The Hokies are officially off to their worst start since 1992. Duke coming to town used to be good for what ails you, but the Blue Devils are 5-1 this year and have shown plenty of fight. For once, Frank Beamer won’t just be saying platitudes about Duke being good. It actually is.
Here is what’s going on with the Blue Devils …
** As I mentioned, Duke is actually good. At 5-1 overall and 2-0 in the ACC, the Blue Devils are off to their best start since 1994, when Fred Goldsmith guided them to the Hall of Fame Bowl. They went 8-5 that year and started 4-0 in the ACC before finishing 5-3. They haven’t been to a bowl game since.
Duke is on the right track under fifth-year coach David Cutcliffe. It has come close to bowl eligibility before, winning five games in 2009, a season in which it lost four straight to finish the year.
This year’s schedule is similarly backloaded. Duke has beaten Florida International (1-5), North Carolina Central (FCS), Memphis (1-4), Wake Forest (3-3) and Virginia (2-4), but got routed by Stanford 50-13 in Week 2. With a remaining schedule of Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Miami, we’ll find out if this start is fool’s gold.
Still, for now Duke is in the others receiving votes category of the Associated Press poll, getting its first vote in the poll since 1995.
** The Blue Devils can score, apparently no matter who is playing quarterback. Sean Renfree was hurt against Virginia with an elbow injury, giving Anthony Boone the start. Boone promptly threw for 212 yards and four touchdowns in Duke’s 42-17 win. The Blue Devils scored 28 unanswered points in the game.
If Renfree can play, he’s pretty good too. He’s completed 70 percent of his passes this year for 1,282 yards and nine touchdowns to five interceptions.
The quarterback matters, since Duke still primarily throws the ball. The Blue Devils are averaging only 126.0 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 95th nationally. But they are 30th in passing, with 288.67 yards per game.
Wide receiver Conner Vernon set the ACC record for career receptions against Virginia, hauling in his 233rd catch last week. He now has 239 career catches for 3,230 yards. That’s 287 yards shy of Florida State receiver Peter Warrick’s career ACC record of 3,517 receiving yards.
** Defensively, Duke has not been bad. The Blue Devils are 50th nationally in total defense (372.1 ypg), 36th in pass efficiency defense (115.28) and 45th in rushing defense (129.8 ypg).
Even the blowout loss to Stanford wasn’t lopsided in terms of yardage. The Cardinal scored 51 points, but they had 373 yards, which was actually less than Duke.
Safety Walt Canty is the team’s leading tackler with 53. He has 5.5 tackles for a loss. Cornerback Ross Cockrell has four of the team’s seven interceptions. Duke’s 4-2-5 scheme has plenty of play-making defensive backs.
Defensive end Kenny Anunike leads the team with 4.5 sacks to go with 5.5 tackles for a loss.
Amazingly, Duke has done this despite a ton of injuries. Top linebacker Kelby Brown (leg) hasn’t played this season. Safety Jordon Byas missed three games with a knee injury. Defensive end Justin Foxx has missed four games with a hand injury.
** The kicker hasn’t missed a lot. This is a minor note, but Virginia Tech won last year in part by Blue Devils kicker Will Snyderwine going 1-for-4 on field goals. This year’s kicker, Ross Martin, is 8-for-9 so far, having made his last seven attempts.
** The Blue Devils are trying to put an end to another streak. They snapped a 12-game losing streak to Wake Forest earlier this year. Now, they’ll try to halt an 11-game skid to Virginia Tech that dates back to 1982.
The Hokies have won nine of those games by double digits. They had close calls in 2008 (14-3) and last year (14-10). Tech has out-scored Duke 271-77 since joining the ACC, winning eight games by an average of 24.3 points per game.
** Perhaps this is why Vegas opened with Tech as 11-point favorites. That line seems extremely high considering the Hokies’ recent struggles, and has already been bet down to 10 or 9.5 at some places.