Duke-Virginia Tech Preview
(AP) – For No. 23 Duke, the parallels to its record-setting 2013 season are starting to add up.
That run to an improbable Coastal Division championship really picked up steam with a win over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg – and these Blue Devils (5-1, 2-0 ACC) face the Hokies (3-4, 1-2) on Saturday.
Linebacker Dwayne Norman said Tuesday that ”the defense and the team as a whole are playing pretty well, and everything is going right for us to hopefully repeat (that year) and go back to the ACC championship.”
That Duke team bounced back from a pair of early losses and got rolling with a late eight-game winning streak that catapulted the Blue Devils into the national rankings and into first place in the Coastal.
This year’s team has lost once – a no-shame defeat at home to then-No. 23 Northwestern on Sept. 19 – and has won three straight entering its first visit to Lane Stadium since that 13-10 win two years ago turned some outside skeptics into believers.
”They’re a different Duke than when I first came here or since we got in the ACC, what we’re used to playing,” Tech coach Frank Beamer said. ”I’ve got great respect for what they’ve done down there, and they’re good.”
That last trip to Virginia Tech marked the first start for then-freshman defensive back DeVon Edwards.
Now a junior, he’s one of the key members of a Duke defense that ranks third in the ACC overall, allowing 252.8 total yards per game, and second nationally against the pass, giving up 131.2. The Blue Devils allow an ACC-best 9.3 points per game.
”That sort of kicked off our journey as the back end of the Duke defense,” Edwards said of a unit that also includes juniors Deondre Singleton and Breon Borders.
”It’s kind of like, we’ve got to go out there and do even better than we did in the past,” he said. ”We won that game, but there were some things that we didn’t do right, we just got away with because of our athletic ability.”
Duke’s defense will face Michael Brewer this week after he was once again named Virginia Tech’s starting quarterback.
Brewer played in relief of struggling Brenden Motley in a 30-20 loss at Miami last Saturday. It was his first action since he broke his left collarbone in a season-opening loss to No. 1 Ohio State.
Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said the time is right to make the change.
”Over the last couple of weeks, he was able to obtain some practice reps and try to get the glitches out of his shoulder injury,” Loeffler said. ”And I think in the time he’s been gone, Motley’s done an excellent job. He stumbled Saturday and it’s just the right time for Virginia Tech to have Michael as our quarterback.
Brewer started all 13 games last season, going 12 of 23 for 138 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a 17-16 win at Duke in November.
Duke cracked the national polls during its week off last week, and this marks the first time since 1952-57 that the Blue Devils appeared in the rankings in three straight years.
Coach David Cutcliffe said the ranking is something ”you look at (the players) and tell them you’ve earned” it, but called it ”meaningless at this point.
”You’ve earned it to this point – if they want to pat themselves on the back for 3 seconds, do that, but that’s about the end of the value,” he said. ”You’ve got to keep battling your way in it, and then you’ve got to battle to be a factor in the end when the dust settles. … To do it again is a huge challenge but it’s also a huge opportunity.”
The Blue Devils know it’s way too soon to think about another berth in the ACC title game – games at surging North Carolina and against No. 25 Pittsburgh loom next month.
”We still have six more games to go,” Edwards said. ”I believe we can do better than we did (in 2013) because there was some stuff we left on the table. … We try to go and make it better than it was in the past, keep improving our program to take the next step.”