Winless Blue Devils hoping to turn it around against Virginia
Published 12:00 am Friday, September 25, 2020
By Hank Kurz Jr.
AP Sports Writer
Virginia is finally set to open its season after three scheduled openers were scrapped because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall said the Cavaliers are ready.
“We’re anxious to play football,” Mendenhall said this week, noting that by his calculations, his team has been back on campus for 12 weeks. The coach said the game against Duke (0-2, 0-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) will be “a reward for all their hard work,” not only in practice, but in how they have managed the virus.
The Cavaliers have had no positive test results.
Facing a team that has already played twice could be viewed as a disadvantage, Mendenhall said, because the Blue Devils’ games have ostensibly allowed them to fine-tune some early season kinks.
But Virginia wide receiver Terrell Jana believes the Cavaliers have an edge, too. They are going with lefthander Brennen Armstrong at quarterback, and he played sparingly the past two seasons as the understudy to Bryce Perkins, leaving Duke without much film to study.
“All this time before our first game has been time to get more catches, more reps, more rhythm, to be in touch more, I think, as a team and just for all the quarterbacks to get more reps with all the receivers,” Jana said.
The Blue Devils have struggled thus far, losing 27-13 at No. 7 Notre Dame and 26-6 at home against Boston College, a game in which they turned the ball over five times.
It’s only the second time in David Cutcliffe’s 13 years at Duke that the Blue Devils have lost their first two games.
“Do we need consistency? Absolutely,” Cutcliffe said. “Do we need a little bit more hunger? Absolutely. … We will attack the problem. We’ve never run away from any issues since we’ve been here, and we’re certainly not running away from this one.”
Some other things to watch when Duke visits Virginia:
Armstrong won a battle for the starting quarterback job with Mississippi State transfer Keytaon Thompson, once one of the nation’s most highly regarded dual-threat prospects. The redshirt sophomore completed 15 of 20 passes last season with one touchdown and two interceptions and ran for 74 yards on nine carries.
The Blue Devils could give Armstrong trouble as they have gotten strong production from their defensive front in two games. Duke ranks eighth nationally by averaging 4.5 sacks in two games, including six against Boston College.
Virginia is thin at running back, but Wayne Taulapapa, last year’s starter, is back. He ran for 473 yards, but also 12 touchdowns, last year. His best game came against the Blue Devils when he gained 77 yards and scored twice.
Duke lost three fumbles and had two interceptions thrown by Chase Brice. Two turnovers came with the Blue Devils inside the Eagles’ 5-yard line.