Three-List Game Preview 2019: Virginia Returns Home For Critical Game With Duke

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Virginia is 4-2 overall.
De’Vante Cross and the Hoos are back at home where they’ve won three times this season. ~ Photo courtesy Matt Riley/Virginia Athletics Media Relations

The Virginia football team plays host to the Duke Blue Devils this weekend in a game with major ACC Coastal Division ramifications. Both teams come into the matchup with 4-2 records overall and 2-1 records in the conference.

While they share identical records, it does not feel as though their momentum line up. The Cavaliers bring a two-game losing streak into Saturday’s game following a pair of tough losses on the road to Notre Dame and Miami. Virginia fell to the Hurricanes 17-9 in a game where it just did not feel like the Hoos’ night. Not only did Virginia lose the game, but they also lost their leader and one of their most talented players in cornerback Bryce Hall to an ankle injury that has ended his season.

Duke on the other hand, coasted by Georgia Tech with ease to a 41-23 victory. Since losing the season opener to the nation’s No. 1 ranked team Alabama, the Blue Devils have won four of five games. The lone loss was a close 33-30 setback against Pitt.

Since taking over as head coach of the Cavaliers, Bronco Mendenhall has never lost to the Blue Devils. He holds a career 3-0 record against Duke with two of those wins coming by double digits. The Hoos have not lost to the Blue Devils since 2014. Virginia hopes that trend continues as it looks to snap the current losing streak.

The winner takes pole position in the logjam that is the ACC Coastal Division standings.

Essentials

Three Questions

1. Can the Hoos convert in the red zone?

Virginia did not struggle with marching down the field and getting inside of the Miami 25-yard line last week. The Hoos were actually able to do this on six different occasions. They did struggle, however, to finish off these drives. These six trips inside the Hurricane 25-yard line resulted in only nine total points for the Hoos on the night. Read more details on that in Greg’s Grades.

Including the second half of the Notre Dame game, Virginia has now failed to score a touchdown in six consecutive quarters. To come out victorious against the Blue Devils, that trend will have to change.

2. Can Virginia avoid costly turnovers?

One of Virginia’s visits to the Miami red zone mentioned above ended as a result of a fumble by Mike Hollins. Turnovers like this one have plagued the Hoos in their two losses this season. Against Notre Dame, the Cavaliers turned the ball over five times on offense.

Duke has forced nine turnovers on the year through three interceptions and six fumbles recovered. In the Devils’ marquee 45-10 win at Virginia Tech earlier this season, their defense forced and recovered a fumble deep in Hokie territory that sparked their big run. A costly Virginia turnover could greatly dictate or alter the direction of the game Saturday.

3. Will the home crowd be a factor?

The Hoos are currently undefeated when playing at Scott Stadium this year, boasting a 3-0 record at home. Attendance at these games is at an all-time high for the Bronco Mendenhall era. Through these three home games, the average attendance is nearly 10,000 more than the combined average from the previous three seasons.

The team has given the fans the nickname the “4th Side.” In numerous postgame press conferences this season, the players and coaching staff have talked about the tremendous impact the 4th Side has had in influencing their play and the play of the opposing team.

Playing a game in the friendly confines of David A. Harrison III Field and getting some juice from a raucous 4th Side could be exactly what the Cavaliers need to snap this two-game losing streak.

Three Opponents to Watch

1. Quentin Harris, Quarterback, #18

The 6’1”, 200-pound redshirt senior had big shoes to fill coming into the season as he was asked to replace the No. 6 overall pick in last year’s NFL Draft. While he has been solid through the air by completing over 63 percent of his passes for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns, Harris has made a name for himself on the ground. He leads the Blue Devils in rushing with 380 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Harris’ elusiveness could spell trouble for the Hoos as the defense relies on pressuring and sacking the quarterback. He has only been sacked six times on the season.

2. Victor Dimukeje, Defensive End, #51

The 6’2”, 265-pound junior has been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks this season. Dimukeje leads the team in sacks with five on the year. If he can take advantage of a Cavalier offensive line that has struggled mightily all season, Bryce Perkins and the Hoos could be in for a long day.

3. Jalon Calhoun, Wide Receiver, #5

The 5’11”, 185-pound true freshman has been an instant impact for this Blue Devil offense. Calhoun leads the team in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns with 27 catches for 254 yards and three touchdowns. With Virginia’s best defensive back in Bryce Hall not playing, look for Harris to target Calhoun early and often in Saturday’s matchup.

Three Hoos to Watch

1. De’Vante Cross, Defensive Back, #15

The 6’2”, 210-pound junior came to Charlottesville as a quarterback before eventually being converted to a safety. The Hoos are asking Cross to transition once again after losing cornerback Bryce Hall for the season to injury. Cross played some cornerback in the second half of the Miami game last week, and the Canes tried to pick on him. Duke likely will follow a similar game plan and look to attack Cross from the start. The Cavaliers are asking a lot of a former quarterback here, but they desperately need him to step up.

2. Wayne Taulapapa, Running Back, #21

The 5’9”, 210-pound sophomore has been relatively held in check by opposing defenses this season. Taulapapa has 210 rushing yards on 57 carries this year. Virginia has struggled to establish the run game all season long. Even after trying last week against Miami to get it going early, Taulapapa was held to only 27 yards on eight attempts. To beat the Blue Devils, the Hoos will need more production out of him and the running back group.

3. Brian Delaney, Kicker, #26

The 5’10”, 200-pound junior was a bright spot for the Cavaliers early on in the season. Overall, Delaney has been impressive from long distances as he is 3-4 on the year from 40+ yards with a 49-yarder. He has struggled a bit lately, though, with his season total moving to 10-14. Last week against Miami, he had a field goal blocked and had one bounce in off of the upright. In what is expected to be a close game against Duke, every point will be crucial. Any mistakes from Delaney or the field goal unit could be costly for Virginia.

Remember When …

The Hoos defeated the Blue Devils in 2015 in a 42-34 shootout at Scott Stadium. The Cavalier defense stood tall, forcing a turnover on downs from their own six-yard line with five seconds to play in the game.

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