by Mike Potter
Duke got its most impressive football win in Durham in a very long time last season in a 31-3 romp over Virginia.
On Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Scott Stadium, the homsetanding Cavaliers will come out looking for revenge.
That it's a must-win contest for the Cavaliers (3-4, 2-1 ACC) is something everyone probably knew when the season started. Duke, not so much.
The Blue Devils (4-3, 2-1) are having their best season in 15 years unless something derails it, and the Cavaliers will be intending to do just that.
Duke was also 4-3 last season, but that felt more like a miracle. This time coach David Cutcliffe is seriously talking bowl, and that can happen if the Devils beat Virginia and the other two unranked opponents (UNC, Wake Forest) on the schedule. But if Virginia wins on Saturday it means Duke will have to beat a ranked opponent to be playing in December.
Duke has won two straight ACC games and already has a pair of road victories this season.
Virginia had won three of its last four before falling 34-9 at home to No. 11 Georgia Tech on Saturday.
Cutcliffe said Virginia, which he said hits harder than anyone on the schedule, will be another big challenge.
"They've got speed and skill and athleticism on offense, guys that can take it to the house," the Duke coach said. "They're very balanced and always have a back that can run the football. They got off like we did to a slow start, but have played some excellent football as of late. This is a tremendous matchup. It looks like it will be a great atmosphere and we're excited about the challenge.
"(Nose tackle Nate). Collins is terrific. He's a heck of a pro prospect and one of the most productive guys in our league right now. We're going to run the ball better. I think anybody that looks at us would say 'we're going to find a way to make you beat us running,' but we're going to find a way to throw the football. That just changes our course of how to throw it."
Virginia coach Al Groh, who may be on the coaching hot seat, said controlling Duke's hot quarterback Thaddeus Lewis is a major key to who wins this week.
"He's showing the value of being a four-year starter," Groh said of Lewis. "When we played him as a true freshman (in 2006) ... it was pretty challenging for him. He had a difficult time that day, as might be expected with a first-year quarterback against an ACC defense.
"He's now a fourth-year quarterback with ... more starts than any quarterback in the Atlantic Coast Conference at this current time. So, that certainly shows, not only the fourth year as an ACC starter, but the second year under Cutcliffe who has great experience and know-how and development of quarterbacks. He clearly has profited by that."
Duke center Bryan Morgan said his team is aware of the stakes but isn't about to be counting any chickens.
"You want to look at the big picture," Morgan said. "You just have to make sure you go one game at a time. Coach has said, the more you win the higher the stakes get. We know we have to get better and better every week. We know that they (Virginia) remember last year. We want to go up there and remind them."
Duke (4-3, 2-1 ACC) vs. Virginia (3-4, 2-1 ACC)
[3:30 p.m., Scott Stadium, Charlottesville]
Virginia leads series 32-28
Audio: WDNC-620, WMNA 106.3, Sirius 214, XM 193, GoDuke.com, VirginiaSports.com
Key stats ...
Duke: Team scoring 29.7 to opponents' 25.1. Rushing 74.4 to 138.9. Passing 322.6 to 204.3. Individual leaders - (rush) Desmond Scott 32-148 1 TD, (pass) Thaddeus Lewis 164-256-3-1972 14 TD, (receive) Austin Kelly 39-410 3 TD, (tackle) Vincent Rey 57 with 1 int., 1 fum. rec.
Virginia: Team scoring 22.0 to 20.9. Rushing 99.4 to 164.4. Passing 189.7 to 151.3. Individual leaders - (rush) Mikell Simpson 54-251 5 TD, (pass) Jameel Sewell 105-190-5-1261 5 TD, (receive) Kris Burd 20-267 1 TD, (tackle) Steve Greer 49.
Best message board tidbit on the game:
Jobe01 at DevilsIllustrated.com: "How will the game transpire? I think that Cut and staff will focus the team on correcting mistakes. Efforts will be focused on improving on the turnovers, and focus will be made on overcoming setbacks on penalties. UVA will come out pumped up, as they'll see this as very winnable. They can still salvage their season, and, much like Duke, go to a bowl with a run toward the end of the season. However, I believe Duke will overcome the turnover issues and the penalty issues. I see us running more, and I see Thaddeus Lewis having another banner game. He's in the zone now, and will make a run toward being the ACC's best/most improved QB. Our defense will continue to remain solid. I'm sure that UVA's offense will have their moments, but we need to make them earn every point and not give away points with silly turnovers and penalties."
Duke will win if ... The Blue Devils, yes, keep doing what they have been doing. Duke's offense has been consistently getting better all season, and then on Saturday defense and special teams locked up what Cutcliffe allowed was an "ugly" win against Maryland. For a mid-level ACC team to beat the Blue Devils it has to shut down Lewis, and that hasn't happened yet.
Virginia will win if ... Well, if the Cavaliers can make some big defensive plays early and slow down Duke's passing attack. Virginia has one of the best secondaries in the conference, and those guys will need plenty of breakups and a couple of pickoffs. Duke's running game has not been impressive, and until the Blue Devils prove otherwise opponents are going to love to see them run.
Can the French Blue Devils get past those Wahooing Cavaliers again? It's very possible, but certainly not in the bank. Duke's 31-3 romp in Durham last season looked out of context at the time, but the Blue Devils aren't going to sneak up on anybody. Virginia will remember the four-touchdown loss and have twice as many fans as any Duke home crowd. Lewis needs another big day.
Players to watch ...
Duke: #3 DT Vince Oghobaase, #9 QB Thaddeus Lewis, # 31 MLB Vincent Rey, # 83 WR Austin Kelly.
Virginia: #5 TB Mikell Simpson, #10 QB Jameel Sewell, #21 CB Ras-I Dowling, #98 DE Nate Collins.
Injury report ...
Duke: RB Re'quan Boyette (knee) questionable, CB Lee Butler (leg) doubtful, LB Abraham Kromah (leg) OUT, WR Tyree Watkins (leg) OUT.
Virginia: OL Oday Aboushi (knee) probable, OT Landon Bradley (knee) probable, S Brandon Woods (shoulder), DE Matt Conrath (ankle) OUT, LB Aaron Clark (knee) OUT.(leg) probable, NT Nate Collins (leg) probable, LB Cam Johnson (knee), S Corey Mosley (shoulder) ,
Vegas line: Virginia by 7.
Score prediction: Duke 24, Virginia 21.