Offense, defense, special teams. Duke football put together a total team effort in racing out to a 21-0 lead on their way to a 38-17 whipping of Virginia at Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday night. The win breaks a seven-game losing streak to the Cavaliers and also ends a thirteen-game ACC losing streak.
Let’s get physical
Duke’s offensive line completely dominated a Virginia front that had head coach Mike Elko concerned going into the game. They allowed the Blue Devils to rush for 243 yards and possess the football for a whopping thirty-six minutes. The Cavaliers defense entered the game with twelve sacks and seventeen hurries, but could manage to sack Riley Leonard just once and were credited with two hurries. The offensive line gave Leonard a clean pocket to throw from all night long. In his postgame press conference, Elko said, ”I thought schematically, we tried to do some things to loosen them up and I thought we were able to do that. That certainly helped. But I thought our offensive line played physical and our backs ran really hard. That’s what you have to do against those types of teams. If those teams are going to load the box, you’re going to have to account for the extra people with your backs at times. With movement up front, I thought we were able to do that.”
Jaylen Coleman led all Duke rushers with a career-high ninety-seven yards on nineteen carries and looks much improved since the beginning of the season. Jalon Calhoun had six catches for sixty-five yards and a touchdown. Leonard threw for just 123 yards, but was an impressive 18-24 in the wet conditions and, most importantly, did not turn the ball over. He also used his legs to avoid the Virginia pass rush and did damage when he decided to take off-he finished with fifty-nine yards rushing and two touchdowns. “A lot of people look at me as a pocket passer, but I’ve kind of always been a runner. A lot of people just don’t know that just the way I look and the way I run sometimes, but I like to get outside the pocket. And tonight I did an alright job at it,” said Leonard afterwards.
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Having a slumber party
Leading up to the game I talked about the Duke defense not allowing Virginia’s sleeping giant offense to awaken. The Blue Devils did just that in holding the Cavaliers to less than three hundred yards of total offense-it is the third time this season they’ve held an opponent to under one hundred yards on the ground. When Virginia was able to move the ball, it was in large part because quarterback Brennan Anderson made plays. Sometimes you need to give the other guy credit and this is one of these times. But without question the Blue Devils played well and put their tackling and communication problems that had plagued them in the loss to Kansas behind them.
I thought there were two key moments when the defense came up big. Virginia seemed to have seized the momentum after scoring late in the first half to close the gap to 21-7. But on their first series of the third quarter, the Blue Devils defense forced a three-and-out. By the time the Cavaliers got the ball back they were down 28-7. Later in the third quarter, with the ball on their five-yard line, Ja’Mion Franklin sacked Anderson for an eleven-yard loss and forced Virginia to settle for a field goal. The Cavaliers ate up a lot of clock only to settle for three instead of seven points. Although that was the defense’s only sack of the game, they managed to bat down five of Anderson’s passes at the line of scrimmage. Franklin was responsible for two of those, “I think that’s just something that we harp on. That’s what we do every day in practice, whether we’re doing a ball disruption drill or if we’re rushing in practice. We get our hands up and we really emphasize it because like you see in the game it pays off.”
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They were certainly special
The Blue Devils’ special teams contributed heavily to the team jumping out to that 21-0 lead. Junior defensive end Ryan Smith partially blocked a punt on Virginia’s second series. The offense took advantage of the good field position and extended the Duke lead to 14-0. On the ensuing kickoff, Virginia returner Demick Starling lost the ball while avoiding a tackler and true freshman Terry Moore pounced on it at the Cavaliers 41-yard line. A few plays later it was 21-0 and the Blue Devils never really looked back.
In the third quarter, Jaylen Stinson returned a punt forty-three yards, his longest of the season, to set up another scoring chance. But a bad snap on the field goal attempt ended the drive. After converting all five of his extra point attempts and drilling a thirty-four yard field goal, Charlie Hamm seems to have put his early season struggles behind him.
Offense, defense, special teams. The 15,152 fans who braved the early rain certainly were rewarded. The magic number for bowl eligibility is now at two. Georgia Tech, an upset winner on the road over Pitt, is next. Let’s see that number drop to one.