Virginia Tech has taken care of business since losing to Clemson with a comfortable win over Boston College and a blowout victory over North Carolina. Now, the Hokies face another lower-tier ACC team in Duke with #8 Miami looming next week in what likely will decide the ACC Coastal.
Though Duke has struggled, the Hokies can't afford to overlook a Blue Devil team that has given the Hokies some problems in the past. With that said, here's our by the numbers preview for Saturday night's game.
85.1%: The percent of drives that Virginia Tech doesn't allow a score.
The All-American, a site that covers college football for The Athletic, came up with a stat known as stop rate. The premise is simple, this stat represent the rate at which a defense doesn't allow any sort of scoring by the offense.
Virginia Tech is third in the nation in this stat and a distinct tier of its own along with a few other elite defenses: Penn State, Alabama, and Washington. Bud Foster has one of its best defenses in years, and the stats back it up with the Hokies being one of four teams to allow less than a point per drive. That is a dominant defense.
This is also a defense that doesn't appear to have any weakness whatsoever as we evaluated in our takeaways
earlier this week. The defensive line depth is an issue, but Foster has found a way to work around that problem with how he rotates only a couple defensive linemen in and out.
Virginia Tech has benefited from a relatively weak schedule, but that schedule also includes games against West Virginia and Clemson, two of the better offenses in the country. Virginia Tech has one of the elite defenses in college football and with the forecast being for poor conditions, the Hokies have an opportunity for a shutout against a struggling Duke offense.
114th: Where Duke QB Daniel Jones ranks in passer rating among 125 eligible QBs.
Entering the season, there was some excitement around Duke after Daniel Jones's freshman season for the Blue Devils. Jones looked like one of the future star quarterbacks of a conference set to lose most of its star quarterback.
One year later, the star QB in this matchup is on the other side of the field with Jones regressing into one of the conference's worst QBs.
Daniel Jones has struggled this year completing only 54.5% of his passes with 6 interceptions on the season. Jones has not looked like the same quarterback and is completing the football at a poor rate that no one could have quarterback this time last year. Jones helped Duke to a 4-0 start, but hindsight has shown us that there was only one quality win against Northwestern in there with the other Blue Devil win coming against the only two power 5 schools already bowl ineligible (UNC, Baylor) and FCS school NC Central.
Since his first two games, Jones hasn't had a passer rating above 130 while having a passer rating below 100 three times including against Baylor and Virginia.
This week, Jones faces a Virginia Tech defense that leads the nation in holding opponents to a 45.3% completion rate. Combine that with the expected poor weather conditions, and this is a nightmare situation for Jones and Duke.
However, the one thing VT will have to be careful for is Jones's mobility. Though Jones has only ran for more than 40 yards once this season, Jones has the mobility to make some plays with his legs and given the expected weather conditions, David Cutcliffe is likely to try and see if he can get Jones going in the running game against a Hokie defense that has historically had some problems containing mobile quarterbacks.
4.9: Yards per carry for Travon McMillian
Travon McMillian has taken some criticism for not being decisive enough with his runs, and rightfully so, but McMillian has been significant improved this season. McMillian has averaged over four yards per carry in his past five games and has started to gain a larger share of the carries.
Virginia Tech will need McMillian and their running game to step up on Saturday night with conditions less than ideal for the passing game. The Hokies' offensive line has been solid this season, but they'll need to be productive in this game to give McMillian some space to operate and make some big plays happen.
Saturday night should be an interesting measuring stick for McMillian and the VT running game. Duke is ranked 42nd in the nation in rushing yards allowed per carry, and will give Virginia Tech's running game a test. The Hokies have been fortunate to face some weaker rushing defenses, but this will be a litmus test not only for the offensive line but also for the Hokies' running backs.
McMillian has a chance to blow up the Hokies' by-committee RB rotation and assert himself as the lead back with a big game, especially with Deshawn McClease and Steven Peoples back healthy again. If McMillian can play like he has the past five games, he may earn the starting RB job full-time over McClease and Peoples.
13.5: Number of tackles for loss for Joe Giles-Harris.
Duke has several talented players, but there is no Blue Devil better than linebacker Joe Giles-Harris. Giles-Harris leads Duke in tackles (75), tackles for loss (13.5), and sacks (3.5). Giles-Harris can do it all from dropping into coverage to being a run stuffer and pass rusher. Joe Giles-Harris is one of the best linebackers in the ACC and is part of a solid Duke defense that likely has the attention of NFL scouts.
Giles-Harris's strong season isn't a surprise to many covering the ACC and Duke as he received Freshman All-American honors from USA Today, finishing with 107 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks.
Joe Giles-Harris has also been consistent with at least 1.5 tackles for loss in five of Duke's eight game this season. Brad Cornelsen knows this and will definitely try to find ways to limit Giles-Harris's ability to make an impact especially in the running game. Miami and FSU may provide a template for doing as both were able to hold Giles-Harris to 0.5 tackles for loss in their ways over Duke.
Giles-Harris is only a redshirt sophomore and will be a force to be reckoned with going forward in the ACC. If Duke is going to pull off the upset, they'll need a big game from one of the best young linebackers in the ACC.
8: Number of pass breakups for Greg Stroman
Greg Stroman has been one of the best defensive players in the ACC that no one is talking about. Stroman has been extremely with 8 pass breakups and 1 interception through his first 7 games. Advanced stats have also pointed to Stroman being one of the top CBs in the country with Stroman receiving plenty of midseason recognition among those covering the ACC.
Stroman hasn't received lots of attention in part because quarterbacks are simply not throwing the ball his way. When quarterbacks have thrown his way, Stroman has been a lockdown cornerback with receivers struggling to get a catch against him.
Stroman will face one of his toughest matchups of the season Saturday night against TJ Rahming who has 44 catches and is averaging 12.9 yards per reception. This game presents a great opportunity for Stroman to make a strong statement and start to receive more public attention for his dominant performance this season. If Rahming can find a way to be productive despite facing Stroman, the Blue Devils might be able to make this game closer than expected.
Greg Stroman has developed into one of the nation's best cornerbacks and most versatile players who will be ready to give Rahming and Duke's WRs problems.
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