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What to Watch: Virginia Opens ACC Play vs Duke

Hoos looks to keep the momentum going and move to 4-1

NCAA Football: William & Mary at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

After a week off to relish in their huge win over Boise State, the Virginia Cavaliers are back in action as they kick off ACC play hosting the Duke Blue Devils. At 3-1, the Hoos bring excitement to Scott Stadium in October that hasn’t been felt in years. With a win, Virginia can inch ever so closer to bowl eligibility as well as start ACC play with a W. What will it take? Here’s what I’ll be watching.

  1. Limit the Scoring - Duke ranks 51st in FBS scoring 33.6 points per game. However they rank much better at 27th when it comes to yards gained among FBS teams. The key to stopping the Blue Devils will be to let them get their yards, but keep them out of the end zone. Miami did this perfectly in their 31-6 win last weekend in Durham forcing a turnover on downs deep in their own territory, and limiting the Blue Devils to field goals when they got into the red zone. Virginia unfortunately fares better defensively in limiting yards than they do in giving up points. Still Virginia will be one the best defenses Duke has seen all year and their ability to force field goals instead of touchdowns will be critical.
  2. Keep them Guessing - Against Indiana, Virginia became too predictable, settling for short passes only to get tackled at the point of completion. Olamide Zacchaeus had 12 receptions for crying out loud and while I love for Zaccheaus to have the ball in his hands that many times a game, it’s not effective when he catches the ball five yards from the line of scrimmage only to have a linebacker or safety there to make the tackle the moment he catches the football. Against both UConn and Boise State, Virginia mixed up the play-calling perfectly. Kurt Benkert hit on a number of passes downfield, Jordan Ellis ran effectively between the tackles, Zaccheaus got the ball in numerous ways, and Doni Dowling and Evan Butts held down the middle of the field. It’s that type of creativity and dynamic offense that will keep the Duke defense guessing all day and allow for Virginia to move the ball effectively.
  3. Stop the Big Play - In a similar vein to the first key to the game above, Duke is more adept at racking up yards than they are at racking up points. A big reason for that is their lack of red zone efficiency. The Blue Devils rank 12th in the ACC in red zone efficiency scoring nine touchdowns and nine field goals on the season. However, they are still scoring over 33 points per game. A big factor in that is their ability to score on big plays. In fact, they’ve scored almost as many touchdowns from outside the red zone (8) than they have within it (9). For Virginia to stop the big play, Quin Blanding will be key. His ability to provide support against the likes of T.J. Rahming and Johnathan Lloyd will go a long way in Virginia starting conference play with a win and moving to 4-1 on the year.

Kickoff is at 12:20 and will be covered by the ACC Network. With the UVA Bicentennial happening this weekend, it will be a great weekend to celebrate. If you can’t make it to Charlottesville, come join us in the game thread. Stay with Streaking the Lawn for all your Virginia Football coverage and as always, Go Hoos!