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Duke Football Falls Hard Again, This Time To Virginia Tech

As the defense again can’t get stops

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Duke
Nov 6, 2021; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Duke Blue Devils quarterback Riley Leonard (10) looks downfield while in the pocket during the third quarter against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Wallace Wade Stadium.
William Howard-USA TODAY Sports

With apologies to Thunderdome, two struggling football programs walked into Lane Stadium Saturday and one walked out with a perhaps season-saving win and the other stayed back with another dispiriting setback.

To the surprise of no one who’s been following Duke’s downward spiral, the Blue Devils were the team with the setback, 48-17 to be exact.

The loss was Duke’s sixth straight and drops them to 3-7, still winless in the ACC, now mathematically eliminated from bowl contention, a third straight losing season assured.

Duke had their chances early. Duke always seems to have their chances early. They just can’t turn those chances into points, at least not at the level necessary to beat ACC teams.

True freshman Riley Leonard got the nod at quarterback, with Gunnar Holmberg still out with an upper-body injury. David Cutcliffe said Holmberg was feeling better but still “not in a position to get hit.”

Duke forced a punt on Tech’s first possession, albeit only after the Hokies had driven into Duke territory. The punt was downed at the Duke 5, Leonard on the road in front of a large and spirited crowd.

Welcome to the big leagues. And to his credit, Leonard moved the football down the field. Duke even successfully executed a trick play, a 33-yard pass from Leonard to tight end Jake Marwede on a reverse, flea-flicker. That moved the ball to the Tech 25.

Three plays later Charlie Ham was wide left on a 38-yard field goal.

It all went downhill from there.

Quarterback Braxton Burmeister missed most of last week’s VT loss to Boston College with an injury. But he recovered and got the starting nod. He drove the Hokies down the field twice for touchdowns, the second score a one-play, 47-yard pass from Burmeister to Keshawn King.

And Tech running back Raheem Blackshear demonstrated early that Duke did not have an answer for his combination of power and speed.

Duke really didn’t have an answer for anything.

Tech ended the game with 573 yards in total offense. Cutcliffe described a defense that can’t tackle, can’t cover and can’t put pressure on the quarterback.

“A multitude of things” Cutcliffe called it.

Doesn’t much matter who played quarterback for Duke with that kind of defense.

Down 14-0, Duke got another chance to get back into the game when R.J. Oben intercepted a tipped pass and took over at the Hokie 12.

Mataeo Durant time?


Duke started the drive with a Jordan Moore keeper that gained nothing. Leonard went back in and threw an incompletion, then scrambled to the Tech 4, a lost fumble overturned upon review.

Duke lined up to go for it on fourth and two but a false start pushed it back and led to a 26-yard Ham field goal.

Durant ended the game with a miserly 33 yards on 10 carries.

Tech “was committed to bringing an extra guy” to stop Durant, Cutcliffe said and Duke couldn’t figure out how to block that extra guy.

Burmeister briefly went out again but Tech managed a field-goal drive with backup Knox Kadum at the helm on a drive that saw the Hokies called for offensive holding twice.

VT completed a hail Mary pass at the end of the half but it came up a couple of yards short.

So, it was only 17-3 at the half and stranger things have happened.

But it didn’t take long for the Hokies to snuff out any hint of a comeback. Duke got the ball first, picked up one yard in three plays and punted. Tech responded with a six-play, 65-yard TD drive and the rout was on.

Duke made a QB switch in the second half and Moore moved the Duke offense better than Leonard had, frankly better than Holmberg has in recent weeks. Of course, the outcome had been decided by then. Still, Moore had a 40-yard run and hit Eli Pancol with a 28-yard scoring strike.

Moore said he prepared all week for the opportunity and he did end up with 113 rushing yards and 63 passing yards, a rare bright spot in another lost afternoon.

Duke has a short turnaround before hosting Louisville Thursday night, the Cardinals coming off a blowout win against Syracuse.