Priorities, Picks, & Power Players – Duke

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For each game this season, The Sabre will present a final peek at the week’s match-up with a new feature called Priorities, Picks, and Power Players. In the “Priorities” section, we take a look at the keys to a Virginia victory. In the “Picks” section, Sabre Editor Kris Wright and another Sabre representative make a case for who will win and give you a final score. In the “Power Players” section, The Sabre predicts who some of the key players could be for that Saturday’s showdown.

Take a look at Duke!

Priorities

1. No Turnovers. Duke’s defense is opportunistic and thrives on making big plays like turnovers. UVa’s offense isn’t consistent enough to survive a big turnover day either. Protect the football!

2. Match Points. Duke’s defense is ranked 71st nationally in scoring defense in allowing 25.0 points per game. Virginia’s offense should be able to score and it will need to because the Blue Devils likely will produce a few scoring plays Saturday. UVa has to match touchdowns with touchdowns and stop leaving points on the field.

3. Pack The Pressure. Blue Devil QB Thaddeus Lewis has been a model of efficiency this season, something especially true in ACC wins against N.C. State and Maryland. You can’t let him find a comfort zone because he’s too experienced for that. Bring a variety of blitzes and pressure Lewis into making quick decisions against different coverage looks. Duke isn’t allowing a lot of sacks so that’s not a key stat to watch, but hurries could be.

4. Run The Football! Virginia’s three wins featured a heavy dose of the running backs – gasp! – running the football. The four losses? Not so much. Al Groh has always said you have to run the football to win. Make it a priority this weekend.

Picks

KRIS ON THE BLUE DEVILS

The always hard to figure out ACC continues with a battle of division front-runners this week. Yep, Duke and Virginia are currently tied for second in the Coastal Division with 2-1 records. As strange as that sounds, that makes this a big game to wrap up October.

When it comes to making the picks for this article every week, I always look at match-ups as my guide. Who has an edge somewhere? Well, this week provides an interesting ‘game within the game’ so to speak. Duke’s passing offense is ranked No. 6 in the nation while UVa’s passing defense is ranked No. 5 in the nation. 322.6 average passing yards gained vs. 151.3 average passing yards allowed. Something’s gotta give!

So who do I think will win the mini-battle and, in turn, the game? I like Virginia’s experienced corners within the 3-4 base defense and the DB depth in the dime defense package. Three guys – Chris Cook , Ras-I Dowling and Chase Minnifield – all have shown strong cover skills. Dom Joseph is talented and playing well for the sub defense. Plus, Al Groh is a great defensive coordinator when it comes to mixing up coverages and blitzes.

In other words, I think the defense slows down Duke enough for Virginia to win.

UVa 21, Duke 17 – Kris Wright, Sabre Editor

PAUL ON THE BLUE DEVILS

When Duke rolled UVa by four touchdowns last season, it broke a 25-game ACC losing streak for the Devils, dating back to the 2004 season. Now, Duke has the chance to beat Virginia for the second year in a row. The last time the Blue Devils defeated an ACC team twice in a row? The Devils downed Wake Forest in 1998 (19-16) and in ’99 (48-35).

Turnovers are what killed the Hoos last year, and this year they will have to avoid them again – Duke has forced a turnover in five of its last seven games. The Virginia special teams will also have to show up, as the Blue Devils have recovered four fumbles on punts and blocked two kicks. Moreover, though, the Virginia offense – which netted fewer than 200 yards for the third time in 2008 against Georgia Tech – will have to wake up, while the defense will have to slow down a Duke passing game that is sixth in the country in passing yards.

Against a Georgia Tech offense that also focused on one dimension, though it was the run game, the Virginia defense struggled mightily at times, giving up 447 yards. The Cavalier run defense, though, has been suspect all season; UVa leads the ACC in pass defense, however, and it will slow down the Blue Devils this week. And, while the Virginia offense hasn’t exactly been dynamite the last two weeks, it has taken care of the ball – one turnover in each of two rainy games is certainly excusable.

Offensively, Virginia doesn’t turn the ball over and Mikell Simpson has a big day on some outside running, as Virginia renews its commitment to the run game after its tailbacks rushed just eight times last week. Defensively, the Cavalier front seven puts pressure on Thaddeus Lewis and their veteran secondary keeps him from making big plays downfield. Overall, Virginia plays with the emotion of a team that doesn’t want to be labeled as the conference squad that lost to Duke two years in a row for the first time in a decade.

UVa 27, Duke 17 – Paul Montana, Sabre intern

Power Players

Ras-I Dowling/Chris Cook . Pass-happy Duke ranks sixth nationally in passing offense and four receivers have 26 catches or more. In other words, UVa’s defensive backs will be tested. That makes Ras-I Dowling and Chris Cook , the every-down corners, important pieces to the puzzle this week.

Nate Collins . The Virginia senior captain has been a machine the last two weeks. UVa needs Nate Collins to be a tone-setter again this week on defense.

Offensive Linemen. Fans and others like Ty Lewis (a contributing analyst to the Best Seat in the House) are practically begging for Virginia to run the football. The Sabre agrees. But guess what? If you’re going to run the ball, the holes have to get bigger and better. That’s on the O-Line. Time to step up.

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