After four non-conference matchups that have presented mixed results in the beginning of the Mendenhall era, the Virginia football team travels to ACC-rival Duke this Saturday to open up the conference schedule.
However, the Blue Devils (2-2, 0-1 ACC) are an interesting team this season. So far Duke has had a roller coaster season, picking up a loss against Northwestern in Illinois, and getting upset by in-state rival Wake Forest at home.
The Blue Devils are coming off an upset victory at Notre Dame, where they edged past the Fighting Irish by a score of 38-35. Quarterback Daniel Jones, who is averaging 297.5 yards of offense per game, highlights Duke’s team along with sophomore wide receiver T.J. Rahming, who has 26 receptions for 238 yards. However, the Blue Devils lost their star safety, DeVon Edwards to a knee injury in their game against Notre Dame last week. Duke has a big void to fill, as the senior is a team captain, all-ACC defensive back, and All-American kickoff returner.
The Blue Devils are Virginia’s oldest opponent, as the two schools have played each other since 1890. While Virginia leads the series by the slightest of margins, 34-33, Duke has beaten the Cavaliers six times in coach David Cutcliffe’s eight seasons with Duke.
While Virginia showed several improvements in its win against Central Michigan last week, the Cavaliers will need to focus on pulling together a full four quarters. Virginia had a lead of 28-0 before the Chippewas prevented the Cavaliers from scoring at all in the third quarter and tied the game up at 28-28. It took a strong showing in the fourth quarter in order for Virginia to outlast Central Michigan by a score of 49-35.
The Cavaliers will look to junior quarterback Kurt Benkert to lead the team after the ECU transfer had a career game last Saturday – tallying five touchdowns and 421 yards to break Virginia’s single-game passing record. Offensive coordinator Robert Anae has to be proud of the Cavalier offense’s improvement last week. Virginia saw large contributions from running backs Albert Reid and Taquan Mizzell, combining for four touchdowns, and wide receivers Olamide Zaccheaus and Keeon Johnson, combining for three.
The defense displayed some of its strengths as well. Redshirt freshman corner back Kareem Gibson intercepted the Chippewas in the fourth quarter to halt Central Michigan momentum and allow the Cavaliers to extend their lead with another touchdown. Junior safety Quin Blanding led the team with 12 tackles en route to Virginia’s first win.
This Saturday, the Cavaliers will try to spoil Duke’s homecoming game and earn a key ACC win in the process. Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m. at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, N.C.