No. 22 Duke learned to not get caught up in a hot start. Virginia Tech hopes it picked up a valuable lesson from a humiliating loss.
The surging Blue Devils play host to the Hokies on Saturday night in a matchup that always figured to have one Top 25 team — but probably not the one that’s actually ranked.
Duke (4-0) climbed into the polls for the first time since 2015 after opening with four consecutive victories for the second straight season. Last year’s group promptly followed that fast start by losing six straight games.
“It’s a new energy we have around this team — 4-0 doesn’t get you anywhere,” linebacker Joe Giles-Harris said. “We know the only way we can get better is if we keep grinding and keep going up.”
With the memory of last year’s slide so fresh, coach David Cutcliffe says there’s no concern about complacency with this group. A victory will give the Blue Devils their first 5-0 start since they opened 1994 with seven consecutive wins.
“They might as well have been (ranked) 122nd because they were challenged” by the coaches during practice, Cutcliffe said.
Meanwhile, the Hokies (2-1, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) slipped out of the Top 25 following a stunning two-touchdown loss at Old Dominion in which starting quarterback Josh Jackson broke his left fibula and their traditionally tough defense was carved up for 49 points and 632 yards — the most yards allowed by Virginia Tech in Bud Foster’s nearly quarter-century run as defensive coordinator.
“We’ve got to pull ourselves up and roll our sleeves up and go back to work,” coach Justin Fuente said. “Nobody every quit their way to the top. We’ve got to own it, and suck it up, and go back to work.”
Neither team will have its regular quarterback, with Kansas transfer Ryan Willis making his starting debut with the Hokies and Quentin Harris earning his third start in place of Daniel Jones, who’s out with a broken clavicle. Willis, who was 9 of 18 for 131 yards and a touchdown after taking over for Jackson against Old Dominion, started 10 games over two seasons with the Jayhawks but has never played in a victory over a Bowl Subdivision team at either school. Harris, a more natural threat to run than Jones, has thrown for three touchdowns in each of his two previous starts, victories over Baylor and North Carolina Central.
The Blue Devils’ seniors were freshmen on the program’s last team to appear in the Top 25, and their last game as a ranked team was unforgettable for all the wrong reasons — the 2015 loss to Miami that ended on an eight-lateral kickoff return for a touchdown that the ACC later said shouldn’t have counted.
Ball security will be critical in this one, as it usually is in any game involving Foster’s defense. Virginia Tech leads the conference with a plus-1.67 turnover margin. The Blue Devils, who are third with a plus-1 turnover margin, is one of only five FBS teams that has not thrown an interception.
KEY STAT, PART II
Virginia Tech has produced the two best rushing performances under Fuente in its last two games, rushing for 348 yards against Old Dominion and 305 yards two weeks earlier against William & Mary. Steven Peoples gained a career-best 157 yards rushing against the Monarchs. The Blue Devils have allowed an average of 122 yards rushing during their last three games, after opening the season against Army and its stat-skewing, triple-option offense.
Virginia Tech is 6-0 under Fuente against teams from the state of North Carolina, and is 31-7 in ACC play against the league’s four schools here. The Hokies have not lost in Durham since 1981, winning 15 of the 17 meetings in the series since then.
Source: The Associated Press