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What we learned from Duke football’s blowout loss to Virginia

·5 min read

Virginia’s mastery over Duke in football sent the Blue Devils to another low point on Saturday.

The Cavaliers whipped Duke 48-0, collecting their seventh consecutive win over the Blue Devils and handing Duke its eighth ACC loss in a row dating back to last season.

Virginia built a 34-0 halftime lead, the most points the Cavaliers have scored in the first half against an ACC team since 2004 when it scored 35 against North Carolina.

The Cavaliers (5-2, 3-2 in ACC) scored all six times it had the ball in the first half. The only time Duke was close to stopping Virginia came when the Cavaliers attempted a second-quarter punt only to have Duke penalized for roughing the punter.

Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong completed 25 of 45 passes for 364 yards with two touchdown completions. The Cavaliers ran up 526 yards of total offense

Duke (3-4, 0-3 ACC) turned the ball over three times while seeing its losing streak reach three games.

Here’s what we learned about the Blue Devils from their ugly display on Saturday:

Big plays, all day, for UVa

The Cavaliers unleashed 11 passing plays of 15 yards or more in the first half alone against Duke’s beleaguered secondary. The Blue Devils entered the game having allowed 263.5 yards per game, second-worst in the ACC, and 8.8 yards per throw, worst in the ACC.

Virginia finished the game at 364 passing yards.

Penalties keep piling up on Duke

Only one ACC team had been penalized more than Duke this season. But when the two teams met on Saturday, the Blue Devils were hurt the most.

Duke entered the game having been called for 6.8 penalties per game. Virginia was last in the ACC at 7.3 per game.

But Duke had six before the game even reached halftime as the Cavaliers rolled to a big lead.

Darrell Harding’s roughing the punter penalty ruined the first time Duke’s defense stopped Virginia in the game. The Cavaliers took the second chance on the drive to add another touchdown.

Duke finished the game with eight penalties, costing it 85 yards.

Kicker issues not resolved

After Charlie Ham missed two field goals in Duke’s 31-27 loss to Georgia Tech last week, Matt Alswanger replaced him as Duke’s placekicker Saturday at Virginia.

Duke coach Cutcliffe mentioned on Monday that Ham’s confidence appeared shaken.

“I’m not inside his head,” Cutcliffe said. “But what happens to any specialist, you can’t take the field wondering whether it’s gonna be a good kick or a good punt. You don’t need to wonder it. I mean, can you imagine a quarterback where every time he threw the ball, wondering if it’s gonna be a good throw or not. It’s thoughtless. It’s the mechanics.”

So Cutcliffe elevated Matt Alswanger, a graduate transfer from Tufts, to handle place-kicking duties at Virginia. Holder and back-up punter Jackson Hubbard took care of kickoffs -- not that Duke had many of those in the lopsided loss.

Alwsanger had a chance to pull Duke even on the scoreboard after an early Virginia field goal. But his first Division I attempt, from 25 yards out after the Blue Devils reached the Virginia 7, sent the ball off the left upright and off for a miss.

A graduate student at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, Alswanger made 14-of-19 field goals (.737) during his four seasons at Tufts.

Duke’s offense lost its way

After an impressive drive on its first possession of the game to the Virginia 7 came up empty due to the missed field goal, the Blue Devils’ offense fell into mediocrity.

That drive was the only one on Duke’s first eight possessions where the Blue Devils reached Virginia territory. At that point, with eight possessions in the books midway through the third quarter, Duke had averaged 3.3 yards per play.

And this wasn’t an outstanding Virginia defense that stymied Duke. The Cavaliers entered the game 12th in the ACC, allowing 427.8 yards per game. Virginia had allowed 6.45 yards per play this season.

After that first drive, Duke didn’t run a play in Virginia territory again until 4:58 remained in the third quarter and the Cavaliers led 34-0.

Duke quarterback Gunnar Holmberg left the game late in the third quarter having completed 20 of 34 passes for just 134 yards. That accounted for his lowest completion percentage (59%) and fewest passing yards in a game this season.

Durant’s march toward a record

Despite the season spiraling downward, Duke has something positive to monitor with senior Mataeo Durant edging closer to 1,000 rushing yards and on pace to set the school’s single-season rushing record.

Durant gained 82 yards against Virginia, giving him 873 yards for the season.

The last Duke running back to reach the 1,000-yard mark in a season was Chris Douglas, with 1,138 in 2003. Duke’s single-season rushing record of 1,236 yards was set by Steve Jones in 1972.

So Durant will enter Duke’s final five games 363 yards shy of matching Jones.

Durant’s 873 rushing yards are already make him No. 8 on Duke’s single-season rushing list.

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