A bye week gave Virginia Tech a chance to let some bruises heal, do some self-scouting and try to get into a rhythm on both sides of the ball that was elusive in surprisingly close victories against Old Dominion and Furman.
Hokies coach Justin Fuente said the time to get it right is short with Duke coming to Lane Stadium on Friday night.
The Hokies (2-1, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) had been knocked from the rankings and lost their starting quarterback when they went to Durham, North Carolina to face the 22nd-ranked Blue Devils last season. Behind three touchdown passes from new starter Ryan Willis, Virginia Tech dispatched Duke easily, 31-14.
To have a chance at that kind of success again, Fuente’s team has been trying to shore up some trouble spots.
“We worked on quite a bit of good-on-good looks. We did quite a bit of drill work on special teams. Obviously, we worked on some third-down stuff on both sides of the ball and some early down run game on both sides of the ball,” Fuente said this week. “Those are some pretty big points of emphasis for us.”
Fuente is 3-0 against the Blue Devils (2-1, 0-0) since coming to Virginia Tech and hopes an electric atmosphere greets Duke.
“There’s nothing quite like playing at night in Lane Stadium,” he said.
The Blue Devils won their lower-rung games against North Carolina A&T and Middle Tennessee State handily, and defensive end Chris Rumph said even a 42-3 loss to No. 2 Alabama to open the season was a source of positive feelings. Duke trailed just 14-0 at halftime.
“Going against them, it gave us a lot of confidence that we can play with anybody,” he said.
Besides, Rumph and his teammates feel like they have a score to settle after the way last season’s matchup went.
“I think they outcompeted us for four quarters,” he said. “This year, we’re coming back for a vengeance. We’re not going to let them come out to the field and try to beat us the whole fourth quarter. That’s the main thing we’re trying to focus on, is finishing.”
Some other things to watch when Duke visits Virginia Tech:
One of the Hokies’ major issues has been turnovers. They have given the ball away nine times (four interceptions, five fumbles) through three games while taking it away just three times. That allowed lower level teams to stay in the game and might be the difference against a Power Five opponent.
Duke QB Quentin Harris has thrown four touchdown passes in consecutive games. He hit on his first 12 passes against Middle Tennessee State and finished 24 of 27 for 237 yards, giving him a passer rating of 211.5 for that game.
A Bud Foster-led defense has always emphasized stopping the run and then feasting on the need to pass, but stopping the run has been an issue this far. Teams are averaging 174 yards on the ground against the Hokies, and Duke will arrive averaging 181 yards led by Harris. The dual threat averages 6 yards per carry.
Cutcliffe expects running back Brittain Brown to play after he missed the Middle Tennessee State victory with a shoulder injury. Brown entered the season expecting to team with Deon Jackson and provide a one-two punch at running back. WR Jake Bobo, who has been sidelined since the preseason with a broken collar bone, is expected to play and is listed as a co-starter with freshman Jalon Calhoun.
The Hokies have missed top receiver Damon Hazleton, sidelined since the start of the season with a balky hamstring. Fuente thought he might be ready to go two weeks ago, but he wasn’t, and said this week the receiver is technically listed as day-to-day but he even said he wasn’t sure what that means.
By HANK KURZ Jr. AP Sports Writer