After last week's disappointing loss to Old Dominion, Virginia Tech heads on the road to face a 22nd-ranked Duke team looking to get to 5-0 and show that they are a legitimate threat to win the ACC Coastal. With that said, Jackson Pugh goes Inside The Enemy with the Duke Blue Devils.
1. The Battle of the Backups
In case you missed the second half of Virginia Tech's nightmare against Old Dominion, Josh Jackson injured his left ankle and will not play this week against Duke. However, before coming to Norfolk on Saturday, the injury bug did some work in Durham.
Duke QB Daniel Jones was supposed to have a big year. Although he had a tough time in 2017 with 11 interceptions, he put another year under his belt with head coach and quarterback guru David Cutcliffe who has plenty of experience working with elite quarterbacks, such as Peyton Manning at Tennessee and Eli Manning back at Ole Miss.
Jones was exciting as a freshman, however, throwing for 16 TDs and 9 interceptions, and completing 62.8 percent of his passes.
Jones is also well-known for his running ability as he has 1,044 rushing yards and 15 rushing TDs in 27 career games.
To start 2018, it looked like Jones was going to live up to the hype. Against two quality opponents in Army and Northwestern, Jones shined bright. He threw 4 TDs and no interceptions against those two foes, and lead the Blue Devils to two big wins. Finally, Jones was making good decisions, like one would expect from a quarterback in Cutcliffe's system. Duke finally had the leader it needed to lead them to greatness; everything was going right.
Then, that dreaded insect made everything go wrong. Against Northwestern, Jones sustained a collarbone injury, putting him out indefinitely. While sources say he is making a fast recovery, Jones will most likely not play this weekend against the Hokies.
In came backup QB Quentin Harris to finish the deal against the Wildcats. After the game, Cutcliffe made it clear that Harris would be the new leader of the Blue Devils.
While Harris may not have the accuracy that Jones has, make no mistake, this is not a QB that the Hokies want to take lightly. Although he struggled to throw completions against Baylor in his first start, he was very opportunistic; his 12 of 30 passing output resulted in three touchdowns, including a 66-yarder in the 2nd quarter. Much like Jones, Harris has electric legs, as he ran for 83 yards against the Bears.
The junior from Connecticut is making the most of his turn, which he waited a long time for. Harris has sat all three years behind Jones, throwing just 13 total passes in that time span but to his credit, Harris persevered and stuck with the program, and now he has an opportunity to make his mark.
With all that said, there are two ways to spin this headline. The first is that both of these teams feature backup quarterbacks who have some ability, as Hokie QB Ryan Willis was very effective in the spring game and last week vs ODU. The second way to spin this: Virginia Tech will be facing a backup quarterback for the second week in a row. After what happened last week, that will not make Bud Foster breathe any sigh of relief.
2. The Blue D Stands for Defense
As mentioned in last year's Inside The Enemy for Duke, the Blue Devils were very strong on defense last season. This season, it's been no different.
Thus far, the Blue Devils have allowed just 15.3 points per game (16th in the country), and 333.3 yards per game (35th). Otherwise, the Blue Devil's don't rank high in any other statistical category defensively. However, what makes this unit strong is their lack of weaknesses; they rank in the top half of college football in first downs allowed, third down defense, pass yards allowed, and rushing yards allowed. In other words, this is a tough defense to game plan for, as they are solid across the board.
Duke has faced some formidable offenses as well; Army's usually effective triple option was not effective against the Blue Devils; Northwestern's offense is capable of putting up 30 on many teams, yet Duke held them to just one touchdown.
Personnel wise, Duke' strongest position is the linebacker spot. Junior Joe-Giles Harris earned first team All-ACC last season, while his counterpart Ben Humphreys has 207 tackles in just 25 career starts.
Duke has had some solid teams under Cutcliffe, but what separates this team from his others is their ability to play defense. The dominant Durham Defense is a big reason why the Blue Devils have won each game by double-digits, and thus why they have gained some national respect.
Virginia Tech has been effective offensively thus far this season. However, this will be one of the toughest defenses they face all year. It will be important to get Deshawn McClease, Steven Peoples and Terius Wheatley involved the way that Tech has thus far.
3. Runnin' Devils, Not Runnin' Rebels
No disrespect UNLV, but the Runnin' Devils nickname just sounds catchy, and it also exemplifies what Duke has done well this season: run the ball.
Duke averages 219 yards on the ground per game, which is 32nd in the country. However, their depth and versatility in the backfield is what's most striking. Four Blue Devils already have over 100 yards rushing on the season.
Leading rusher Brittain Brown has done everything Cutcliffe could've asked for. After taking 130 carries last season, Brown has continued to contribute significantly. The 6-1, 205 pound sophomore has 50 carries for 282 yards and 2 TD's this season, which includes a 118-yard performance last week.
Next in line is another sophomore in Deon Jackson, who has 223 yards on the season with 3 TD's. Jackson has done a terrific job in relief for Brown, which should help both backs handle the wear and tear over the long haul. Both men are capable of taking 15-20 carries per game and have split the load well this season.
Duke has also found success running outside of the running back position. Quentin Harris, despite playing just 2 games, is third on the team in rushing with 140 yards. Considering he didn't play much of the second half against NC Central, Harris has really ran for that much in 1 and a half games. The Baylor Bears learned about Harris' electrifying legs the hard way, as he ran for 83 yards in that game.
The last rusher to look out for is freshman Marvin Hubbard III, who hails from Tyrone, GA. Hubbard got his first touches of the season against NC Central last week, and he did not disappoint. Hubbard ran for 96 yards on 20 carries. if Cutcliffe was willing to give him that many carries in one game even though it was an FCS opponent, look for Hubbard to be a part of the action against the Hokies.
It has been a long time since Duke has had a formidable rushing attack, but this team looks different. Their ability to spread out defenses and give their speedsters some space has been prevalent thus far. Bud Foster will want to watch out for read options and quarterback scrambles, as Harris' running ability will likely be a large part of the game plan.
Funny enough, the UNLV Runnin' Rebels are second in the country in rushing, so it looks like they can have their nickname back.
4. Featured Players: Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris
Duke's defense has been stout this season, and it's largely due to their linebacking core. The dominant duo of Humphreys and Giles-Harris was mentioned in last year's Inside The Enemy piece, and it's worth mentioning these two players two times in two years.
Without question, this Duke duo is the anchor of the team. Humphreys and Giles-Harris are back to terrorized offenses last season, and it's been no different in 2018.
Humphreys was just named a semifinalist for the 2018 Campbell Trophy, which goes to players who exemplify excellence in athletics, academics and leadership (GoDuke.com). On the field, Humphreys already has 32 tackles, almost on pace for his second 100-tackle season in his career. Off the field, Humphreys excels in the classroom with a 3.25 GPA and two All-ACC Academic selections. He is also very involved in the community, as he is a recipient of the Ronald McDonald House Heart of Gold Award.
That Sounds like a bonafide leader for any football team.
His counterpart, Joe Giles-Harris, is coming off back-to-back 100-plus tackle, 4-plus sack seasons. Giles-Harris was a first team All-ACC selection at linebacker, and was picked to repeat those honors again this year by many sources. The redshirt junior has been a terror in the backfield as he had over 15 tackles for loss last season.
Although it's much easier said than done, Virginia Tech will have to do whatever it takes to keep these two linebackers on their heels, making it important to try to keep Duke's linebackers guessing with VT's playcalling.
5. A Lot to Prove
There are a lot of reasons to be excited if you are a Duke Football fan. While they may not pull McDonald's All-Americans like Mike Krzyzewski, the Duke football program has a lot of talent to boast about this season. David Cutcliffe has put together a team that is solid at almost every position.
In a year where the ACC has struggled, Duke has been an exception thus far and voters are starting to take notice; the Blue Devils are ranked No. 22 in the AP poll, and No. 23 in the Coaches' poll.
However, many are not convinced that Duke is ready to take the next step forward. It is worth noting that Duke also started last season 4-0, and then followed it up with a six-game losing streak. In addition, Duke has finished the season ranked only once since 1962.
Cutcliffe has done a terrific job removing the laughingstock label from Duke football. However, he has only one double-digit win season in his 10 years with Duke, which means the Blue Devils still have some work to do if they want to get national respect.
This is going to be a crucial game for Duke, especially if they want to be taken as a serious playoff contender. The Blue Devils have not started 5-0 since 1994, but a 5-0 start with wins over Northwestern and Virginia Tech would send a loud message to the college football world.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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