The Virginia Cavaliers head to Durham to take on the Duke Blue Devils in what looks to be a slippery slugfest in the midst of a hurricane on Saturday night. This will be the first of three meetings between Tony Elliott and the other new head coaches in the ACC Coastal division, as Elliott goes head-to-head with Mike Elko.
Read on for a full preview of Virginia at Duke, including details on how to watch, stat comparisons, offensive and defensive scouting reports, and a score prediction.
Who: Virginia Cavaliers (2-2, 0-1 ACC) at Duke Blue Devils (3-1, 0-0 ACC)
When: Saturday, October 1st at 7:30pm
Where: Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, North Carolina
How to watch: ACC Regional Sports Networks
How to stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
All-time series: Virginia leads 40-33
Last meeting: Virginia defeated Duke 48-0 in 2021 in Charlottesville.
Spread: Duke -2.5
Season Stat Comparison
Opponent Snapshot: Duke
2021: 3-9 (0-8 ACC)
2022: 3-1 (0-0 ACC) | Wins: vs. Temple, at Northwestern, vs. North Carolina A&T | Loss: at Kansas
The Mike Elko era of Duke football is off to a fantastic start. Elko inherited a Duke program that had won a combined five games in the last two seasons and had not had a winning season since 2018. The Blue Devils blanked Temple 30-0 in the season-opener, picked up a gritty 31-23 road victory at Northwestern, and beat North Carolina A&T by nearly 30 points to start the season 3-0. Duke finally stumbled on the road in week 4, losing 35-27 against a very good Kansas football team in front of a sellout crowd in Lawrence. Under Mike Elko, Duke appears to be a program renewed, but the true test lies ahead for a team that was picked to finish dead last in the ACC Coastal in the preseason poll. The Blue Devils are looking to win their first ACC victory since October 2020 and they'll have their first shot to do so against Virginia on Saturday night.
Duke Offense vs. Virginia Defense
Duke has successfully implemented a balanced offensive attack so far through the first four weeks of the season. The Blue Devils rank second in the ACC at 5.4 yards per rushing attempt and fourth in the league at 188.5 rushing yards per game. Behind the conference's most accurate passer in Riley Leonard, Duke is currently sixth in the ACC at 272.5 passing yards per game and first with 10.1 yards per completion.
Sophomore quarterback Riley Leonard has been the difference this season, ranking third among the ACC's quarterbacks in average passing yards (320.7 yards per game) and passer rating (174.0). Leonard leads the ACC in completion percentage at 71.3% and is second in passing with 1,047 yards. Duke has been effective at finishing drives with rushing touchdowns, so Leonard only has six touchdown passes, but he does well to take care of the ball, throwing only two interceptions this season.
Leonard has three dangerous options in the passing game. Jalon Calhoun and Jordan Moore are Duke's speedy pass-catchers, with Calhoun leading the way in receiving yards with 291 on 17 catches, while Moore has the most receptions with 20 for 196 yards and the most receiving touchdowns with three. Duke's most capable downfield threat is Eli Pancol, a 6'3" senior who is averaging 22.4 yards per reception, second only to Lavel Davis Jr. in the ACC.
Virginia's defensive backs will be tested, but they have proven to be much improved so far this season, especially in defending against big plays. With the predicted inclement weather, UVA is likely to leave its defensive backs in man coverage in order to better defend the run as both teams will probably run the ball more. Look for Antonio Clary to be a factor in the Virginia secondary in his first game back from injury after missing the last two weeks.
Riley Leonard has also rushed for 201 yards and two touchdowns this season, a third capable ball-carrier next to Duke's two-man running back group. Jordan Waters and Jaylen Coleman have split carries and have recorded almost identical numbers:
Waters: 38 carries, 215 yards, 3 touchdowns, 5.7 yards per carry
Coleman: 39 carries, 211 yards, 4 touchdowns, 5.4 yards per carry
Waters and Coleman have had a lot of success running behind a big and capable Duke offensive line, which has also proven to be good in pass protection, giving up just four sacks, fewest in the ACC to this point.
It will be a very entertaining battle in the trenches when Duke has the ball, as one of the best offensive lines in the conference will go against a deep UVA defensive line unit that is currently tops in the ACC in sacks with 14 so far this season. The Virginia defensive line must get to Leonard and force him to make inaccurate passes, but it is even more important that they are sound against the Duke rushing attack. The UVA front seven will be the key in this one. The Cavaliers will be without Nick Jackson for the first half due to a targeting penalty, so junior D'Sean Perry will have to step up at middle linebacker.
Virginia Offense vs. Duke Defense
The Duke defense will likely implement a similar strategy against the UVA offense, leaving its defensive backs in man coverage and loading the box against the run. But that's less a product of the weather conditions and more based on what the Cavalier offense has put on film so far this season. As far as UVA's future opponents are concerned, the lethal Virginia passing attack of 2021 is gone. The Cavalier receivers have been unable to win one-on-one matchups, Brennan Armstrong is a shell of his former self, and the UVA offense is running the ball more and somewhat effectively, so the Duke defense will respond to that by defending against the run. That will challenge Armstrong to somehow get into a passing rhythm, something that hasn't happened all year, despite what is likely to be very wet and rainy conditions in Durham on Saturday night.
Duke's defensive numbers don't jump off the page, but the Blue Devils are certainly much improved on that side of the ball, while the UVA offense has regressed, so this game will definitely not have the same outcome as the 48-0 victory Virginia had against Duke last season in Charlottesville.
The Duke defense is led by graduate Darius Joiner, a 6'2" defensive back who leads the Blue Devils in total tackles (33.0), solo tackles (26), and tackles for loss (2.5). Senior linebacker Shaka Heyward also has 2.5 tackles for loss and brings a high level of versatility to the Duke linebacking unit, as he is capable of rushing the passer and dropping back into coverage with five pass breakups this season.
The Virginia running game will have to be reliable in this matchup, given the struggles of the passing game and the expected weather conditions that will undoubtedly inhibit each team's passing game. This could be a big game for Perris Jones, but the Cavaliers will need another back - Xavier Brown, Mike Hollins, or Cody Brown - to run effectively as well.
Ball security is paramount. Both defenses are great at forcing fumbles, as Duke and Virginia enter week 5 tied for the FBS lead in fumbles recovered with 7. In wet and slippery conditions, the threat of fumbles increases exponentially.
The same goes for dropped passes. Virginia's receiving corps has, shockingly, had an issue with dropped passes so far this season. UVA will have to pass the ball at least a little bit in order to win this game and Armstrong needs to be on the same page on his receivers. He'll have to make the right reads, find his targets with accurate and timely passes, and they need to secure the catch. Keytaon Thompson has been reliable so far this season, but Dontayvion Wicks and Lavel Davis Jr. have lacked the explosiveness of their former selves. Billy Kemp IV is expected to be back after missing the last two games with an illness, so we'll see how much Armstrong looks to get the veteran slot receiver involved when UVA passes.
This game is difficult to predict, as most of the on-paper analysis must be thrown out the window due to the disruptive weather conditions expected on Saturday night. Whichever team executes better on the ground and takes better care of the football will likely prevail. The oddsmakers aren't sure what to make of this game either, as the spread is currently in favor of Duke, but only by 2.5 points, most of which is due to home field advantage. We're going to go out on a limb and predict that the UVA defense will continue to be solid and Brennan Armstrong and the Virginia offense will be able to move the ball down the field late in a close game to pick up their first ACC win of the season.
Prediction: Virginia 24, Duke 21
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