Inside Week 11: A closer look at Virginia vs. Duke

Players to watch Saturday, three keys to Virginia victory

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Junior running back Taquan Mizzell's 63 receptions this season leave him in select company: with two games to play, he is tied for fourth-most receptions by a tailback in a single season. 

Paul Burke | Cavalier Daily

The Virginia football team matches up with Duke this Saturday at Scott Stadium, with kickoff scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Here's a look at six of the top players suiting up for the game, followed by beat writer Matt Wurzburger's three keys to a Virginia victory.

Impact players

Virginia

Matt Johns: Johns put forward an excellent effort last Saturday against Louisville. The junior completed 25 of 41 pass attempts for 260 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. The contest against the Cardinals marked the first time the Chalfont, Pennsylvania native finished a game without an interception since the second game of the year against Notre Dame. The season has been tumultuous for Johns, who is third in the NCAA with 14 picks. However, Virginia’s signal caller does have 17 touchdowns and a solid 6.9 yards per attempt average.

Canaan Severin: Severin reeled in three touchdown passes against Louisville in an effort that garnered the senior ACC Receiver of the Week honors. The Marlborough, Massachusetts native currently sits on 50 receptions this season for 699 yards, seven touchdowns and 14 yards per reception — eclipsing the career highs he set last season in all four categories. Last season, Duke limited Severin to 11 yards on only two receptions.

Taquan Mizzell: 2015 continues to be the year of ‘Smoke.’ The junior tailback showcased his dual-threat ability in Virginia’s last game, gaining 89 yards as a receiver and rushing for 40 more. Last Saturday, the Virginia Beach native surpassed 1,000 career receiving yards and, in the process, became only the fifth Cavalier with more than 1,000 rushing and receiving yards to his name. Arguably, Mizzell has been far more potent as a receiver, as he is currently tied for the fourth-most receptions in a season by a tailback with 63, which is also the fifth-best single-season mark by any player in Virginia annals.

Duke

Thomas Sirk: Sirk is the engine that drives Duke’s offense. A dual-threat quarterback, Sirk leads the Blue Devils in both rushing and passing with 555 and 1,979 yards, respectively. The Macclenny, Florida native missed Duke’s last game, a 31-13 loss at the hands of Pittsburgh. The Blue Devils are currently in the midst of a three-game slide, which began with Miami’s miraculous win in Durham. If he does play, Sirk will enjoy a matchup against a Virginia defense that is dead last in pass-defense efficiency.

Shaquille Powell: Powell leads his team in all-purpose yards with 668. A senior tailback, Powell has rushed for 474 yards and netted another 194 as a receiver. The Las Vegas native also has three rushing touchdowns and two receiving touchdowns on the year.

David Cutcliffe: Duke’s coach is the poster child for coaches doing less with more. Cutcliffe took control at Duke in 2008, and has never had a recruiting class ranked higher than 51st, according to Rivals. In spite of this, Cutcliffe has guided the Blue Devils to three consecutive winning seasons, three straight bowls and has Duke postseason eligible in 2015.

Three keys to Virginia victory

Limit mental errors: Self-inflicted wounds have become Virginia’s calling card. This was true against Louisville — The Cavaliers conceded a go-ahead touchdown after muffing a punt, but crawled back to within a touchdown before seeing a recovered onside kick wiped out due to a penalty. Virginia must cease to be its own opponent on the gridiron.

Play with pride: At 3-7, the Cavaliers have locked up a fourth-consecutive losing season and will not go bowling. Still, Virginia will need to play with the mindset that something is on the line over the final two games of a disappointing 2015 campaign.

Tighten up the defense: Louisville gained 425 yards on Virginia’s defense, including a whopping 266 on the ground. While the Cavaliers dominated possession, the Cardinals did more in their limited time with the ball — averaging 2.3 more yards per play than Virginia.

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