Virginia versus Duke — a breakdown

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Sophomore inside linebacker Jordan Mack will have to team up with senior linebacker Micah Kiser Saturday to shut down Duke's rushing attack. 

Mariana Fraser | Cavalier Daily

Coming off of a bye week with a 3-1 record and a 42-23 beatdown of Boise State on the road, Virginia is looking to continue its strong start to the season. With Duke coming into town with a 4-1 record this weekend for Virginia’s ACC opener, it is sure to be an exciting matchup between the two rivals. Both teams are sporting winning records and it will be interesting to see which team can gain an edge. This week, the CD Sports staff takes a look at some players and keys to watch out for this Saturday. 

Players to Watch

Inside linebackers senior Micah Kiser and sophomore Jordan Mack 

Duke relies heavily on its versatile run game to keep its offense in sync. Specifically, the team runs a zone read attack that features many runs up the middle from its bruising backs — senior Shaun Wilson and redshirt freshman Brittain Brown lead the team with 430 and 386 yards, respectively. The Blue Devils also like to run read options on the outside, and sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones often keeps the ball — he has good mobility himself with 274 rushing yards on the year. 

Kiser and Mack will need to be vigilant so they can see through Duke’s deception and stuff the run on the inside and out. Miami routed Duke 31-6 last week by locking down Wilson and Brown fairly well, forcing Jones to throw the ball into the Miami secondary’s tight coverage on many drives. The Virginia linebackers have not been as strong against mobile quarterbacks, though in general they have played the run very well. If Kiser and Mack can learn to anticipate Duke’s rushing attack as the game goes on and make plays accordingly, the Blue Devils will once again struggle to score points. 

Senior wide receiver Andre Levrone 

After two mediocre performances to start the season, Levrone has been on fire in Virginia’s last two games. Against Connecticut, he accumulated 127 yards and a touchdown on four receptions. In Virginia’s upset over Boise State, he added 141 yards and two touchdowns on five receptions. He has emerged as a reliable passing target for senior quarterback Kurt Benkert not only when the offense is driving down the field, but also in the redzone, as evident with his four touchdowns a third of the way into the season. After Virginia struggled with the deep ball in their first two games of the season, Levrone has been a huge catalyst for a more balanced offense the last two games, which has seen Virginia’s deep ball offense electrified. Levrone has led the way, recording 73 and 64 yard receptions in their last two games, respectively. Both receptions went for touchdowns. It will be interesting to see if Levrone can continue to be a deep threat and touchdown machine against Duke this weekend in Virginia’s ACC opener. 

Keys to the Game

Taking care of the ball

The Virginia offense has done a great job of limiting turnovers this year — Benkert has only thrown one interception and the team has recovered all of its fumbles. However, the Cavaliers have yet to face a ball-hawking defense like that of Duke. The Blue Devils rank tied for fourth in the FBS with eight passes intercepted and have returned three for a touchdown. Duke senior cornerback Bryon Fields Jr. has picked off three passes to lead the team, while fellow starting cornerback Mark Gilbert has intercepted two. 

Although Benkert has done exceptionally well with taking care of the ball this year, he has gotten lucky with some mistakes. Against a Duke front seven that only allows 80 rushing yards per game, he will have to make some plays through the air to move downfield, but he must exercise great care against the opportunistic secondary. Furthermore, the entire Cavalier offense will have to play mistake-free football to put up points against a formidable Blue Devils defense. 

Trap Game

Virginia has a lot of things going in its favor right now. With a strong 3-1 start and a recent upset victory over Boise State — in which they dominated — there was a lot to feel good about heading into the bye week. For a team that hasn’t had much success in recent years, this weekend’s game against Duke can serve as a prime example of a trap game — one in which Virginia comes out of the gates slowly and suffers a letdown. With the Cavaliers facing expectations to reach a bowl game for the first time in a while, they will have to focus in on their game against Duke and continue to play the way they have been playing the last couple of weeks. It will be interesting to see if the bye week set Virginia up for a trap game or if they will be able to carry the momentum they’ve been gaining into this weekend and pull out a win. 

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