Last year, when this game rolled around, I joked that Duke didn’t belong on the same field as Virginia Tech.
And instead of a blowout, we got a 14-10 Virginia Tech victory, one the Blue Devils could’ve easily pulled out.
With that contest in mind, as well as the Hokies’ first six games this season, it seems like this could finally be the year Duke coach David Cutcliffe gets the better of Frank Beamer.
Duke is 5-1 so far this season, with its best victories coming over ACC foes Wake Forest and Virginia. Not the best wins in the world, but when you’re just one away from your first bowl game since 1995, you take it any way you can get it.
The Blue Devils will shoot for bowl eligibility on Saturday and I think they have a decent shot to make that happen. Here’s why I’m afraid of Duke:
In his third full year as the starter, Renfree has completed 72 percent of his passes for nearly 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns. He sat out last week’s game against Virginia due to elbow issues, but should be good to go for Saturday. If Tech wants to slow him down, it’ll have to not only defend the pass well, but also rattle him a little bit. One of the biggest issues facing the Hokies to this point has been their inability to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. If Renfree has time to throw, he’ll make you pay.
As of last week, Vernon is the ACC’s all-time leader in career receptions, with 239. By comparison, Tech’s all-time leading pass catchers — Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale — finished their tenures in Blacksburg with 184 and 165, respectively. Vernon is a threat to any secondary, and is easily Renfree’s favorite target. If he gets going on Saturday, watch out.
ROSS COCKRELL/WALT CANTY
The defensive back duo combined for 14 tackles in last year’s near-victory against the Hokies, and has been nothing but solid thus far this year. Cockrell has four interceptions, including a pick-six to go along with 13 passes defended — leading the ACC in every category. Canty, the safety you’ll see more in run support, has 53 tackles, good for fourth in the conference. Look for them to cause trouble all over the field on Saturday.
NOTHING TO LOSE
It’s cliche, but it’s so, so true. This team is on a roll right now, coming off back-to-back ACC victories (Duke hasn't even won two conference games since 2009). They’re one win away from bowl eligibility, and they’re playing a downtrodden, desperate Tech team. Duke hasn’t beaten the Hokies since it joined the conference in 2004 — don’t be surprised if Cutcliffe pulls out all the stops on Saturday in order to change that.
I seriously think that Duke might win on Saturday. But, there’s honestly no reason it should. Here’s why I’m not afraid of the Blue Devils:
Thomas — who has struggled at times this year — set career-highs on Saturday in completions (26), pass attempts (49) and yards (354). While Thomas can’t carry the offense completely on his back, he sure is making a valiant effort. The offense runs through him, and if he can’t have success, neither will the rest of the team. He needs to have a big day Saturday against a (I can’t believe I’m saying this) formidable Blue Devil defense.
Fuller also had a career day on Saturday, snagging five passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. He’s been the most consistent threat of Tech’s receivers to this point, and Thomas would be smart to look his way a little bit more this weekend. With the rest of the receiving corps struggling to make the big play, or even hang on to the ball in some cases, Fuller might have to be the key guy in this game for Thomas.