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Game Preview: Virginia vs. Duke

Everything you need to know about UVA’s Homecomings matchup against Duke

Game Details

Who: Duke Blue Devils (3-3, 0-2 ACC) vs. Virginia Cavaliers (4-2, 2-2 ACC)

When: Saturday, October 16th at 12:30pm

Where: Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Virginia

How to watch: ACC Regional Sports Networks

SI Sportsbook Odds: Virginia -10.5

All-time series: Virginia leads 39-33 and the Cavaliers have won each of the last six meetings.

Last meeting: Virginia defeated Duke 38-20 in the 2020 season opener at Scott Stadium. The Blue Devils outscored the Cavaliers 10-0 in both the first and third quarters, but the Hoos responded both times, going on a 17-0 run in the second quarter and a 21-0 run in the fourth. Brennan Armstrong threw for 269 yards and scored three total touchdowns and Wayne Taulapapa ran for 95 yards and two touchdowns. The UVA defense intercepted Duke five times, two of which were by Brenton Nelson. It was also a coming out party for true freshman Lavel Davis Jr., who had four receptions for 101 yards and two touchdowns, including this incredible catch to give Virginia the lead in the fourth quarter.

Duke this Season

The Blue Devils began the season with a shocking 31-28 upset loss at the hands of the Charlotte 49ers. Duke did well to rebound from the loss, winning three straight games at home against North Carolina A&T, Northwestern, and Kansas and came out of non-conference play with a 3-1 record. But, the Blue Devils have stumbled again since then, getting crushed in Chapel Hill by UNC 38-7 and losing a close 31-27 game at home against Georgia Tech last week.

Duke averages 496.8 yards of total offense per game, the third-best mark in the ACC (behind Virginia and Pittsburgh). The Blue Devils’ offense is centered around senior running back Mataeo Durant, who is second in the ACC in rushing at 131.3 yards per game, just half a yard behind the league leader, Sean Tucker from Syracuse. Duke runs the ball more than any team in the ACC, but the Blue Devils’ passing attack is not bad either. Quarterback Gunnar Holmberg leads the fourth-best passing offense in the ACC at 277.5 passing yards per game. When the Blue Devils are clicking on offense, opposing defenses must respect Durant in the running game and Holmberg has a lot of room to operate downfield in the passing game.

Duke’s defense, on the other hand, has been less than satisfactory. The Blue Devils have given up at least 31 points in each of their last three games and four of their six games so far this season. The Duke defensive unit ranks second to last in the ACC in both scoring defense at 28.8 points per game allowed and in total defense at 428.7 yards per game allowed. The Blue Devils do not exactly have a break this week against the NCAA’s passing leader in Brennan Armstrong. 

By the Numbers

Virginia Cavaliers vs. Duke Blue Devils

By the NumbersVirginiaDuke

Scoring Offense

34.2 points per game

31.5 points per game

Rushing

113.0 yards per game

219.5 yards per game

Passing

412.8 yards per game

277.5 yards per game

Total Offense

525.8 yards per game

497.0 yards per game

Scoring Defense

28.5 ppg allowed

28.8 ppg allowed

Total Defense

427.8 ypg allowed

428.7 ypg allowed

Turnover Differential

-5

-1

Scoring Differential

+34

+16

Duke Players to Watch

Running back Mataeo Durant

The Blue Devils rely heavily on Durant as the focal point of their offense. Durant leads the ACC in carries with 149 touches for 788 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, tied for the most rushing scores in the conference. The running back is also a threat in the passing game with 13 receptions for 182 yards and a touchdown. Durant will likely get his yards against Virginia, but preventing him from having a big game should be a top priority for a UVA rush defense which is still very much a work in progress. 

Quarterback Gunnar Holmberg

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So far this season, Holmberg has thrown just six touchdowns, but he is the most accurate quarterback in the ACC at a completion rate of 72.5%. Holmberg has completed 132 passes this season for 1,616 yards. His efficiency at quarterback makes it especially tough for opposing teams to defend against Duke, as Holmberg can punish defenses for stacking the box as they try to contain Mataeo Durant.

Wide Receiver Jake Bobo

Holmberg’s favorite target in the passing game is senior wide receiver Jake Bobo, who ranks fourth in the ACC at 87.0 receiving yards per game. Bobo has hauled in 45 catches for 522 yards and a touchdown this season. UVA’s secondary will need to be able to guard him one-on-one throughout Saturday’s game as the rest of the defense focuses on stopping Durant. 

Three Keys to the Game for Virginia

Stop Mataeo Durant

Just as with Louisville’s Malik Cunningham last week, it is not feasible to expect the UVA defense to completely shut down Durant in the ground game. However, as we have seen in the last two games, it takes just a few key defensive stops for Virginia to be able to pull out the victory. If UVA wants to avoid getting into yet another shootout, the Cavaliers would do well to reconsider their three-man front in order to focus on containing Durant and preventing him from running all over the Virginia defense.

Balance the Offense

UVA’s air raid offense has been working just fine. Brennan Armstrong is leading the country in passing and Virginia is the only team in the nation with four receivers with over 400 receiving yards this season. But, especially against Duke’s struggling defense, the Cavaliers should continue to try to establish the ground game. Doing so will keep Duke’s offense off the field and developing the rushing attack now will certainly pay dividends later, as UVA faces much tougher defenses in the second half of the schedule.

Don’t Leave It Up to Their Kicker

There is certainly a special joy that comes with winning a game on the last play, but I would argue that the Hoos have had more than their fill of that particular sensation in the last two weeks. After back-to-back nail-biting victories, Virginia has a solid opportunity to have the win well in hand before the final minutes of the game against Duke. If UVA can get out to a good start and get the ground game going, the Cavaliers have a chance to achieve a comfortable victory for the first time since week two against Illinois. 

What's at Stake

Virginia has not lost to Duke since 2015, when Mike London was still the head coach at UVA. If the Cavaliers take down the Blue Devils on Saturday, the win streak will be extended to seven games, just one game short of the longest win streak in the series, when the Hoos won eight straight against Duke from 2000 to 2007. Duke, of course, will be eager to see that streak come to an end and win at Scott Stadium for the first time since 2013. While the Blue Devils are searching for their first ACC victory of the season, the Hoos are looking for their third-consecutive ACC win. Virginia is currently tied with Georgia Tech for third place in the ACC Coastal standings, with four games against Coastal rivals left on the schedule. 


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