Virginia in a hurry to finally open at Duke

NCAA Football

After 12 weeks of workouts and several false starts on the schedule due to COVID-19 chaos, Virginia hopes to finally open its season Saturday against Duke in an Atlantic Coast Conference game in Charlottesville, Va.

The Blue Devils (0-2, 0-2 ACC) have already played two games against Notre Dame and Boston College, whereas the Cavaliers’ previously plotted contests against Georgia, VMI and Virginia Tech were all canceled or postponed.

“It’s a significant concern,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said Monday when asked about the discrepancy in real-game experience. “Playing is really the only real feedback and accurate feedback that you get. And after a game, it becomes so much clearer where your team stands, where your position groups are, and who’s capable and consistent and finishing plays.”

“… I would just say that we have more unknowns than Duke has unknowns. But that is just how it is.”

The leading unknown for Virginia is redshirt sophomore quarterback Brennan Armstrong, making his first career start following the departure of Bryce Perkins. Perkins guided the Cavaliers to a 9-5 record, their first ACC Coastal Division title and a berth in the Orange Bowl last season.

Armstrong completed 17 of 25 passes for 258 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in 11 appearances over the past two seasons.

The opportunity to get his feet wet against the Blue Devils can only help Armstrong, with a trip to No. 1 Clemson looming for Virginia on Oct. 3. The Tigers thrashed the Cavaliers 62-17 in the ACC Championship game last season.

Not that Virginia is looking past the Duke defense, which already has nine sacks through two games. Junior defensive end Victor Dimukeje had 3.5 sacks in Saturday’s 26-6 loss to Boston College, tied for the second most in school history in a single game.

“It wasn’t me. It was my teammates doing a great job taking on double teams, (providing) pressure off the other edge,” Dimukeje said. “It wasn’t just me. It was the coaches making great calls. It was a team effort. I was just the one who ended up making the plays.”

The Blue Devils turned the ball over five times against the Eagles, including four times in the red zone and a pair of interceptions by redshirt junior quarterback Chase Brice.

Brice, who backed up Trevor Lawrence at Clemson the past two seasons, has completed only 54.4 percent of his passes for 476 yards with no touchdowns yet this season. He does have one rushing score.

“We have to take care of the ball,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “Chase, I’ve got to put him in better positions. I think the temptation that he’s got to resist is trying to force plays. He’s a playmaker, but you can’t force plays.”

Virginia has won the last five meetings with Duke, including a lopsided 48-14 win last season in Charlottesville.

Neither school reported injuries this week. Blue Devils cornerback Mark Gilbert, who missed nearly two full years with a hip injury, recorded his first interception since 2017 last weekend against Boston College.

–Field Level Media

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