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October 24, 2013Sign-up for HokieHaven.com Wireless Text Alerts sent right to your cell phone!
Each game, we'll get the inside look at Virginia Tech's opponent by talking with the opposing team's beat writer. This week, we spoke with DevilsIllustrated.com publisher Brian McLawhorn to get the inside look at Duke.
1)Duke went to a bowl last season after a solid year, but is this team better than last season's?
McLawhorn: This is really a tough question to answer. Although we are halfway through the season, Duke has not yet hit the meat of its schedule. Last season the Blue Devils were very successful early in the season, but as they hit the stretch run of the season they really struggled to win games, losing the last five games on the schedule. That came after starting 6-2.
I feel like there are some aspects that are better, particularly on offense where the ground game has become a productive component. I think that after the next couple of weeks we will have a better idea if this team has made significant strides or if it is reminiscent of the 2012 squad.
2)Getting a blowout win at Virginia after a big hole, was that surprising? Why or why not?
McLawhorn: In the past, the answer to this question would have likely been a strong yes. Today, I say that it was not all that surprising. One of the main things Duke has needed to learn is how to finish and win games. They are getting there in that regard.
The Devils fully believe in their abilities and never feel as if they are out of a game. They never quit, and they trust their coaches. These are all areas that Duke struggled with in the past. The culture and leadership are so different now, and with an increase of talent level, Duke finally has the tools in place to make that kind of a comeback.
3) Quarterback Anthony Boone was banged up earlier this season, but is he back to full-go? And how vital is he to the offense?
McLawhorn: Boone is back to full-go and his presence on the field certainly ignites a level of excitement that might otherwise be missing. That said, Brandon Connette stepped in and performed admirably in place of Duke's starting quarterback. The team is comfortable with either player in at quarterback, but I think where Duke sees an improvement is in the passing game.
Boone is more comfortable throwing the football than Connette, and defenses seem to respect that a bit more with him in the game. That allows the offense to open up more, giving the coaching staff an opportunity to maximize the use of their playbook.
4)What do you make of Duke's defense, after a wide array of points allowed, from 58 to Pittsburgh and 7 to Navy?
McLawhorn: It's still a work in progress. The talent is there. The understanding is there. It's just a matter of putting the two together consistently. Duke's defense has struggled against the run, but the ability to hold Navy in check was a huge indicator of this team's ability to grow as the season progresses.
Much like on the offensive end of the field, Duke's defense features an increased number of playmakers and an improved level of depth. Unlike years past, these aspects of the team is affording them to improve. Consistency is the next step in development and it appears Duke is making strides in that regard.
5) VT has won 12 in a row in this series, but does Duke feel like a big underdog still? How close do they feel like they've made the gap?
McLawhorn: Part of Duke's ability to turn the program in a positive direction has been based on placing its focus within rather than outward. To put it more simply, the Blue Devils don't get caught up in perceptions or a general consensus about their status within a game. Duke always goes into a game believing it can win. If they didn't, it would be a blowout from the start.
While Duke has greatly improved its talent, there's still a gap between themselves and the Virginia Tech's and other upper echelon teams in the conference. Do the Blue Devils know they have a tremendous challenge ahead of them? Yes. Do they believe there is a chance for an upset? Absolutely. That's not anything negative directed towards Virginia Tech, but an indicator of their confidence in themselves.
FEARLESS PREDICTION: I think there is potential for a better game than many might anticipate. For that to hold true, however, Duke's defense has to take quarterback Logan Thomas out of his game as much as possible. If they make him uncomfortable, there's a chance for Duke to have a success. I think Duke will have a chance to move the football on offense, so the key will be to solid on defense. Having said that, Virginia Tech should move to 7-1 on Saturday.
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