Virginia Tech is almost out of a series of “take care of your business” games with Duke being the last one Saturday night. The Hokies and Duke have played some close games recently with these two teams splitting their past four games, with VT losing a four-overtime game the last time these two played at Lane Stadium.
Virginia Tech will be looking to beat Duke at home for the first time since 2011 while the Blue Devils will look to pull off a big upset that will give them a more realistic shot at making a bowl game. With that said, here are our keys to the game for Virginia Tech.
Establish The Running Game
With the weather conditions expected to be sub-par, it will likely be more difficult for Josh Jackson and the Hokies’ offense to push the ball down the field consistently in the passing game. More than normal, it will be critical for the Hokies to get their running game going against a Duke rush defense that is in the top 45 nationally in yards per carry allowed.
Travon McMillian has improved after his sophomore slump, and has emerged as the lead tailback in the past two games. McMillian is averaging 4.9 yards per carry with five-straight games of averaging at least 4 yards per carry. McMillian is running with more confidence and effort in recent games, helping him play at a higher level. McMillian’s carries have increased due not only to injuries to other VT running backs but also due to his own improved play.
The Hokies should benefit from the expected returns of Steven Peoples and Deshawn McClease. Neither Peoples nor McClease may be the Hokies’ top tailback, but they both provide unique skill sets that make a difference. Peoples has proven to be a tough power runner that can gain a yard or two when you don’t expect it. McClease has been a quality change-of-pace back who can be weapon on the edge in the running game and in the passing game.
Virginia Tech will have their top trio of running backs healthy, but it’ll be up to them to actually produce. With this unit having been inconsistent at times, it will be important for them to build some consistency. Travon McMillian has started to do that, but will need to continue to be consistent running the ball to keep his majority of the carries. if not, the Hokies will be ready to increase the load for Peoples and McClease.
Contain Daniel Jones
Daniel Jones has struggled throwing the football, and those struggles seem likely to continue against a tough Virginia Tech pass defense that will be helped even more by the poor weather conditions. However, Jones has shown some mobility and Duke will likely try to see if they can take advantage of it especially against a Virginia Tech defense that has had issues with defending mobile quarterbacks in the past.
Virginia Tech will need to keep contain on the edge while also having their linebackers play a spy role at times to prevent Jones for getting space. We’ve seen some improvement this year in Virginia Tech’s ability to contain mobile quarterbacks, but it hasn’t been perfect with Kelly Bryant’s mobility giving the Hokies’ issues earlier this season.
Keeping contain will be critical and VT will look to Trevon Hill, Vinny Mihota, and Houshun Gaines to prevent Jones from escaping the pocket on the edge. Hill has been playing particularly well recently and against a Duke defensive line that hasn’t played well this year, Hill should be able to get plenty of pressure on Jones without giving him room to escape.
If Jones is able to escape, open-field tackling will be critical to limiting Jones. Virginia Tech’s defense has had issues tackling exposing QBs with the Hokies’ defense not always having a great mindset. At times, the Hokies focus more on going for hits that lead to missed tackles rather than making sure they wrap up the quarterback. Jones has the size to bounce off weak hits, making it important that the Hokies do a good job of wrapping up on their tackles.
If the Hokies want to prevent Duke from making this game more competitive than it should be, they must force Daniel Jones to beat VT through the air. To do so, VT will need their defensive ends to do a great job of containment and their linebackers to wrap up on tackles. If they do that, Jones will have a tough time running the football.
Don’t Overlook Duke
Next Saturday has the potential to be the most important game between Virginia Tech and Miami in years. However, the Hokies have to take care of business Saturday night to do so. This Duke team has struggled recently, but the Blue Devils have the talent to make this game interesting if the Hokies overlook them.
Duke has some really good players on defense led by LB Joe Giles-Harris and safety Jeremy McDuffie who are both All-ACC candidates. Shaun Wilson has proven to be one of the ACC’s most versatile playmakers while TJ Rahming is one of the conference’s most underrated WRs. Duke has plenty of playmakers who could make game-changing plays that can give Duke a shot to pull off the upset.
While Virginia Tech is clearly the better team, Duke has the talent to upset a top 15 team when they’re at their best and catch that team unprepared.
The Hokies have done a better job of taking care of business against the teams they are supposed to this season, but must continue to stay focused on their opponent this week. This is where Justin Fuente’s 1-0 mentality has helped VT a lot with the Hokies buying in and keeping their focus on the task at hand.
Virginia Tech may be the significantly better football team, but the Hokies can’t overlook a Duke team desperate to end their four-game losing streak. If they come out with the same intensity they had the last time they played a night game at Lane Stadium, VT will comfortably take care of business.