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Virginia Football Opponent Preview: Duke Blue Devils

The Hoos host Duke for the third straight season.

Duke v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

After back-to-back road games, Virginia Football returns to Scott Stadium for a matchup against the Duke Blue Devils. Thanks to COVID schedule changes, the Blue Devils are making their third straight trip to Charlottesville. Expectations are low for Duke heading into this season, but let’s take a look at the squad from Durham.

2020 Recap

Record: 2-9
Postseason: none

It was not a good season for Duke as they finished 2-9 (1-9 ACC), and only one of those losses was within a single score (38-31 against VT). They lost 48-0 to Miami, 56-35 to a bad FSU team, and 56-24 against rival UNC.

QB Chase Brice transferred from Clemson and did not impress. He completed under 55% of his passes, with 10 touchdowns against 15 interceptions. Brice ranked 104th out of 108 in the nation in passing efficiency (Brennan Armstrong ranked 44th). The Duke passing game ranked 70th, while the rushing game ranked 72nd. In sum total, the offense ranked 80th.

Running back Matteo Durant averaged over six yards per rush and led the team with over 800 yards. He basically split carries with Deon Jackson, who averaged just four yards per rush.

Things weren’t better on the defensive side as they struggled to stop the run and get off the field. As a unit, the defense ranked 98th, but the passing defense ranked 63rd. The rush defense was 108th. Two saving grace for the defense were sacks (28th) and turnovers (13th). They forced 20 turnovers in 11 games, but because the offense was so bad and turnover-prone, the team still ranked 125th in turnover margin. Duke had 39 turnovers in 11 games! That was the worst in college football. Two teams tied for second worst, with 25 turnovers.

2021 Outlook

Key Returners: RB Matteo Durant, WR Jake Bobo, LB Shaka Heyward, S Bubba Bolden, CB Al Blades
Key Departures: RB Deon Jackson (NFL), TE Noah Gray (NFL), DE Victor Dimukeje (NFL), DE Chris Rumph (NFL), DE Drew Jordan (Michigan St), DB Marquis Waters (Texas Tech)
Key New Faces: DT Ja’Mion Franklin (Notre Dame)

Chase Brice has moved on to App State, leaving Gunnar Holmberg at the reins. Durant is back, as is most of the WR corps. Noah Gray was a reliable target at TE and will be missed, but the entire rest of the receiving corps returns. The OL mostly returns in-tact, with only OT Devery Hamilton moving on (to Stanford as a grad transfer). But that OL wasn’t very good, giving up over three sacks per game. The OL’s improvement may be the biggest key to Duke’s season.

The defense arguably loses its two best players in Dimukeje and Rumph. LB Shaka Heyward is a star in the making and led the team in tackles last year from his LB position. He’s needs to have a big year because the entire DL is gone, and that was the strength of this defense last year. That DL was able to consistently generate pressure in the backfield without needing to blitz. They won’t have that this year. Nor will they have Waters, their second leading tackler, but the rest of the secondary returns mostly in-tact.

Series History

All-time Record vs. Duke: 39-33
Last meeting: 2020, Virginia win 38-20

Virginia and Duke football dates back to 1890, although there were long stretches with no matchups in the series. They have faced off every year since 1963. All time, Virginia leads 39-33 and are riding a six game winning streak. This will be the third straight home game in the series for the Hoos and is a game they should win.