Virginia linebacker Max Valles and his teammates don’t have fond memories of last season’s game against Duke. The Cavaliers built a 22-0 lead in the first half, then folded in an embarrassing 35-22 loss.
Virginia (4-2, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) hopes things will be different when it plays at Duke on Saturday. The Blue Devils (5-1, 1-1) have won five of the last meetings in the series, and in what has shaped up as a wide open Coastal Division race, one of these teams can come away with an upper hand.
The Cavaliers are the only team in the division still unbeaten in league play, and while they still have six games remaining, Valles said they have a much different mindset than they did a year ago.
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Reflecting on the loss to Duke highlights the big difference, he said.
”I feel like we didn’t fight last season like we would this season,” Valles said. ”Last season, we gave up in a lot of games because there was a lot of games they we should have won. I feel like what’s different about this team is we’ll fight to the end and not give up after something has gone wrong.”
The Cavaliers showed that attitude in their last game, Valles said. They took a 24-3 lead into the locker room at halftime, then saw Pittsburgh score a touchdown on its opening drive of the second half and have a first down at the Virginia 4 yard-line on its second possession before the defense stiffened.
”That was like our spark to get us back on our feet,” Valles said.
The stop led to the field goal for the Panthers, and while Pittsburgh did score another touchdown to produce a 24-19 final, it came with under 2 minutes to play, the outcome pretty much decided.
”That drive just shows how we’ve progressed as a defense this year and how we’re different from past years and how we’re more resilient,” junior defensive tackle David Dean said. ”I think that should definitely be a point where we look back in the future and see that we came a long way.”
The proof, though, will have to come again on Saturday.
Unlike Virginia, the Blue Devils have fond memories of the comeback. It came in a season that ended with them claiming the division title, playing for the ACC championship and going to a bowl game.
”Once we got the momentum, the momentum kind of stayed on our side,” recalled Blue Devils wide receiver Jamison Crowder, whose 6-yard touchdown catch 46 seconds before halftime sparked the comeback.
The second half was all downhill for Virginia, which was outscored 28-0.
”They’ve had our number in the past so this year we’re definitely trying to change it,” Dean said.
The loss to the Blue Devils, Dean said, along with one the previous week against Maryland, stand out among the nine straight Virginia absorbed to finish last season. The Cavaliers led the Terrapins 26-20 after a field goal midway through the fourth quarter, but the Terps answered and won, 27-26.
”Those were probably the two toughest for me personally just knowing you have a game (in your) grasp and just fall apart and give it away,” he said. ”It left a bad taste in all of our mouths.”
It’s a taste the Cavaliers hope to replace on Saturday.
AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary in Durham, North Carolina, contributed to this report.
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