Duke-Virginia: Conference Showdown Brings Playoff Atmosphere

Mike KlineAnalyst IOctober 30, 2009

LAWRENCE, KS - SEPTEMBER 19:  Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis #9 of the Duke Blue Devils looks to pass the ball during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Kivisto Field at Memorial Stadium on September 19, 2009 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

After the first weekend of the college football season, no one would have figured that come this Saturday Duke and Virginia would be playing for anything but pride.

However, after both teams suffered opening week losses to FCS schools, each has been working to right the ship to keep its slim bowl chances alive.

So far both have appeared to do that, although Duke has been slightly more impressive.

On paper these teams are similar, and it should be an interesting game with a playoff-type atmosphere. The winner's bowl hopes stay strong, while the losers' are hindered greatly.

Whoops, did I mention two FBS schools and the word "playoff" in the same sentence? My sincere apologies to the BCS.

But come Saturday the Blue Devils and Cavaliers will be playing to stay alive in their quest for bowl eligibility, and while these aren't the best two teams in the country, it should be exciting.

Duke will count on its aerial assault, led by quarterback Thad Lewis and his group of wide receivers, including Donovan Varner and Connor Vernon.

Since ditching the spread and going with veteran quarterback Jameel Sewell and coach Al Groh's pro-style offense, the Cavs have looked like a different team.

Aside from their lopsided loss last week to Georgia Tech, Virginia has been playing its best football.

Duke, after winning two consecutive ACC games for the first time in 15 years, is coming off a string of four straight games where they either looked very good or have found a way to win.

The Blue Devils will bring in one of the nation's best passing attacks (sixth) but worst rushing games (115th) against the Cavaliers, who are a bit further behind in passing (76th) and only slightly better rushing (107th).

So, expect to see a lot of passes in this game from both offenses.

Since neither team has much of a running game, this game very well may come down to which team defends the pass and which offense can get the most out of its running backs.

If the game comes down to defense, then Duke, which has allowed 20 more points than Virginia, might be, at least statistically speaking, at a slight disadvantage.

Realistically, stats mean nothing when it is all said and done. While Virginia is currently a seven-point favorite I figure the game is more of a coin toss.

In the end, the team that makes the most big plays on offense will win out.


Prediction: Duke 24, Virginia 21

I see Duke continuing their improved play and getting a late field goal to win a hard-fought game and keep their bowl hopes alive.


Keys for Duke

The Blue Devils need to keep the passing game moving and get some production out of their running backs, even if it is receiving yards. As long as Duke can avoid turnovers and another penalty-plagued game, they should win this one, but there is little room for error.

Also, they will need to avoid any big injuries going into the next big game. That just so happens to come next week against rival North Carolina, who is riding high after their big upset over Virginia Tech.


Keys for Virginia

The Cavaliers need to play smart and avoid turnovers. They also need to find a way to slow down Thad Lewis and force the Blue Devils to run the ball or get pressure in the backfield. If they can force some turnovers, that will only help their case.

Virginia can win this game. They have the home field and the motivation after getting embarrassed last week. If they can funnel that emotion into positive play, then they will come out with the W.