DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — An 0-2 start leaves teams in one of two places. Some are dejected and ready to be beaten again while others come out with a hunger to stop the losing skid.
After a spirited week of practice, it looks like the Blue Devils favor the latter.
“Our team had great work yesterday and it wasn’t easy to rekindle a fire but we were able to do that,” said Duke head coach David Cutcliffe. “We have standards that have to be met. It’s been a unique year, to say the least with dealing with all of the time away that the squad spent getting back in rhythm. Didn’t play nearly as well the second week as the first week, which puts certainly the pressure right here.”
The Cavaliers enter the game riding a five-game winning streak against Duke and haven’t lost to the Blue Devils in Charlottesville since 2013.
Getting Duke’s offense on track against the Cavaliers defense will be a big ask for Duke quarterback Chase Brice. The Cavaliers return 9 starters from last year’s squad and have 12 guys that started at least 3 games. By the numbers in 2019, they racked up 99 tackles for losses, 46 sacks, 12 interceptions, and six fumble recoveries.
“They’re really a good defensive systematic team,” said Cutcliffe. “I think they’re as intricate defensively as anybody we play. They’ve done a good job of recruiting players. Their players are well-prepared.”
The defensive front is where the Blue Devils can make some noise by putting heat on Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong. He’s trying to fill the clown-sized shoes of former Cavaliers QB Bryce Perkins.
In two years Perkins put up 67 total touchdowns, 6,210 passing yards, and 1,692 rushing yards.
Virginia also lost its top two receivers and top 5 rushers. Duke has not one but two of the better pass rushers in the ACC in Chris Rumph II and Victor Dimukeje. Through two games Duke put up nine sacks with Dimukeje accounting for three-and-a-half against Boston College.
“I think that that experience of the defensive front is paying off. They understand our standards of play and the consistency we have to have,” said Duke coach David Cutcliffe.
“We are an aggressive style of defense. We have a lot of guys with a lot of ability to rush the edge,” said defensive tackle Ben Frye. “I think the guys we have on the outside and the inside and how aggressive we are with blitzes is where we’ve been successful and been able to get the quarterback once we stop the run.”
With Ronnie Walker Jr. still ineligible, the Cavaliers will go with a three-headed monster at running back of Wayne Taulapapa, Shane Simpson, and Perris Jones. Taulapapa will get the start but there isn’t much separation between the three. Each guy has had their time on top and turned heads.
“They’re all very similar in yield, but different in style,” said Cavaliers head coach Bronco Mendenhall. “I really won’t know until we play a game if Wayne is the only back or if we’re using multiple backs or how that plays out.”
The weakness of the Blue Devil defense is its secondary.
Cornerbacks Mark Gilbert and Josh Blackwell both had surgery. They are both out indefinitely. Leonard Johnson and Jeremiah Lewis will pick up the slack but it may take a game to get comfortable. Expect the Cavaliers to test them early and, if successful, often.
“David Cutcliffe is a master teacher and a master football coach,” said Mendenhall. “He maximizes his resources every year. He’s innovative and his teams execute well and are just so disciplined and they play hard.”
Duke has the advantage of having played two games. They need to take full advantage of a Virginia offense that has traditionally been slow out of the gate and still looking for their go-to guys.
If they can get on top early the goose egg in the win column is as good as gone.
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