Friday’s Final Thoughts: Duke

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The Friday's Final Thoughts series looks at Virginia football to end the week.
Will Taquan Mizzell and the Hoos have more to celebrate this week? ~ Kris Wright

As Friday’s Final Thoughts roll along for another Virginia football game, it’s impossible to avoid the road thing. You know, the Hoos haven’t won on the road since 2012 thing. The 17-game losing streak on the road thing.

When UVA takes the field at Duke on Saturday, it will have been 1,428 days since the Hoos last won on the road. That 33-6 victory came at NC State on Nov. 3, 2012. But Virginia fans know that. Virginia players know that. Many of the coaches probably don’t (Bronco Mendenhall had to be told how many games had past during the streak before Monday’s press conference) since they’re new to this whole thing.

Let’s look at it from a different angle then. Have the Hoos been close during the streak? The average margin of defeat checks in at roughly 11.5 points per game. That’s not particularly close and the gross numbers show that too. Virginia has been outscored 510-315 in those 17 games, a 195-point spread. Yuck.

Truthfully, the Hoos have been close more than half the time because nine losses have been by 8 points or less with five losses by less than a touchdown. The average margin of defeat in those nine games: 5.1. The other eight losses really skew the overall numbers because some of those have been U-G-L-Y with only two checking in under two touchdowns. The average margin of defeat in those eight games: 18.6.

Let’s quickly get back to the better side of the numbers and the nine close losses. The silver lining good news of the streak is that six of the last nine road games (and six of the nine close losses) have come recently. Virginia’s disappointing loss at UConn two weeks ago came by a 13-10 score. Three of the final four road losses of 2015 checked in as close losses too.

So does any of that mean a breakthrough on the road is near? Maybe. Maybe not. Mendenhall was concise with his thought on the matter: “I don’t think it’s going to take anything different than what winning any normal game on the road.” In other words, the streak means little when it comes to trying to win road games.

More Final Thoughts

The Sabre panel picks are in and four of the five pickers think the road streak ends this week. The lone dissenter is meteorologist BadgerHoo. The average score from the panel: Virginia 31.2, Duke 28.2. Read it here.

Both Kurt Benkert and Doni Dowling have been noted for toughing out shoulder injuries of some sort … but neither are listed on the injury report. Much like public depth charts, injury reports should be viewed as a snapshot posted on Instagram with a filter. I.E. – the picture may not look exactly like that.

With that said, the “out” line is important for both teams this week. UVA does not have Myles Robinson or Tim Harris (out for the season), who both had started at least once at corner this season. Duke does not have Jela Duncan (leading rusher) or safety DeVon Edwards (senior captain and big special teams contributor, out for the season) available.

Speaking of Edwards, he reportedly tore his ACL and MCL on the first kickoff return at Notre Dame last week. Edwards, a redshirt senior, saw his college career end in that moment. Considering he’s a safety, it’s hard for a Virginia fan not to think of Anthony Poindexter. Edwards finished his Duke career with 327 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, 5 interceptions, 6 caused fumbles, and 21 pass breakups. Poindexter finished his UVA career with 342 tackles, 12 interceptions, and 7 fumble recoveries among his stats. Here’s wishing Edwards a strong recovery.

Hmm, unbalanced? Virginia has opened ACC play on the road in eight of the last 11 seasons.

Taquan Mizzell, who owns a 37-game streak with at least one reception, likely will take over the No. 2 spot on the program’s all-time receptions list this week. He needs one reception to tie Kris Burd’s 162 career grabs. Billy McMullen remains a distant first with 210 career catches.

Another guy threatening the record book is punt Nick Conte. His current career average of 44.5 yards per punt ranks No. 1 all-time at UVA, but his career number is continually changing since he is still active. The record holder is Russ Henderson, who finished with a 43.3 yards per punt average.

Speaking of punting, fans may not see many returns Saturday. Conte has allowed one return in four games (3 yards), while Duke’s Austin Parker has yielded only seven returns (57 yards).

Cuttober? For UVA fans that used to call the upcoming month of October Grohtober during Al Groh’s tenure, check out this stat. Duke is 8-1 in October over the last three seasons under David Cutcliffe.

Virginia allowed zero plays for lost yardage (sacks or tackles for loss) last week for the first time since 1996.

Kurt Benkert has thrown for more yards in his first four starts than any quarterback in Virginia history. Benkert’s 1,119 yards surpassed Matt Blundin (917), Matt Johns (883), Mike Groh (843), and Symmion Willis (828) in the top five. If the new up-tempo, heavy-passing scheme now in town remains here for a while, that top five could change frequently. Benkert already has attempted 158 passes this season. That’s 39.5 pass attempts per game.

Virginia made it through four games allowing 22.7 yards per kickoff return. There have been a couple of near breakdowns in coverage, though. That included a 43-yard return by Oregon’s Charles Nelson and a 34-yard return last week by Central Michigan’s Jonathan Ward. It’s worth noting because Duke’s Shaun Wilson made a huge play in the win at Notre Dame last week with a 96-yard kickoff return for touchdown.

This week’s hero video from Virginia Sports TV …

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