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Virginia Dominates Duke

By Dave Holcomb
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Behind a dominating performance in hidden yardage categories across the board, Virginia cruised to a 48-14 victory against Duke.

Nothing is constant in the chaotic ACC Coastal division, but if there are one or two teams that could find consistency in this division down the stretch, Virginia is one of them.

The Cavaliers proved that Saturday night, bouncing back from an embarrassing performance against Miami last week. Behind a dominating performance in hidden yardage categories across the board, Virginia cruised to a 48-14 victory against Duke.

Thirty-plus-point blowouts usually result in high yardage differentials in the box score, but it didn’t in this game. Incredibly, Virginia only needed 307 yards to score 48 points.

The Cavaliers didn’t need very many yards because Duke continuously gave Virginia the ball in prime field position. Six of Virginia’s 14 offensive possessions started in Duke territory, and three of them started exactly at the Duke 21-yard line.

Virginia took full advantage of the prime field position, scoring 20 points on those six drives.

But the Cavaliers’ hidden yardage advantage didn’t end there. Virginia’s AJ Reed returned the opening kickoff for 64 yards to start the first drive of the game at its own 44-yard line. Reed also returned a kickoff for a touchdown towards the end of the third quarter.

When Reed scored his kickoff return touchdown, Virginia was already ahead by 20, but Duke had just scored, and remember, the Blue Devils erased a 23-point second-half deficit against Pitt two weeks ago. A Duke comeback at that point was improbable but not impossible.

The Blue Devils had just scored too, giving themselves some hope that a comeback was possible, but in just seconds, Reed took it away.

Including that play, Virginia scored 34 of its 48 points on drives starting in Duke territory or on special teams touchdowns. That’s the game in a nutshell. Whether it was because of a Blue Devils’ giveaway, they had five, or special teams gaffes, Duke provided Virginia way too much good field position.

Other than Reed’s return touchdown, Duke can point to its failure to convert a fourth-and-1 about midway through the second quarter as the other major turning point.

Already behind by 10 with 8:01 left in the first half, Duke coach David Cutcliffe elected to go for the fourth-and-short from his own 34-yard line, but on the quarterback sneak, the Virginia defense stuffed Quentin Harris for no gain.

Virginia scored a touchdown off the turnover on downs and never looked back. Cutcliffe turned out to be right that he needed his offense to score a lot of points to win this game, but going for even a fourth-and-short at his 34-yard line that early in the contest was too risky.

Virginia doesn’t walk away from this game without a lot to improve. Quarterback Bryce Perkins scored three rushing touchdowns, but he averaged just 5.4 yards per pass and threw a red-zone interception. While the Cavaliers chewed up 154 yards in the run game, it took 41 carries because they averaged only 3.8 yards per attempt.

That won’t be good enough in a game where they don’t start with great field position. However, the Cavaliers played a hand in the great starting points they had all night.

Besides, no matter how it came, Virginia’s win moves the team back into the driver's seat in the ACC Coastal. Coming into this matchup, Virginia and Duke were tied atop of division with a 2-1 conference record. The victory inches the Cavaliers to 3-1 and in sole possession of first place.

The only other team with an above .500 conference record in the Coastal is Pitt. The Panthers are a dangerous team because of their very easy schedule, but Virginia already beat Pitt in Week 1, thus holding the tiebreaker. The Cavaliers also don’t have an ACC opponent with an above .500 record in conference play left on their schedule.

As for Duke, this loss will be difficult to rebound from, but it’s not insurmountable. Stranger things have happened in the ACC Coastal over the last few years.