Virginia (2-3) at Duke (4-1)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 6, 3:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Wallace Wade Stadium (33,941) -- Durham, North Carolina. Television: RSN. Home Record: Virginia 2-1, Duke 3-0 Away Record: Virginia 0-2, Duke 1-1. Neutral Record: Virginia 0-0, Duke 0-0. Conference Record: Virginia 0-1, Duke 1-0. Series Record: Virginia leads 33-30
GAME NOTES: The Virginia Cavaliers will try to get back to .500 as they face off with the Duke Blue Devils, who are looking to get to the five-win mark for the first time since 2009, as the two schools meet in ACC action at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Virginia got off to a good start this season with consecutive wins at home to begin the campaign. Since then the Cavaliers have struggled with two road losses followed up by a 44-38 loss to Louisiana Tech in Charlottesville. One of those road losses was in conference play, putting Virginia in a hole to begin conference play that it will want to get out of against Duke.
After a 34-27 win over Wake Forest last weekend, Duke is 4-1 overall and 1-0 early on in ACC action. The team's overall mark is the best five-game start to a season for the Blue Devils since 1994. It is also the first season since 2009 that Duke has managed to have at least four wins in a season, something the Blue Devils had accomplished only five times in the last 20 years.
Duke owns the all-time series lead against Virginia although by a slim 33-30 edge. Virginia pulled out a win in last season's meeting, 31-21, snapping a three-game winning streak by Duke.
The 38 points that Virginia scored against Louisiana Tech were a season-high against FBS competition and came on the heels of a season-low seven-point effort in a loss to TCU. Virginia is the third worst scoring team in the ACC this season, posting an even 25 points per game, while averaging 423.0 yards of total offense.
It seems as if head coach Mike London finally got fed up with the performance of starting quarterback Michael Rocco in the loss to Louisiana Tech. Rocco completed 14-of-23 passes for 278 yards and two scores, but also threw three costly interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
So late in the third quarter, with Virginia down 41-24, London brought in backup Phillip Sims, who completed 10-of-17 pass attempts for 166 yards and two scores while bringing the Cavaliers to within a touchdown. Despite that effort, London has still been quiet about who will start against Duke but it's likely that Sims will be given even more consideration considering Rocco's performance. Rocco has started each of the team's five games but has thrown eight interceptions to just six touchdowns, while completing 60.3 percent of his passes..
Perry Jones was electric in the loss to Louisiana Tech, rushing for 82 yards, adding 100 yards receiving, while also throwing for a touchdown. Jones is currently second on the team in all-purpose yards behind Khalek Shepherd, who has averaged 130.4 all-purpose yards per game between rushing, receiving and returns duties. Darius Jennings (21 receptions, 319 yards, TD) is a great weapon for whoever will be under center as well.
Virginia is allowing a generous 402.6 yards per game, while letting foes score at a 32.4 ppg rate, third worst mark in the conference.
On an individual level Steve Greer has been the squad's leader in most categories with 45 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. Demetrious Nicholson, Ausar Walcott and LaRoy Reynolds have been strong in the secondary with the three combining for 13 pass breakups, led by Nicholson's seven.
Duke has been a much more consistent offense this season averaging a healthy 37 points and 418 yards per game. There isn't much run game to speak of with the team's 574 total rushing yards good for just 10th in the ACC. However the Blue Devils have made up for that with the fourth best passing attack in the conference (1,524 yards). The team's effective scoring has largely been due to its ability to get into and convert in the red zone, with an 85 percent success rate (22-of-26).
A trio of talented receivers have ensured that quarterback Sean Renfree constantly has targets open. Conner Vernon is the first of those receivers with a team-high 462 yards receiving and 34 receptions which is tied for the team lead with Jamison Crowder. Desmond Scott (33 receptions, 328 yards) has also been a constant nuisance to opposing secondaries. Vernon is tied for the ACC record with 232 career receptions.
Renfree has reaped the rewards of the talented receiving corps, throwing for 1,282 yards and nine scores, while completing 72 percent of his pass attempts. Renfree has had a bit of an issue with turnovers though throwing five interceptions already this season.
While the offense has been successful in the red zone, the defense has been bad, allowing teams to convert on 84 percent of their red zone trips. Still in terms of total defense Duke has actually been a solid unit ranking fourth in the ACC in the category by allowing 354.4 yards per game. Part of that success has come from the Blue Devils' ability to capitalize on mistakes, as they have racked up 10 turnovers this season.
Walt Canty is the team's leader with 39 tackles this season, while Dezmond Johnson (4.5 TFL) and Kenny Anunike (4.0 TFL, 3,5 sacks) have been burdens to opposing offenses due to their disruptive play in the backfield.
Duke fans can be cautiously optimistic after the team has begun the season so well, but a look at the teams they have earned wins against is less than encouraging. Still at 4-1 the Blue Devils, led by their dangerous passing attack, will be a tougher out than in the past.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Duke 24, Virginia 23
10/03 10:40:16 ET