Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
Gameday is here as Virginia Tech looks to avenge last year's shocking loss to Duke and set up a major showdown with North Carolina by getting to 2-0 today. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils will be hungry to try to upset the Hokies once again and get their first win of this season after an 0-3 start.
With that said, here are our keys to the game for Virginia Tech against Duke.
Protect the Quarterback
Duke has a major issue with their pass defense as they are without their top two cornerbacks who both suffered injuries earlier this season, a serious matchup advantage for a Tech team with Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson leading the WR corps. Meanwhile, the biggest strength of Duke is with their pass rush headlined by Chris Rumph and Victor Dimukeje at defensive end.
Rumph is considered a potential first round pick in the 2021 NFL draft and though he's had a slow start to the season, he's a more than capable pass rusher. Meanwhile, Dimukeje is off to a fast start with 4.5 sacks and 3 games establishing himself as possibly the top Duke defensive end.
For the Hokies, they absolutely will want to try to find some big plays in the passing game and will need strong performances from their offensive tackles once again. Christian Darrisaw has shown he is a serious All-ACC First Team contender while Luke Tenuta was impressive in the Hokies' opener and even earned a spot on the Pro Football Focus National Team of the Week.
If Tech can give whoever is at QB (Hendon Hooker, Braxton Burmeister, or Quincy Patterson), the time to attack a depleted Duke secondary, then this one has a decent chance of being more than over before the fourth quarter.
Keep Chase Brice Uncomfortable
Duke's new quarterback Chase Brice has had his struggles to say the least this season with 6 interceptions in his first three games. While Brice and Duke showed promise against Notre Dame in their opener, the past two weeks have shown that Duke will likely be among the cellar dwellers if they can't turn things around soon.
Now the Blue Devils have only allowed 10 sacks so far, but it's clear that Brice doesn't have the best passing attack surrounding him and that getting lots of pressure on him can make a difference. That seems more clear given how his average yards per attempt is only 6.3, a sign that getting pressure quickly to Brice can make a difference and will be an important with a Duke offense that may try to check the ball down a lot for minimal gains.
Justus Reed showed last week that he has the potential to be that dominant pass rusher for the Hokies while other defensive linemen including Zion DeBose looked solid as well. In this game, expect Duke to try focus a lot on containing Reed and force DeBose, Emmanuel Belmar, and Tech's defensive tackles to pick up the slack. It also wouldn't be surprising to see Tech bring some blitzes with Rayshard Ashby and Chamarri Conner who have both proven to be solid pass rushers when called upon.
If the Hokies can keep Chase Brice uncomfortable, it will be a very long day for Duke.
Contain Noah Gray
Similar to N.C. State, Duke's wide receiver corps isn't the best but they do have a very talented, veteran tight end in Noah Gray. Gray currently leads Duke in both receptions (13) and receiving yards (152) while averaging 11.7 yards per reception and having one touchdown to date.
At 6'4'' and 240 pounds, Gray is a unique matchup challenge that can be a challenge whether it's with an undersized DB or a linebacker that doesn't have the speed. One player that Tech seems like to have on Gray a lot is Chamarri Conner who is one of the few bigger DBs in the ACC that can cover the best tight ends well both with his size and speed.
Of course, Tech may try to use Conner at times in coverage or on blitzes which would likely force Dax Hollifield or Rayshard Ashby into covering Gray. That matchup could be one that Duke looks to exploit given how both Ashby and Hollifield have had their struggles in the past in man coverage.
Gray is definitely the offensive x-factor for Duke and the Hokies will have to find a way to prevent him from making the major impact that the Blue Devils will likely be looking for from their senior tight end.