Fresh off their first bye week of the 2013 season, the Virginia Tech Hokies get back to work this Saturday when they welcome Duke into Lane Stadium.
The Blue Devils (5-2, 1-2 ACC) are coming off a big comeback win over Virginia in Charlottesville last weekend. It was the third straight win for the Blue Devils.
VT and the Dukies have played two common opponents thus far in the 2013 season: Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh. The Hokies beat them both, while the Devils lost both games. Duke actually gave up 58 points to Pitt, whereas VT allowed just nine points.
Tech owns a 13-7 advantage over Duke all-time. The Blue Devils last beat the Hokies in 1981 and VT has won all nine meetings since entering the ACC in 2004. The Hokies won last season's meeting, 41-20.
- When: Saturday, October 26, 2013
- Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va.
- Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPNU
- Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network. Here is a complete list of stations by area.
- Spread: The Hokies are currently 15-point favorites according to BetOnline.com
Ride With the Hot Hand at QB
When Sean Renfree departed after 2012, many thought Anthony Boone would be the starter this season. He was good in his only start last season. However, Duke coach David Cutcliffe, an outstanding evaluator of quarterbacks, felt Boone and fellow junior, Brandon Connette, were essentially equals and have shared the position this season.
Boone and Connette's numbers are fairly equal in terms of completions and attempts. Connette has thrown more touchdowns, but is also more turnover-prone. Boone was the man last week. That doesn't mean Connette won't start this week if Cutcliffe feels he gives the Devils their best chance to win. If Duke expects to pull off the upset, they must ride with the quarterback who gets off to the fastest start.
Weather the Storm
The Hokies are at home, coming off a bye week and are currently in the middle of a six-game winning streak. Lane Stadium will be jumping Saturday. Expect that emotion to carry over to the field, especially with Tech's defense. They thrive off the home crowd.
It is important for Duke not to get rattled early. They must stick with the game plan, regardless of how the game starts. If they survive the first 15 minutes, they have a chance at keeping this game fairly close.
Pressure Duke Early and Often
Bud Foster is one of the more aggressive defensive coordinators in America. His first goal in every game is to take the opposition's running game away. After that, it is all about pressure, pressure and more pressure.
VT has one of the better defensive lines in the country and it goes eight deep easily. They can take a team out of their game plan early by pressuring the quarterback into quick decisions. Once the Hokies establish the line of scrimmage on defense, they are tough to get going against. Foster knows that, so expect him to come out and pressure Duke's QBs as soon as the game begins.
Use the Pass to Set Up the Run
Using the passing game to set up the run is more common in football these days than ever before. But not for Virginia Tech. Frank Beamer has always preferred a strong running game complemented by a play-action passing attack that takes random shots downfield.
That has changed in 2013. The strength of this team is the arm and legs of Logan Thomas. He is getting better every week and his stats prove that. Thomas believes in offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and continues to trust his young receivers more and more each week.
And of course, the Hokies cannot run the ball. They've been unable to establish the run virtually all season. Throwing the ball is how this team operates best on offense. They have to eventually develop a ground game. Is this the week?
The Blue Devils often like to go with the hot hand at quarterback. Anthony Boone was the guy at Virginia last week. Brandon Connette, however, could be in line for more snaps this week. His athleticism could be important against a ferocious Virginia Tech front line.
Wide Receiver Jamison Crowder
In seven games, Crowder has caught 56 passes for 731 yards and three touchdowns. He is averaging eight catches and over 104 yards per game. He is one of the more underrated receivers in the country. Expect Cutcliffe to get Crowder involved early and often to help slow down Tech's fierce pass rush.
Cornerback Ross Cockrell
Cockrell is Duke's best player. It will be important for Duke to assign Cockrell to Demitri Knowles and force Logan Thomas to think twice about challenging him. Knowles is the Hokies' top receiver and getting better every week. If Cockrell shadows him that should shut down one side of the field and force the VT quarterback to rely on some of his other young, unproven weapons.
Quarterback Logan Thomas
Are you surprised Thomas is a player to watch for the Hokies? You shouldn't be. He is the most important players on the team. If he performs well, the offense will do just enough to win. If he struggles, the offense will go nowhere. Thomas has not turned the ball over the last three games and is getting more comfortable with his young receivers with each passing week.
Running Back J.C. Coleman
Coleman is two more weeks removed from his ankle injuries and should be as close to 100 percent as he has been all season. The Hokies need Coleman's explosiveness from the running back position. He can also make plays in the passing game. He and Trey Edmunds will split time, but Coleman can open up so many more possibilities for this offense.
Cornerback Antone Exum
Is this the week Exum makes his much-awaited return? That was the thought process before the bye as it gave Exum two more weeks of practice time. With the emergence of Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson, the Hokies don't need an immediate contribution from Exum. Just getting the All-ACC cornerback back, though, will be a big lift for the nation's second-ranked defense.
Hokies' head coach Frank Beamer is always effusive in his praise for the next opponent. It was no different on Monday when Beamer spoke to the assembled media about Duke's offensive success in the second halves of games recently, as transcribed by Andy Bitter of The Virginia-Pilot. "Once kids get that in their mind, it's something to build on, you're going to play your best football in the second half," Beamer said. "I think right now coach Cutcliffe, he's done a really, really good job."
Kyle and Kendall Fuller also spoke with the media on Monday. Kyle believes that Exum's impending return to the lineup will only make the secondary that much better, per Bitter's report. "I think it can only make us better. He’s a great player and when he gets back out there, I think you’ll see how much better we’ll be just from having an extra guy with his talent.”
The Hokies have dominated this rivalry and expect that trend to continue this week. Tech isn't great on offense, but it isn't like the Blue Devils have a strong defense. If Duke were stronger on defense, this game would be much closer. But Thomas will be able to move the ball up and down the field.
Duke got off to a fast start last season before the Hokies answered with 41 unanswered points. That won't happen this year. Duke won't lead by 20, nor will the Hokies score 41.
However, the Hokies are much too strong for Duke to pull off the upset.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 30, Duke 13