BLACKSBURG, Va. — Focus on the game, and ignore the implications.
That’s the task for Duke and No. 16 Virginia Tech as the Hokies try to move one step closer to playing for the Coastal Division title and a berth in the conference title game, and the Blue Devils seek one more victory that would make them bowl-eligible for an unprecedented second straight season.
Such goals offer no time to look at the big picture, Duke tight end Braxton Deaver said.
“I think playing them, it’s going to take the utmost execution, the utmost importance for all of us to go in there and play as well as we can,” Deaver said. The Hokies have won 12 straight in the series. “The bowl berth and bowl eligibility will be huge, but at the same time it’s about beating them right now.”
The Hokies (6-1, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) are coming off a bye weeks that allowed bruises to heal, while Duke turned some heads last week, rallying from a 22-0 deficit to win 35-22 at Virginia.
“This is not the same Duke program that was here about four or five years ago,” Hokies coach Frank Beamer said. “These guys are playing well. I think offensively they’re the most efficient offense (Tech has faced) probably since Alabama really. They’ve got talent and they’re well-coached.
“Defensively, I think they play extremely hard, don’t make many mistakes.”
Beamer also noted that the Blue Devils average 36 points, but they haven’t played a defense like Virginia Tech’s. The Hokies ranked second nationally in total defense, allowing 256 yards per game.
“We are playing a team that sets the tone physically in the league,” Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe said. “They’ve set the tone for quite some time.”
The Hokies did against the Blue Devils last year when the teams also met at Lane Stadium. Duke stunned the crowd by jumping to a 20-0 lead before the Hokies collected themselves and won going away, 41-20.
Blue Devils left guard Dave Harding thinks this team is different.
“We really just have to play Duke offense. We can’t let Virginia Tech dictate what we need to do on offense,” he said, adding that handling the crowd noise is also a challenge. “As an offense, you have to go in there with kind of blinders on and execute the way we know we’re capable of executing.”
Here are five things to watch when Duke plays at Virginia Tech:
PROVE THEY BELONG: The Blue Devils are one victory from bowl eligibility, but the only victory against an ACC opponent came last week against a reeling Virginia team. Thinking you belong and proving it against the upper crust are two different things, and Duke will have to prove it today.
SEE TECH RUN: The Hokies have struggled to get their running game going, and as teams have stacked the box, daring QB Logan Thomas to throw, he has done it. Their receivers, disastrously bad in the opening loss to top-ranked Alabama, have made great strides since, but with their Nov. 9 visit to No. 7 Miami possibly deciding the Coast Division champion, a steady running game will help immeasurably.
CONTAIN CONNETTE: Duke backup QB Brandon Connette often comes into the game on third- or fourth-and-short situations, and often runs the ball. He converted two fourth-and-1s last week against Virginia, and when the Cavaliers cold out to stop him, he flipped a short pass that went for a 47-yard touchdown.
RUN AT YOUR OWN RISK: Anthony Boone is just the second QB in Duke history to win each of his first five career starts. He succeeds with accurate throwing and the ability to tuck the ball and run for key yards when available, while the Hokies’ D succeeds by not letting the happen, or with punishing stops.
CAROLINA DREAMING: Virginia Tech is 31-4 against teams from North Carolina — ACC and otherwise — since it joined the league in 2004, and a victory by Duke would be a huge upset. For all their progress, the Blue Devils haven’t beaten a ranked team since they dispatched No. 13 Virginia 28-25 on Nov. 5, 1994.