutcliffe says that Durant’s running skills haven’t yet been matched by his blocking and route-running skills, adding that Duke only ran 61 plays against Georgia Tech last week and “we felt like our best chance with Brittain [Brown] out was to lean on Deon [Jackson]. Our thoughts were to play Deon until he needed a break and he didn’t need one.”

Duke is open to pursuing a medical redshirt and a sixth year for Edgar Cerenord, who was lost for the season following ACL surgery. Cutcliffe says Cerenord hasn’t made up his mind but that Duke will vigorously pursue a redshirt should he wish.

Brandon Feamster is playing more at safety. Cutcliffe says Feamster has had the best two weeks of practice in his career and needs a “zoom-like-focus” to continue that upward trajectory.

Not much information on injuries. Linebacker Koby Quansah isn’t ready yet but he should play again this season.