It seems every year, the Duke Blue Devils open the season with a handful of wins over bad teams and begins to get hype. Last year was no different, as they opened with wins over Army, Northwestern, Baylor and NC Central to get to 4-0 and into the polls at #22. They promptly got steamrolled at home by the Hokies and never sniffed the polls again.
Over the past five seasons, Duke is 17-6 (74%) in September (and August) and 36-28 overall (56%). They’re 16-24 (40%) in the ACC. Those early season wins are propping up poor overall campaigns.
This year is going to be different. The Blue Devils open up with the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game against Alabama. They’re going to get stomped. They finish September in Blacksburg against the Hokies, and they could get stomped again. Very little chance Duke sees the polls this season.
Last Year: 8-5
Again, Duke opened up last year 4-0 in September. They also won @Georgia Tech and @Miami. And they lost at home to our Virginia Cavaliers and were demolished at home by Wake Forest (59-7). They took care of Temple in the Independence Bowl, their third straight bowl win.
They were led by third year starter, and eventual #6 overall NFL Draft pick, Daniel Jones. Jones threw for 2674 yards, with 22 TDs and 9 INTs. He also rushed for 319 yards and 3 TDs. Solid numbers for the 52nd ranked offense, according to S&P ratings. Their defense was a bit better, ranking 46th. Those numbers are propped up by a few big games. The Blue Devils broke 600 total yards three times (NC Central, Pitt and UNC), plus 563 against Temple. But they were held under 300 total yards three times and under 400 yards nine times. That really isn’t the sign of a good offense.
The defense was better and more consistent. Eight of their opponents totaled 413 yards or fewer. They held Clemson to just 459 yards, well under their season average.
The Last Time: Virginia 28, Duke 14 (2018)
This game really was closer than the score indicates. Virginia led 14-0 in the first half thanks to a pair of Bryce Perkins TD runs. A big play from Duke WR Chris Taylor cut the lead to 14-7, but the Hoos answered with a pair of Brian Delaney FGs to extend the lead to 13 points heading into the fourth.
Duke would strike again with a trick play, as WR TJ Rahming threw a TD pass and got Duke back within one score. The Blue Devils would actually get the ball back with a chance to take the lead, but Virginia got sacks from Chris Peace and Charles Snowden to end that threat. Tavares Kelly returned the ensuing punt 29 yards, giving Perkins a short field. He converted on a phenomenal play to Evan Butts for the game clinching score.
Comings and Goings
Jones is obviously the big departure. Basically the entire WR corps is also gone. The top four pass catchers are all gone, accounting for 183 catches, 2105 yards and 18 TDs. That’s basically 70% of the passing game.
On the other hand, of the seven OLs who started last year, five return. And the top two rushers, Deon Jackson and Brittain Brown, return. Senior QB Quentin Harris has had more success as a runner than a passer thus far. So the ground game should be solid, but they may have trouble generating plays in the passing game.
On defense, they lose Joe Giles-Harris, their leading tackler in each of the last three years. They also lose Ben Humphrey, who started at LB next to Giles-Harris and finished second, third and fourth in tackles the past three years. Duke plays a 4-2-5 defense, and losing both of those LBs could have repercussions. However, the other nine guys all return from next year. The defense should be solid, though the pass defense will likely outpace the rush defense again.
Harris has waited patiently behind Jones, even though he was the higher rated recruit. He’s barely played in four seasons, though he did start twice last season with Jones out. Duke won both (over Baylor and NC Central) and Harris had 6 TD passes and a rushing TD.
He’s very athletic and can make plays with his feet. He’s got a strong arm, but hasn’t really had any success throwing yet. Duke’s offense will go as far as Harris can take it. With a strong OL and running game, the potential is there for Harris to have a similar impact at Duke to what Bryce Perkins had at Virginia. If Harris struggles early, don’t be surprised to see Dave Cutcliffe switch to redshirt freshman, four-star QB, Gunnar Holmberg. Cutcliffe is known to be a “QB Whisperer” and Holmbert is exactly the type of QB he’s had success with.
The Hoos have won four in a row in the series, though they’ve really all been close games. This year, in Charlottesville, that may not be the case. Virginia has lost twice to Duke at home in the past 20 years. This Virginia team is oozing with potential, the Duke has to replace a top-10 pick at QB.
ACC conference games are often more competitive than they look on paper. But this one looks like a mismatch on paper and Virginia should be favored by double-digits.