Team duels Blue Devils
Program looks to avenge three straight losses to Duke Saturday at home
A week ago, the Virginia football team had not won a November game, amassed 1,700 rushing yards in a season or become bowl eligible since the 2007 season. The Cavaliers snapped all three of these streaks last weekend at College Park and hope to break another streak tomorrow at home against Duke, a team Virginia has lost to for the past three years.
"It's written about, it's talked about, and so they understand that," coach Mike London said of the losses. "The third years have been here during those games, and so they know it's zero for three right now. It was the same issue that we had with Maryland and knowing the November deal ... The only thing you can do is play the game on Saturday."
Although Duke (3-6, 1-4 ACC) is the only remaining team on the Cavaliers' (6-3, 3-2 ACC) schedule with a losing record, the past three years make it clear that the Blue Devils cannot be overlooked. This year's Duke team has found particular success playing on the road, with a 2-1 record in away games, including a conference victory against Boston College. Junior quarterback Sean Renfree also averages 294.7 yards and boasts a 72.7 completion percentage and five-to-two touchdown-to-interception ratio on the road.
Virginia's rushing defense shone during strong performances against Georgia Tech and Miami, but Duke poses its deadliest threat through the air, and its passing offense ranks third in the ACC. The team owes much of that successful aerial attack to its coach, David Cutcliffe.
"[Cutcliffe makes] quarterbacks successful and find[s] ways to attack coverages," London said. "He does a great job of creating situations or throws - formations or run plays off play-action pass fakes - that complement each other. You look at some of the quarterbacks under his tutelage, and it's quite an impressive list."
The Duke passing game will test Virginia's defense, but the unit is also capable of handling it. The Cavaliers rank fourth in the ACC in passing defense, allowing on average just more than 200 yards per game. Duke also ranks second to last in the conference in turnover margin, while the Cavaliers come off a game in which they forced five turnovers, thanks in part to a strong Virginia secondary and a record-tying three interceptions from senior safety and ACC Defensive Back of the Week Rodney McLeod.
"I know that [defensive coordinator Jim] Reid and the defensive staff have instilled that aggressiveness, that kind of approach to how you play a game, how you compete against your opponent," London said. "You fear no one, but you respect them. That shows, and it shows when you have demonstrated performance playing against good teams like Georgia Tech [and] Miami. When you do those type of things, it shows that you're capable of playing really good defense."
The Cavaliers are also third in the ACC in total offense and look to exploit a Duke squad which is 11th in total defense. Duke ranks last in passing defense as well, while Virginia's sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco rides high after throwing for a career-best 307 yards against Maryland.
This Virginia team undoubtedly looks different than those seen in recent years, but right now, London and his players are not looking too far ahead into the future or getting lost in the past.
"We didn't want to let the past two or three years affect now," junior tailback Perry Jones said. "It's good that we are bowl eligible, but we are still trying to look for more wins. The bowl is secondary right now; our primary goal is to continue to get wins."
Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. at Scott Stadium.