Virginia takes aim at losing streak against Duke
Virginia can thank the ACC schedule-maker for a pair of motivating games to cap off a disappointing season.
The Cavaliers (3-7, 2-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) were eliminated from bowl contention last week, but center Ross Burbank said they will complete the season with home games against the two teams they most want to beat.
''Honestly, if there are two teams left on the schedule that we'd love to beat, it's Duke and Virginia Tech,'' Burbank said this week. ''It definitely adds a little bit of an edge to the end of the season, especially with us not being bowl-eligible. I think having those two games is definitely a motivator for us finishing out.''
The Blue Devils (6-4, 3-3) are in the midst of a three-game losing streak, and have lost badly the past two weeks. But coach David Cutcliffe's team has won three in a row against the Cavaliers, and six of the last seven.
The Blue Devils had a bit of a shake-up this week when Cutcliffe kicked three players off the team for failing to meet program standards. Though getting away from Durham could be the ideal way for them to get back on track. Duke has won 12 of its last 14 road games, including a 35-22 victory at Virginia two years ago after the Cavaliers took a 22-0 lead.
The Blue Devils are also bowl-eligible for the fourth consecutive season, a program first.
''I'm excited about the position we're in,'' Cutcliffe said this week. ''I'm excited to see what the response will be. These are times that growth occurs in a program. ... Nobody's panicking ... but we do know that it's a test, it's a test of your fortitude, it's a test of your ability to focus.''
Here are some other things to watch when Duke plays at Virginia:
PASSING FANCY: Virginia's Matt Johns is second in the ACC with 17 touchdown passes, but first in the league with 14 interceptions. In what looks like a close matchup, turnovers are often the decisive statistic.
WR SHAKE-UP: Two receivers - including a starter and his backup - were among three players kicked off the team this week for failing to meet program standards. WR Johnell Barnes ranked second on the team with 34 catches for 411 yards, while backup Terrence Alls - who had been suspended for the first six games - caught six balls for 56 yards. Expect bigger roles for WRs Anthony Nash, freshman T.J. Rahming and redshirt freshman Chris Taylor.
DEFENSELESS: A month ago, Duke had the nation's No. 4 overall defense, (252.8 yards allowed per game), its second-best pass defense (131.2 ypg), and the ACC's best scoring defense (9.3 pig). In its last four games - a stretch that includes a four-overtime win at Virginia Tech - the Blue Devils have given up averages of 42.5 points and nearly 500 yards. Now, they rank ninth in the league in total defense (351 ypg) and eighth in scoring defense (22.6 ppg).
QB PROTECTION: Whether Thomas Sirk returns at quarterback for the Blue Devils or Parker Boehme again gets the start, Duke does a good job of protecting him. The Blue Devils have allowed an average of 0.9 sacks per game, a mark that leads the ACC. Virginia has managed only 19 sacks this season.
MOTIVATION: Virginia leads the country with 13 graduate students on its roster. Being eliminated from bowl consideration last week was a blow, but plenty of motivation should come from closing their careers against Duke, which has won the last three meetings, and Virginia Tech, which has won the last 11.
AP sports writer Joedy McCreary contributed from Durham, North Carolina.