The Virginia Tech Hokies are in the driver’s seat in the ACC Coastal after beating Pittsburgh last Thursday to stay tied at the top of the Coastal with the head-to-head tiebreaker over North Carolina. Virginia Tech is double-digit favorites as they head on the road to face a struggling Duke team that just lost its starting running back, but Duke has a great head coach in David Cutcliffe who will make sure his team is ready for this game.
WRs Isaiah Ford, Bucky Hodges vs. CBs Breon Borders, Byron Fields
Last week, Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges were able to take advantage of the Pittsburgh cornerbacks with Ford having 10 catches for 143 yards and a touchdown, and Hodges having 6 catches for 145 yards. Hodges has been playing the best football of his collegiate career recently, forcing some attention to be shifted to him and creating more space for Ford to make plays.
This week, Ford and Hodges will face a tougher matchup on the outside against Duke’s pair of veteran cornerbacks: Breon Borders and Byron Fields. Borders and Fields both have had solid season with Borders putting up strong numbers having 2 interceptions and 9 pass breakups while Fields has 1 interception and 2 pass breakups.
However, the duo will be tested by Virginia Tech’s talented receiving corps with Justin Fuente and Brad Cornelsen proving last week that they are unafraid of taking their shots down the field in one-on-one coverage. The Hokies know that Duke”s defense has a much better secondary than Pittsburgh’s but the Hokies will be ready to attack through the air.
The Hokies know that Duke’s rush defense isn’t great but the Hokies will want to ensure that they have a strong offensive balance to create space for guys like Travon McMillian to take advantage of Duke’s rush defense deficiencies. If Duke can contain Virginia Tech’s passing attack, they can make this game a lot more interesting than many likely expect it to be.
However, that will be quite a hard task given the way Jerod Evans has played this season, and the talent that Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges have.
VT Secondary vs. Duke QB Daniel Jones
Duke has a young redshirt freshman quarterback in Daniel Jones who has had a couple of big games but has shown he can throw some interceptions with 9 on the season. However, those numbers aren’t as bad as they seem as 5 of those came against Virginia but Jones also has interceptions in four other games.
Jones hasn’t faced a defense as good as the Hokies yet this season and Bud Foster will look to force Jones into making difficult decision in the passing game. Virginia Tech also has arguably the best group of defensive backs in the ACC that will be ready to disguise coverages and get a young quarterback to make mistakes.
For Jones, he’s going have to not look like a young freshman quarterback and make the decisions that you would expect from a guy with a lot of experience or hope that the Hokies’ secondary drop a few passes. Jones has the potential to flip this game upside down if he is able to consistently make plays against the talented Hokies’ pass defense while also making some plays outside the pocket as he has averaged 3.4 yards per carry and has 276 rushing yards on the season.
Jones’s will be heavily relied on with Duke’s top running back Jela Duncan now out for the season due to injury. If Jones can find a way to make some plays and avoid having too many turnovers, Duke can keep it closer than the Hokies would want.
CB/LB Mook Reynolds vs. WR T.J. Rahming
T.J. Rahming leads Duke in receptions with 42 this season working out of the slot with the next closest healthy Duke receiver having only 23 receptions. Rahming clearly seems to be a safety valve that young QB Daniel Jones can rely on to make something happen when his primary options are covered or to just make plays out of the slot.
For the Hokies, they’ll be ready to put nickel cornerback and whip linebacker Mook Reynolds on Rahming for significant amounts of this game. Reynolds has been quite good overall on the season though there have been some blips, and Bud Foster will be hoping that this game doesn’t become one of those blips for Reynolds.
Rahming isn’t a big play machine with only one touchdown but the high volume of catches makes him someone that the Hokies should focus on to force Jones into uncomfortable situations of having to push the ball down the field when there may not be a great option.
However, it will also be important for Reynolds to be able to do this in one-on-one coverage and allow the Hokies to let one of their linebackers shadow the scrambling ability of Jones instead of having to provide extra help for Reynolds. If the Hokies have to give Reynolds help, it will open up space for Jones to potentially make some plays with his feet.
Mook Reynolds has the potential to make a difference on this game and if he can shut down Duke’s top receiver, the Hokies may be set to have another great defensive performance.
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