Blacksburg, VA (SportsNetwork.com) - The 16th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies get back to work following a bye week, as they welcome the Duke Blue Devils to Blacksburg for ACC action from Lane Stadium this weekend.
Frank Beamer's squad was humbled in the season-opener against two-time defending champion Alabama, falling to the Crimson Tide, 35-10. However, the Hokies haven't lost since, bringing a six-game win streak into this contest. Virginia Tech moved to 3-0 in the ACC with a 19-9 victory over Pittsburgh last time out.
Beamer likes how his team has progressed.
"I really like this football team," Beamer said. "They play hard. They play together. They've got each other's backs. We don't always play great, but we play hard. That's all you can ask. I think we've got to keep getting better. That's got to be the deal here."
David Cutcliffe has built a solid program in Durham, as Duke seeks its second straight year of bowl eligibility. The Blue Devils come into this game with a three-game win streak in tow, after posting a 35-22 road win at Virginia last weekend, moving to 5-2 overall. The win over the Cavaliers was the first for Duke in conference play (1-2).
Still, Cutcliffe believes he is instilling a winner's mentality in Durham.
"In our last 20 games, we have a winning record now over time," said Cutcliffe. "It may not sound like much to some people, but that is when you start believing you should win. Not 'can'. There is a big difference. When you start believing you should win, that's when you start winning. This 'can' stuff is bull. I have never liked that. Of course you 'can' win, but I hope we believe that we 'should' win."
Virginia Tech leads the all-time series with Duke by a count of 13-7, thanks to wins in each of the last 12 meetings.
The Blue Devils are finally getting it done on the ground and the results are impressive. Duke is averaging 35.7 ppg in 2013, on a healthy 452.1 yards per game. The passing attack is still strong at 269.4 ypg, but a renewed emphasis on the run (182.7 ypg) has given the team true balance.
Cutcliffe has two capable quarterbacks in Brandon Connette (64.4 percent passing, 1,069 yards, 12 TDs) and Anthony Boone (69.9 percent passing, 815 yards, five TDs). Regardless of who is throwing the ball, the usual target is All-ACC wideout Jamison Crowder (56 reception, 731 yards, three TDs).
The ground game lacks a workhorse, but both Jela Duncan (5.2 ypc, 47.7 ypg) and Josh Snead (6.3 ypc, 47.6 ypg) are capable. Connette adds another threat on the ground and leads the team with seven rushing scores.
The momentum the offense has created has carried over to Duke's defense, which has played well at times this season. The team is yielding 24.3 ppg, and has done a decent job against the pass (216.3 ypg).
Redshirt sophomore safety Jeremy Cash has done it all for Duke. The Ohio State transfer leads the team in tackles (66), with 7.5 TFL, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Senior end Kenny Anunike (36 tackles) is a force coming off the edge, with 10.0 TFL and 4.0 sacks.
Virginia Tech is not an offensive juggernaut by any stretch of the imagination. The team is averaging modest numbers with 23.1 ppg and 328.4 ypg.
The Tech faithful are still waiting on quarterback Logan Thomas to tap into his potential. This season has been more of the same however, with Thomas completing just 55.2 percent of his throws, for 1,451 yards, with nine TDs and six interceptions. Thomas' top target in the vertical game is Demetri Knowles (29 catches, 346 yards, 2 TDs).
A ground game that is generating just 117.6 yards per game, is led by freshman Trey Edmunds (393 yards, four TDs).
While the offense has struggled the Tech defense has once again flourished. The Hokies are among the nation's best, ranking fifth in scoring defense (15.0 ppg), sixth in rush defense (91.0 ypg), third in pass defense (165.0 ypg) and second in total defense (256.0 ypg).
Linebacker Jack Tyler leads the way in tackles with 57 stops, with 7.5 TFL and 3.0 sacks. Defensive backs Kyshoen Jarrett (40 tackles, two INTs) and Kyle Fuller (24 tackles, two INTs) are playmakers in the secondary, while J.R. Collins (32 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 5.0 sacks), Derrick Hopkins (32 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks), James Gayle (24 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks) and Dadi Nicolas (19 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks) make plays upfield.