After a shocking loss at Old Dominion, Virginia Tech enters what will likely be their toughest two-game stretch of the season with a road game at #22 Duke followed by a potential Primetime showdown with currently undefeated, top 10 Notre Dame. After last week's loss at ODU, there will be no overlooking the ACC Coastal's only unbeaten team in the overall record column.
While Virginia Tech is looking to get their season back on track after a major veer off course, Duke is looking to prove that it is more than deserving of being a top 20 team and being considered a top contender to win a Coastal that already seems likely to be a three-way battle between the Hokies, Blue Devils, and Miami.
With that said, here are our keys to the game for Virginia Tech against #22 Duke.
Establish the Run
If there was one thing that Virginia Tech did well last week, it was their rushing attack with both Steven Peoples and Deshawn McClease having some big runs and consistently gaining solid yards (though Peoples 87-yard TD inflated his rushing efficiency some).
With a new quarterback and some inexperience at cornerback for Duke, the Hokies need to establish their running game early to take some of the pressure off Ryan Willis. In addition, Duke will likely look to try to provide their cornerbacks some extra help against a guy like Damon Hazelton especially with the Blue Devils not having starting CB Mark Gilbert after he suffered a season-ending injury earlier this season.
The combination of Deshawn McClease and Steven Peoples has been successful so far with both running backs being able to provide some big plays. McClease has been the more consistent back at getting the 5-7 yard gains while both backs have been more than capable of gaining an extra yard or two that the Hokies have struggled to get during the first two years of the Justin Fuente era.
If the Hokies struggle on the ground, it'll allow Duke to readjust defensively and make life difficult for the Hokies' new starting QB Ryan Willis, something that Brad Cornelsen would likely prefer to avoid in Willis' first start with the Hokies.
Contain the QB
Virginia Tech's struggles with mobile quarterbacks over the past few years is something that has been well-documented, but comes up as a greater concern this time given VT's youth all over their defense especially at linebacker.
Part of what the Hokies will need to is make sure they contain Daniel Jones in the pocket. The Hokies have seen Jones cause plenty of damage on the ground against them previously with 17 carries for 65 yards last year. and 99 yards and 2 TDs in Duke's near upset of VT in 2016 in Durham.
Now, Daniel Jones' improbable return from injury may also mean that he is limited as a runner, but the fact that Duke has cleared him to play is a sign that he is more than capable of making some plays with his legs
With Bud Foster likely to try to give his young cornerbacks plenty of help over the top especially after last week's struggles, it will be critical for two things to happen. First, the Hokies will need their defensive ends to keep contain in collapsing the pocket and keeping Jones from having any room to escape. Second, the Hokies' linebackers will have to keep an eye on Jones and be ready to switch out of coverage to playing downhill football in trying to get Jones down.
If the Hokies can limit Jones' ability to scramble, it'll give the Hokies a better chance to slow down Duke's passing game by allowing their safeties to focus more on giving VT's young cornerbacks some extra help.
Play Disciplined Football
Virginia Tech has done well in general during the Justin Fuente era at limiting the number of penalties, but last week's performance was an absolute disaster with the Hokies having almost 100 penalty yards including four unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
This week, the Hokies will have to do better at maintaining their discipline after what has likely been a highly-charged week at practice after the disappointing loss. Younger players are usually more vulnerable to losing control of their emotions, but the veteran leadership for VT will have to step up and take charge to keep emotions in control.
If the Hokies have a repeat performance of last week against Duke, VT will have their first two-loss September of the Justin Fuente era. If they can clean up the mistakes, they can regain their hidden yardage advantage that has been a under-the-radar reason for the success of Justin Fuente's Virginia Tech teams.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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