The Virginia Cavaliers football team (4-2, 2-2) will take on the Duke Blue Devils (3-3, 0-2) on October 16th at 12:30 P.M. at Scott Stadium. The Hoos will return home after a two-week road stint that resulted in two conference wins. The Blue Devils have yet to win a conference game in the 2021 season. However, they should not be taken lightly by their conference foe, as this is a key game for the chase towards the Coastal Division crown.
The Cavaliers were outmatched early against ACC opponents. After starting 2-0 in their non-conference schedule, UVA looked like a prime candidate to take control over a division that has been a revolving door of champions; the last team to win the Coastal Division in back-to-back seasons were the Virginia Tech Hokies in 2010 and 2011. The Hoos were knocked off by the North Carolina Tar Heels and Wake Forest Demon Deacons in games that were decided by 20 points each. They were able to regain some momentum, with two tight wins against Miami and Louisville to bring their conference record back to .500.
UVA is led by quarterback Brennan Armstrong, who has continued to make improvements to his game. He currently sits first in the country in passing yards with 2,460 yards. He has been named ACC’s Quarterback of the Week three times and has thrown for over 400 yards in four games this season. Duke ranks second-to-last in passing yards allowed per game. If history repeats itself, this is set up to be another big day for Armstrong. It has been tough to stop the Cavalier passing offense because of the abundant receiving options. Against Louisville, Ra’Shaun Henry and Keytaon Thompson eclipsed the 100-yard mark. The Blue Devils will also have to plan against Dontayvion Wicks, Billy Kemp, and Jelani Woods, who have all surpassed 100 receiving yards in a game at least once this season.
Duke’s offense may not be as high-powered as the Hoos’, but they are not too shabby. The Blue Devils are led by workhorse running back Mataeo Durant, who is fourth in the nation in rushing yards with 788. In Duke’s four-point loss to Georgia Tech, Durant had 43 carries for 152 yards. If Duke can keep the game close, he will play a focal role in the ground game. UVA’s defense could be vulnerable in this game, as they rank dead-last in the ACC in rushing yards allowed per game. Despite this, the Cavaliers cannot put all of their attention towards stopping the run. Duke quarterback Gunnar Holmberg is 19th in the nation in passing yards with 1,616 yards. Jake Bobo and Jalon Calhoun are the leading receivers on the team with 522 and 428 yards, respectively.
The UVA defense will have to limit chunk plays if they want to secure the win. Against Louisville, they gave up a 92-yard touchdown pass, along with two rushes of 50+ yards. After falling behind against both North Carolina and Wake Forest games the Cavalier defense has done better in getting off the field, which has enabled the Hoos to stay competitive. Miami and Louisville went a combined 8-28 on 3rd downs, which shows the defense making strides in the right direction. They will have to find ways to contain Duke’s impact players to keep the game from becoming a shootout.
Each week is important as the next, but this game is crucial for these two teams’ seasons. For Duke, they need a conference win now, or they will have a mountain to climb to get back in the conference race. For Virginia, they are sitting in third place in the division behind Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh (both 1-0 in ACC play and will clash against each other on October 16th). A win would keep them on pace with these teams before their eventual matchups. There are still a lot of games left to go in the season, but a third loss in ACC play would be detrimental.