Thursday, November 4, 2010

game preview: Duke

Date/Time: November 6, 12:00


History against the Blue Devils: 32-29-0

Last matchup: Duke 28, UVA 17; 10/31/09

Last week: UVA 24 Miami 19; Duke 34, Navy 31

Line: UVA by 1

Opposing blogs: The ACC Roundtable has been looking for a Duke blog for the longest time. Lemme know if you got one hidden somewhere.

Uniform combo: Can you believe we've played eight games and only worn the white jerseys once? White/blue and white/white are the only ones we haven't seen; my bet's on white/white. London hasn't been clueing us in on his show lately.

Injury report:

WR Tim Smith
TE Joe Torchia


CB Ras-I Dowling
RB Raynard Horne
CB Chase Minnifield

RB Keith Payne

The media sees this as a battle between the ACC's two cellar-dwellers, and nothing more. That's where you get un-thought-out predictions like "well I guess the home team will win." The outside world won't be paying any attention, but you, the savvy Hoo fan, know better. Much is at stake, not least the opportunity to put behind us this notion that there are two Coastal cellar dwellers. That's a title that should stick with Duke and Duke alone.


- Do something about Duke's passing game. Sean Renfree may be a good quarterback in time, but not yet. His stats are a little bit shy of respectable - the Duke passing offense is prolific but inefficient. Renfree can be shut completely down; in fact, he tends to run hot and cold with little in between, and he's interception-prone even in his better games. But the main point is that Duke has no running game. At all. Even Wake Forest's hideous run defense held them to 129 yards and 4.4 per carry. That's their high point all season - even Elon held them to fewer YPC than that. It's very likely UVA's also-terrible run defense can manage to look good here, but the difference between Duke getting their ass kicked and Duke not getting their ass kicked (or even winning) is Renfree. Either get pressure on him, or - more likely - pick off his passes or cover his receivers, and the game gets light-years easier.

- Load up on the run when Brandon Connette comes in the game. Connette is a freshman quarterback that Duke occasionally uses to run a wildcat. It's a wrinkle they have and it can be used to good effect; I'm betting David Cutcliffe sees UVA's awful run defense and will try to exploit it with Connette, who rarely passes. Not letting him do that would take away a key wrinkle and force Renfree into pass-only mode.

- Run, run, run - then sling it deep. Duke's defense is like a bizarro pick-your-poison: whatever you do will probably work. With one exception, there's no reason to deviate greatly from the Miami game plan. Run the ball a lot, work in a couple confidence passes for Marc Verica. Once you've established the run - and you will, the front seven is awful and Duke allows 4.7 YPC - a couple deep heaves wouldn't be a bad idea. That's the one exception. Duke hasn't picked off a pass since the Alabama game in Week 3 - that was on the third play of the 2nd quarter and by then they were already down 28-3. They're very susceptible to the big play; opposing quarterbacks are completing passes at a relatively low percentage (because they're relatively bad quarterbacks) yet Duke still gives up almost nine yards per pass attempt, a galactically bad number. This is a good chance to loft a downfield pass and not, for once, have it settle into the hands of a defensive back. This plan of attack could turn a close game into a rout much the way the Eastern game went.


- You see that injury report? Having Dowling on there is no surprise, and the next iteration of the depth chart (coming out soon, I imagine) will list him as injured and Devin Wallace as the starter until further notice. We can probably handle this, despite Duke's depth of quality receivers, but it's questionable whether a defense without Dowling or Minnifield can shut down Duke's passing game. This is the #1 concern going in; it's the best way to let Renfree have a great game.

- Bog down into a field-goal battle. This would've been fine against Miami. It's how to lose against Duke. Duke's Will Snyderwine is one of the ACC's best kickers; I don't think we can rely on our field goal game to win it for us. Snyderwine has only missed one all year, a 47-yarder against Elon. His range might be a little short but he's very reliable. This is why I like the potential of big plays, which can at the very least get us into plus territory.


Probably well. I hope. If we have our cornerbacks. A healthy Minnifield and Dowling and I'd say no sweat: Duke can't run to take advantage of the defense's weak point and ours is one of the better defensive secondaries in the conference. It's a good matchup. If Mike Parker and Devin Wallace trot out to start the game, though, look out. Renfree will breathe a sigh of relief and then salivate.

The obvious good thing we have going for us is Duke's awful defense. That plus no UVA starting cornerbacks could mean a real shootout. Duke opened some eyes by beating Navy, and Renfree came in for some praise and some uh-oh-he-could-do-that-to-us-too. Look at it another way: Duke beat Navy by three and that required an out-of-this-world day from their quarterback; just a regular good day and they probably lose. Navy, like everyone else this season, shut down the Duke run game. Even if Renfree is having a good day against UVA he's terribly unlikely to replicate 28-for-30.

This is one team UVA can probably out-talent. Not by a huge margin. But I think, crazily biased though I obviously am, that Duke is clearly the worst team in the ACC this year and UVA should see some separation in the standings when the season's over. Enough to at a minimum make the writers rethink the notion that there are two Coastal bottom feeders. Ours is a season on the upswing; Duke's, I believe, is not. With any luck that's exactly how it plays out on Saturday.


Virginia Tech 28, Georgia Tech 21, and some of the Hokies rushed the field after beating an unranked team. Every "act-like-you've-been-there-before" criticism they leveled at Mike London for showing a little emotion after beating Miami just went out the window, James Madison-style.

Maryland @ Miami, 12:00
NC State @ Clemson, 12:00
Boston College @ Wake Forest, 3:30
North Carolina @ Florida State, 3:30


Anonymous said...

There are two cellar-dwellers in the ACC: they're Duke and Wake. And Wake is the worse of the two (despite the head-to-head result). The difference between the two is that whereas Duke's defense is awful, Wake's defense is god-awful.

Regardless, Virginia is in a different class (not saying we're great, just in a different class from Wake/Duke), so a loss or a close win here would be a disappointment.

Dave said...

Not exactly related to this post, but I wanted to share my recent calculation that the Hoos still have a chance to win the ACC this year. I know, I know: lots of people hate that kind of talk. But to be clear, I'm not suggesting it's even remotely likely: I just like to remain aware of what our best-case scenario is. And even when we don't win the conference, there's something rewarding about remaining in the hunt as long as possible.

Anyway. If I didn't screw it up, the following are the necessary(*) and sufficient conditions for UVA to win the division (we'd need all 10 of these to happen):

Nov 6:
UVa beats Duke
FSU beats UNC
MD beats Miami

Nov 13:
UVa beats MD
Miami beats GT
UNC beats VT

Nov 20:
UVa beats BC
NCSU beats UNC
Miami beats VT

Nov 27:
UVA beats VT

UVa, VT, and UM all end up 5-3, and we win the tiebreaker.

(*) There are some additional scenarios if Duke could upset GT or UNC, but I'm assuming that can't happen.

Encouragingly, each of these individual outcomes has a reasonable probability of occurring (UNC and UVA defeating VT are the biggest long shots). Discouragingly, even if each outcome were 50/50 (which they aren't), the odds of all ten occurring would be about 1 in 1000. Nevertheless: could happen!