November 26, 2020

Independent analysis and commentary on UVA athletics

Gameday Guide – Duke

Welcome to the 2020 college football season, Hoos! After many twists, turns, and three other possible opponents, UVA will finally open its football season Saturday. Virginia (0-0, 0-0) will host Duke (0-2, 0-2) at Scott Stadium. This game was originally scheduled for November 14. But the ACC worked with both programs to move the game forward after Virginia Tech had to postpone UVA’s third scheduled season opener after COVID issues within the Hokies’ program. 

The Hoos and Hokies were to play in Blacksburg on September 19. That game is now scheduled for Blacksburg on December 12.

The Blue Devils have already played twice, dropping contests at Notre Dame and at home versus Boston College. Both games were double digit losses for the Blue Devils, but they challenged the Fighting Irish for a good portion of that game.

Strict COVID restrictions will be in place. Attendance will be limited to only 1,000 spectators. UVA has elected to limit that to families of players and staff only.

Game Uniforms

The Hoos will open the 2020 season in their white-blue-white combo. It will be the football debut for the revamped V Sabre logo. UVA also features slightly tweaked football jerseys. The biggest change appears to be an updated numbers font as part of the semi-controversial Nike branding redesign for the athletics department.

The hype video below also shows what appears to be the usage of pride stickers on the football helmet utilizing one of the new Nike designed alternate logos (don’t get me started on that topic). Also visible is a sticker featuring the Virginia flag on the back of the helmet. I’m curious to see if all players will sport that or only those from Virginia.

Series History

In a series that dates to 1890, the Hoos and Blue Devils will play for the seventy-second time on Saturday. In a scheduling anomaly, this will be the second game in a row in the series played at Scott Stadium as the Hoos hosted Duke last year.

The UVA-Duke rivalry is one that’s been dominated by large winning streaks on each side. The Hoos currently own a five-game winning over the Blue Devils. The streak started in 2015, a 42-34 win that would be Mike London’s last victory as UVA’s football coach.

The @VirginiaSports Twitter account blessed us with this fun Herman Moore TD catch from Shawn Moore in the 1990 contest. The Hoos blanked Duke 59-0 in Durham that year.

Media Coverage

The game is scheduled for 4:00 PM. The TV broadcast will be on the ACC Network. Chris Cotter is scheduled to handle play-by-play. Former BC Eagle, NY Giant, and UVA football decommit Mark Herzlich will be the color analyst. Eric Wood will work the sideline.

The Virginia Sports Radio Network will handle the radio duties as usual. You can find a list of radio affiliates here. Dave Koehn returns as the Voice of the Cavaliers. He’ll be joined by analyst Tony Underdog Covington, the most passionate Wahoo on the airwaves.

SiriusXM will also carry the radio broadcast on channels 204 (Sirius), 207 (XM), and 967 (Internet).

What Worries Me About Duke…

Under Coach Cutcliffe, Duke has become known for three things above others: excellent offense, creative play calling, and QB play. As a fan of the opposition, one or all of these would typically be on your radar as the most dangerous part of Duke’s team.

But instead of their offense, the 2020 Blue Devils feature a pair of pass rushers that keep OL coaches and offensive coordinators up at night.

Redshirt junior Chris Rumph is the big name in the duo. Last season, Rumph won numerous accolades for his ability to rush the passer. He won Third Team All-ACC honors as well as Second Team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated. And Pro Football Focus named Rumph First Team All-American too. His 13.5 tackles for loss were ranked 8th in the ACC. And his 6.5 sacks were ranked 11th in the conference.

Heading into the 2020 season, Rumph was named a team captain at Duke. He also won numerous preseason All-American honors that included 2nd Team All-American by The Walter Camp Football Foundation, 2nd Team All-American by CBS Sports, and 4th Team All-American by Athlon. Athlon also named Rumph 2nd Team All-ACC. And finally, ESPN rated Rumph the second-best returning edge rusher in the country.

To date this season, Rumph has 2 QB hurries, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 sack.

Rumph’s running mate is senior defensive end Victor Dimukeje. Last season, Dimukeje led Duke with 8.5 sacks which was tied for 4th best in the ACC. His 9.5 tackles for loss were tied for 25th best in the ACC. His season, which also included 10 QB pressures, earned Dimukeje 2nd Team All-ACC honors. 

And while he did almost all of his damage last weekend against Boston College, Dimukeje’s 2020 season is off to a hot start. To date, the senior rusher has 3.5 tackles for loss / sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 1 QB hurry.

What Worries Me For UVA

The Duke game will be Brennan Armstrong’s first career collegiate start. Like most UVA fans, I have a lot of confidence in the left hander heading into the season. And while Armstrong has mostly looked good in limited playing time to date, your first start at QB at the collegiate level is a different animal. And with that confidence in the fanbase comes expectations. Perhaps those expectations are unfair out the gate, but they do exist.

As excited as UVA fans are about Armstrong’s ascension, the ACC football media is much more cautious in their expectation. They routinely rank Armstrong in the bottom half of ACC starting quarterbacks this season. They want to see him do it on the field with regularity before holding a coronation.

And how have UVA quarterbacks fared in their season opener debuts as the man under center going back to Matt Schaub and Bryson Spinner? Shot out to our own StLouHoo for this research. Note that some of these quarterbacks may have played prior to these games or even had a spot start here or there prior to these games. Here’s your cold shower…

Quarterback(s) Opponent/Year Offensive Turnovers Result
Bryson Spinner / Matt Schaub Wisconsin / 2001 3 26-17 Loss
Christian Olsen / Kevin McCabe Pitt / 2006 2 38-13 Loss
Jameel Sewell Wyoming / 2007 2 23-3 Loss
Peter Lalich USC / 2008 4 52-7 Loss
Marc Verica / Vic Hall * William & Mary / 2009 7 26-14 Loss
David Watford BYU / 2013 2 19-16 Win
Greyson Lambert / Matt Johns UCLA / 2014 3 28-20 Loss
Kurt Benkert Richmond / 2016 4 38-20 Loss

Jameel Sewell also played QB in the 2019 William & Mary game.

Quarterbacks Marques Hagans, Michael Rocco, and Bryson Perkins managed to avoid a similar fate. They all won their debuts and protected the ball relatively well. Their competition was wasn’t the best but was at least equal to some of the opponents in the table above. Hagans drew Western Michigan for his debut start in 2005. Rocco drew William & Mary in his 2011 debut start. And Perkins drew Richmond in his 2018 debut start.

Why I Should Worry Less

UVA returns one of the most experienced offensive lines in the ACC and the entire country. All starting offensive lineman from 2019 are back for this season, although OT Bobby Haskins won’t be ready for the Duke game. As a unit, the offensive line returns a total of 115 career starts. That tops the ACC and is tied for 3rd nationally with BYU. And of most returning career starts on the entire UVA team, the top three all play on the offensive line – Dillon Reinkensmeyer (37), Ryan Nelson (27), and Chris Glaser (22).

These guys have seen a lot as a unit. And while the players may shuffle around in their positional alignment more than many would like, there’s still a level of cohesion and continuity there. The unit has been growing together year over year. And expectations are high for the season. 

The duo of Rumph and Dimukeje won’t surprise or intimidate this offensive line. And looking back to 2019’s contest between the Hoos and Duke, the Hoos held Rumph completely in check. He finished with 5 tackles and did no other damage. Dimukeje had a nice game with 7 tackles and 1.5 sacks. But it was not the type of dominating performance that turns the tides of games.

The Hoos have seen this duo before and have prospered. They should be well prepared for them this year too.

Duke, which runs a 4-2-5 defense, also lost both starting cornerbacks this week to injury. Redshirt junior Josh Blackwell suffered a torn meniscus in last Sunday’s practice. And talented, but often injured, redshirt senior Mark Gilbert underwent surgery this week to remove a loose bone fragment in his right foot. Duke will still field respectable corners, but losing their top two cover guys with little time to adjust is a major blow.

Assuming the Hoos can slow Duke’s pass rush, Armstrong is much more likely to get through the day with a clean, or relatively clean, sheet with regards to turnovers. If that happens, it’s difficult to see Duke winning this game.

Prediction

UVA’s mastery of Duke under Bronco Mendenhall (4-0) is a sight to behold. The Blue Devils bring out something in the UVA defense that kicks their Havoc theme into overdrive. Duke’s offense has the unenviable task of coming to Scott Stadium with an unproven quarterback under center in Clemson grad transfer Chase Brice. Brice did see action in 25 games for Clemson during his time there. But he was always the understudy, typically playing when the game was well out of hand.

In two games this season, Brice is completing about 54.5% of his passes. He’s yet to throw a TD pass but threw 2 interceptions last week against Boston College.

I expect the UVA defense to control this game. It will allow the Hoos to overcome any hiccups on the offensive side of the ball. The defense will rack up several sacks and force more than one turnover.

As a result, UVA is able to win one that’s a bit of a slog.

20 to 13, Hoos win!

 

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