Despite two touchdowns on the ground, both by Juwan Thompson, Duke’s ground game was abysmal. The Blue Devils gained only 34 yards on 29 attempts. Duke’s final touchdown drive required a fourth-down conversion after a long reception by Conner Vernon reception set up a first and goal from the three-yard line.
Donovan Varner had a career day, catching a 64-yard touchdown pass from Sean Renfree for his first touchdown receiving since the first game of last year and breaking Clarkston Hines’s career record for most receptions in Duke history. He also matched Scottie Montgomery’s record of 35 straight games with a reception. Renfree did an excellent job of looking for his receivers downfield, and his 55% completion rate easily could have been much better but for a couple drops by his receivers. His interception came on a short pass and turned into a momentum-shifting pick-six.
X’s & O’s:
Duke managed to rack up yards in the passing game, even employing play-action with moderate success despite the ineffectiveness of the ground attack. Renfree, aside from his interception, benefitted from a more aggressive aerial approach. Unfortunately, dropped passes and pressure from Virginia’s defensive front derailed Duke’s last attempts at a comeback.
Virginia employed a two-headed monster in the backfield, as talented backs Perry Jones and Kevin Parks ran for 74 and 78 yards respectively. The Blue Devils held their opponent to a respectable 3.9 yards per carry, but consistently solid gains allowed the Cavaliers to keep possession and rack up a two minute advantage in time of possession in the fourth quarter.
Duke wasn’t able to effectively pressure Michael Rocco, who consistently had time to look for downfield throws and averaged more than 12 yards per completion. The Blue Devils were fortunate that the Cavaliers’ signal-caller missed open receivers deep downfield on multiple occasions, or the damage could have been much worse.
X’s & O’s:
Duke was playing without linebacker Kelby Brown, one of the defense’s emotional leaders and its second-leading tackler heading into the game. While his absence undoubtedly hurt, Duke’s defense was still able to keep the score close for most of the game and forced Virginia into eight punts. The Cavaliers, however, were able to make just enough plays to keep the ball and secure the win.
Special Teams: D+
Will Snyderwine nightmare season continued on Saturday—he missed a 34-yard fourth quarter attempt that would have cut Virginia’s lead to only seven points and had a 25-yard attempt blocked in the first quarter. Alex King had a decent but unspectacular game, averaging 40 yards per punt with only one downed inside the 20. Conner Vernon’s fumble recovery on a muffed punt was Duke’s only forced turnover of the day and provided the unit’s lone bright spot.