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Virginia Tech Knocks Off Duke 31-14

Not Duke’s best night of football.

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NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Duke
Sep 29, 2018; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils quarterback Daniel Jones (17) throws a first half touchdown pass against Virginia Tech Hokies at Wallace Wade Stadium.
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, David Cutcliffe suggested that Virginia Tech’s performance last week against Old Dominion was an “outlier.”

Turns out he was right. The Virginia Tech team that throttled Duke 31-14 Saturday night looked like the VT teams we’ve seen over the last generation; focused, physical, opportunistic.

Duke once again looked like a team not ready for the brightest lights. The Hokies played like a team with a chip on their shoulder, Duke like a team with a monkey on their back. The visitors blocked better than Duke, tackled better than Duke and hit one big play after another.

Daniel Jones got the start for Duke and played pretty well, 23-of-35, for 226 yards and a touchdown.

But there were a couple he wanted back.

Chris Taylor had his fingertips on two bombs early, forced to dive as Jones just overthrew him.

He came up empty both times.

“I’ve just got to do a better job of letting him run under it,” Jones says. “Those should have been touchdowns. He did a great job of releasing and getting open and I’ve got to give him a chance.”

And the Hokies kept converting the most unlikely down-and-distance scenarios. In the first three quarters VT converted a 3rd-and 9, another 3rd-and-9, a 3rd-and-14, and a 2nd-and-16.

The killer was a sequence early in the second quarter, with Duke down only 10-7. Backed up at their nine yard line, 3rd-and14, Ryan Willis hit Hezekiah Grimsley for 18 yards and a first down. Tight end Dalton Keene took a short pass on the next play, broke two tackles and sprinted down the sideline for a 67-yard score.

Ninety-one yards in two plays.

Joe Giles-Harris dissected the blown plays.

“We struggled on third downs. We couldn’t get off the field in crucial situations. We’ve got to be on the same page. The biggest thing is communicating better and focusing on the play and what’s going on and not losing your eyes.”

As the game progressed, several disturbing trends developed. Duke couldn’t run the ball effectively. Brittain Brown and Deon Jackson combined for 69 yards on 27 carries. Jones had Duke’s longest run, 10 yards on a scramble.

Tech began to pressure Jones, sometimes rushing only three and dropping eight, cutting off the passing lanes and neutering Duke’s long-passing game.

Jones was sacked three times but threw almost everything under duress.

“We lost too many battles,” Cutcliffe noted, adding that Jones did not hold the ball too long and made good decisions.

Johnathan Lloyd caught eight passes but netted only 44 yards, 11 yards the longest play.

“They were playing soft,” he says. “ They didn’t really give us any man looks, any one-on-one opportunities like we’ve had the last few weeks. You have to change up your plan of attack. We just didn’t adjust and make the plays. They made a lot of adjustments from last week. We need to do the same. Now that we have this on tape, I expect us to do better.”

On the other end of the field, Tech’s Ryan Willis consistently had the time he needed to dissect Duke’s young secondary.

“They got rid of the ball quickly,” Giles-Harris says. “A lot of three-step drops. They made some smart decisions. We’ve just got to make some plays on the back end.”

That left Duke’s corners “on an island” Cutcliffe says and Duke paid the price.

Virginia Tech fumbled twice inside its 10-yard line and recovered both. A deflected pass at the line of scrimmage was turned into Duke’s first interception of the season, near midfield. Tech made its only field goal, Duke missed its only field goal, Colin Wareham from 43 yards out, with Duke down 17-7. Duke failed to convert a fourth-and-inches from midfield. Tech got a favorable spot on a fourth down deep in Duke territory.

Lots of opportunities squandered, lots of what-ifs. But the scoreboard doesn’t lie and this scoreboard showed that Virginia Tech was simply a better football team this Saturday night.

“Our guys prepared well,” Cutcliffe says. “ Their job is to play hard and my job is to put them in position to make plays and I didn’t do a good enough job of that. Virginia Tech made the plays they had to make.”

Cutcliffe says this team is too mature and too battle-tested to let 4-1 turn into 4-6, as it did last year.

Lloyd agrees.

”Last year snowballed on us. We can’t let that happen again. We come back tomorrow, address what we did wrong and fix it. I expect us to play a lot better against Georgia Tech.”


Redshirt freshman running back Marvin Hubbard III ruptured an Achilles and is out for the season.

The loss ends a seven-game winning streak, dating back to last season.

For the second consecutive game, the Duke defense failed to force a turnover.

Giles-Harris says “we’ve got to get more aggressive. We’ve got to get more strip attempts, make the quarterback more uncomfortable.”

Cutcliffe said he made the decision to start Daniel Jones Thursday night and told Jones the next day, only after getting the go-ahead from the medical staff and conferring with Jones’s father several times.

Punter Austin Parker had one of the best games of his Duke career, a 47.2 yard average for six punts, three inside the 20 and no touchbacks,

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