The road has been good to Virginia with victories at Miami and Louisville following blowout losses against North Carolina and No. 16 Wake Forest.
The Cavaliers hope a return to their home stadium will keep their momentum alive. Virginia (4-2, 2-2 ACC) faces Duke, a team it has beaten six straight times. Not that any of the history matters to Cavs’ coach Bronco Mendenhall.
“It’s just the next game, right,” Mendenhall said this week. “ACC game, Coastal game, this year’s version, and nothing else before or after is relevant.”
The Cavaliers view themselves as defending Coastal champs, having won the division in 2019 before the pandemic forced a one-division league last year. With two losses in league play, though, they can ill afford another.
The Blue Devils (3-3, 0-2) have the same issue, but a much steeper hill to climb, especially with a banged up secondary facing Brennan Armstrong. The Virginia quarterback is second nationally with 410 passing yards per game, and has 17 TD throws.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe’s strategy includes non-football things.
“I guess you start every morning with a good prayer, right?” he said. “It may make a lot of sense, playing coverage against a guy like him. As I said, he’s mobile, so that increases the hardship of staying in coverage if he breaks the pocket because he sees downfield well. He’s very accurate.”
And has plenty of weapons. Virginia has four receivers in the top 68 nationally in receiving yards, led by Dontayvion Wicks with 554 yards, 10th overall. When Wicks was knocked out of the game at Louisville, Ra’Shaun Henry caught nine passes for 179 yards and Keytaon Thompson 10 for 149 yards.
Some other things to watch for when Duke plays at Virginia:
RUNNING GAME MISSING
The Cavaliers are averaging just 113 rushing yards and their top rusher, Wayne Taulapapa, has gained just 185 yards. Efforts to disguise some plays have had moderate success, but gaining some balance would open things for Armstrong.
The Blue Devils have the ACC’s second most productive running back — by half a yard — in Mateao Durant. He is averaging of better than 131 yards a contest. He’s also scored 10 touchdowns, one behind Syracuse’s Sean Tucker for the ACC lead, and provides offensive balance. Duke averages 495.8 yards, just behind the Cavaliers’ 525.8, and gets 218 of those yards on the ground per game.
Virginia’s road victories at Miami and Louisville came when the home teams missed field goal tries that would have won the game. The Hurricanes’ loss came when freshman Andy Borregales hit the left upright with a 33-yard try. The Cardinals lost when Josh Turner missed a try from 49 yards. Turner had made his first 18 attempts from inside 50 yards before missing twice in the game.
ALL IN HIS HEAD?
Blue Devils’ placekicker Charlie Ham missed two field goal tries — from 31 yards and 42 yards — while making two others in a 31-27 loss to Georgia Tech.
“I’m not inside his head,” Cutcliffe said. “But what happens to any specialist? You can’t take the field wondering whether it’s going to be a good kick or a good punt. You don’t need to wonder it. I mean, can you imagine a quarterback worrying every time he threw the ball, whether it’s going to be a good throw or not?”
Virginia will honor Anthony Poindexter, one of its best and most popular players ever, at halftime to pay tribute to his 2020 election to the college football hall of fame.
Following a three-year NFL career, Poindexter spent 11 seasons on the coaching staff at Virginia. He then served as defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Connecticut from 2014-16 before becoming co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Purdue from 2017-20.
Poindexter is in his first season as co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Penn State.