At home for the first time since the September 21 win over ODU, the Hoos (4-2, 2-1) are in the midst of a two game loosing streak. With their depth thinning and offense not scoring a TD in the last six quarters, UVA finds itself with what's essentially a must win game.
On the opposite sideline will be Duke (4-2, 2-1). The Blue Devils are coming off of a relatively easy win over ACC cellar-dweller Georgia Tech.
The Hoos are certain to be a stiffer test than the Yellow Jackets but can UVA's offense right itself enough to win? Answers will be found on the ACC Network beginning at 3:30.
Both teams will be wearing special decals on their helmets honoring college football's 150th anniversary. They'll supplant the usual helmet logos.
For their part, UVA hyped the reveal as something special. It mostly fell flat.
Otherwise, the Hoos will be wearing the George Welsh era inspired white-orange-white combination.
The UVA-Duke rivalry dates back to 1890. It's been filled with bad blood, long winning streaks, and hall of fame level coaches.
The Hoos currently own a four game winning streak in the rivalry. And Bronco Mendenhall is 3-0 versus Duke in his tenure at UVA.
UVA has beaten Duke the last four years. Before this streak, Duke won 6 of the last 7 matchups.— Winsipedia (@Winsipedia) October 15, 2019
The teams first met in 1890 when UVA played Trinity College, which would later be named Duke University in 1924,#GoDuke #GoHoos #DUKEvsUVAhttps://t.co/7iVAK5BPsE pic.twitter.com/mmPFvgNaEz
Keys To Victory
With injuries mounting, an offensive line teetering on the apparent edge of a crisis, a running game stuck in neutral, and no touchdowns in the last six quarters, the Hoos are not in an enviable position.
Duke is a well coached football team that will execute their systems well for all four quarters.
UVA will need to dig deep to summon their collective will to win this one.
For lack of a better word, resilience is a pillar of Bronco Mendenhall's program in Charlottesville. Players are empowered to lead. They're challenged to face and overcome tough obstacles together. They train exceptionally hard. Besides building physically strong and impressive football players, the point of this is to build a strong will and character within the team. And to build a team that responds to challenges. They even enjoy doing so.
If this team embodies those characteristics, then they will find a way to overcome their shortcomings against Duke. Known leaders will inspire and make big plays. New leaders will emerge if only for this game. The Hoos will play with a fierce determination to carry the day.
Everyone has an opinion on what UVA's offense should be doing differently. I've largely given up on meaningful changes to both strategy and tactics besides a one off play here or there.
Instead, the Hoos need to show great improvement in executing what they aim to do on offense.
The prevailing line of thought is that Duke's defense represents a step down in talent and difficulty as compared to Notre Dame and Miami. If that's the case, then UVA should find an easier path to success on offense. But does that assumption ring true?
|Team||Total Defense Rank||Scoring Defense Rank||UVA Points Scored|
These rankings are courtesy of CFBStats.com and do not include Pitt's game versus Syracuse on October 18.
In this instance, the scoring defense is what holds the most weight with me. Ultimately, we're concerned with scoring points. So Duke is a step down from both Notre Dame and Miami. Of course, that ignores how much the Hoos struggled to score against an Old Dominion defense that falls second worst in the rankings for this season's opponents.
I do think that Duke will be an easier defense to manage than both Miami and Notre Dame. But as injuries have accumulated on the offensive line, both major and routine wear and tear, and opponents have more film to study, it's impossible to ignore the decreased effectiveness of UVA's offense. The turning point was obviously the second half of the Notre Dame game where the Hoos' touchdown drought began.
Duke defensive end Victor Dimukeje, a 6-2 265 pound junior from Baltimore, is the obvious pass rush threat to watch. Dimukeje leads Duke with 5 sacks. All of those have come within the last two games for Duke. He'll be the player to contain for the offensive line.
So in order to contain Dimukeje, neutralize Duke's leading tacklers (the linebacker tandem of Koby Quansah and Brandon Hill), and take advantage of the drop off in raw talent and demonstrated results from the Irish and Hurricanes, the Hoos must execute their offense at a level not seen since the 4th quarter against Florida State. Or perhaps even portions of the Pitt game.
It's important not just for the scoreboard but to instill confidence in the offense going forward as several big ACC challenges are looming.
Contain Duke's Run Game
With Daniel Jones running the New York Giants now, Duke has shifted from a pass first team to one that runs to set up the pass.
At 182.8 yards per game, Duke's rushing attack ranks 50th in the country. That's good for 5th in the ACC. And while that doesn't necessarily seem special, it's their leading rusher that will put the most stress on UVA's defense.
Quarterback Quentin Harris is the fulcrum for the Duke offense. He leads the Blue Devils in rushing with 380 yards and is second in carries with 83 rushing attempts. Harris has 5 rushing TDs on the season and a long of 65 yards.
Everything Duke does works off of Harris's ability to stress defenses because of his running skills. He's a more than adequate passer as a result. On the season, Harris has completed 63.5% of his passes for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns against 4 interceptions. His Total QBR of 68.3 ranks 44th nationally. That's third in the ACC behind Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and Boston College's Anthony Brown.
UVA's strengths on defense this year are well suited to counter the Blue Devils. The Hoos' pass rush and sack totals get a ton of press, for good reason. But their rush defense is actually ranked 11th nationally.
UVA's linebacking corps is exceptional. Their talents work well together and are well suited to make the afternoon one to forget for Harris. In order to frustrate and slow the Duke offense, they'll need to be on top of their game.
This is the most difficult game to pick to date this season. I've gone back and forth between the Hoos and Blue Devils.
There's a large part of me that expects Duke to win. The slumping UVA offense, the Bryce Hall injury, and the breakout season for Duke's Harris all contribute to that feeling.
But the Hoos have been a steady favorite in Las Vegas all week. And ESPN's Football Power Index gives UVA a 58.4% chance to win.
Some of the optimism in UVA's direction is likely a result of who Duke has actually beaten: North Carolina A&T, Middle Tennessee, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech. Only the win over the Hokies, and it was an impressive thrashing at Lane Stadium, holds any weight. The rest of the wins are over poor opponents.
Their losses were a blowout versus Bama in Atlanta and a close home loss to Pitt.
The Hoos know what's at stake in this game. It's not a pretty game by any stretch of the imagination but UVA plays inspired football while doing just enough to win.
20 to 17, UVA wins.