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October 26, 2013

Staff Picks: VT vs Duke

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Virginia Tech's meeting against Duke last season was the glimmer of hope that the Hokies used in getting to a bowl game. The Hokies responded to a 20-0 deficit with 41 unanswered points. Can Virginia Tech keep its momentum going and extend a 12-game winning streak over the Blue Devils?

We take our shots at calling what will happen at today's 3:30 pm ET kickoff.

Jason Stamm, publisher

For one game last season, Virginia Tech's running game looked like a machine. That came in a 41-20 win over Duke in which the Hokies rushed for 269 yards, including 183 yards from running back J.C. Coleman.

There's been signs of a running game for Virginia Tech since, but definitely not in the past three games. The running game has been downright dreadful at times in that stretch, averaging just under 60 yards per game.

On the other hand, the Hokies defense has been one of the most dominating units in college football this season. They had eight sacks against Pittsburgh two weeks ago and probably could have had eight more.

Sophomore defensive end Dadi Nicolas is looking more and more like a star. He moved around from linebacker to defensive end and certainly gave the Panthers fits. Nicolas finished with three sacks and seven tackles and will definitely be one to watch the remainder of the season.

The bad news defensively is what has been a solid and deep secondary suddenly has flaws. Freshman cornerback Brandon Facyson suffered a concussion Sunday and hasn't practiced all week. Meanwhile, senior Kyle Fuller has been battling a groin injury the past few days. Both will be a game-time decision.

Over three weeks ago, senior cornerback Antone Exum was medically cleared to return from a torn ACL and meniscus. But he hasn't played since, instead wanting to wait until he feels he's back to his old self. This weekend is looking like when he'll finally return and with Fuller's and Facyson's statuses up in the air, it's much-needed, even with sophomore Donovan Riley likely getting a lot of playing time.

With Exum still a bit rusty and the secondary in slight flux, it looks like Duke will get opportunities for the big play and I think they'll get a couple. But like last season, this will be the game the Hokies finally gain some ground running the ball. Plus, senior quarterback Logan Thomas will again have a good, but not spectacular game through the air and get Virginia Tech closer to the ACC Championship game.

PREDICTION: Virginia Tech 31-17

Doug Bowman, senior writer

This isn't a Duke team of recent memory. This is a talented football team. The last two games between these two have been very interesting. Two years ago, the Hokies squeaked out a 14-10 win in Durham. Last year, the Blue Devils jumped out to a 20-0 lead in the first quarter before surrendering 41 unanswered to the Hokies.

I expect this to be a close football game, closer than any Virginia Tech fans would like to admit. I just don't think the Virginia Tech offense is good enough right now to produce a blowout, unless they get significant help in the form of turnovers from the defense.

I expect Duke to score first to make it a tense first half before the defense takes over and gives Thomas just enough to put together a win.

PREDICTION: Virginia Tech 23-17

Mike Stancik, staff writer

Although Virginia Tech is facing the 31st ranked scoring offense (35.7 PPG) in the country, it's important to remember the Hokies have already dominated some of the most productive units. Marshall (24th), ECU (25th), and Georgia Tech (28th) currently average more points than the Blue Devils, but none were able to solve arguably the best defensive group in the nation. Things shouldn't be any different this time around.

Even though a couple defensive backs will be gametime decisions, I believe Antone Exum (properly conditioned & fine-tuned) will immediately be a playmaker and show why he's still regarded as an elite shutdown corner.

Duke uses a respectable rushing attack (168 YPG) to loosen up the defense, but Virginia Tech's 6th ranked rush D (91 YPG) will force Duke to win through the air. Anthony Boone may have taken over the starting quarterback job, but after a five-sack performance in 2012, I expect the Hokie pash-rush to produce similar results in the 2013 version.

Logan Thomas continues his extremely productive play (4 total touchdowns) thanks to a bye week to create even more chemistry with his receivers, and his well-rested line allows zero sacks on the day. The Hokies show serious improvement with the extra week of practice, and walk away with this one easily to head to Boston College on a seven-game streak.

PREDICTION: Virginia Tech 38-13


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