The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 23rd-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies have clearly turned their season around, and they are set to play host to the struggling Duke Blue Devils in ACC action.
Duke opened the season with a 14-point victory over FCS foe Elon, but the Blue Devils have suffered five consecutive losses since that point. The last four defeats have come by double figures, including last weekend's 28-13 setback against Miami at home that featured seven turnovers.
"I don't know if I've ever had seven turnovers," said Duke coach David Cutcliffe. "That's obviously a big concern."
As for Virginia Tech, it began the campaign with back-to-back losses to Boise State and James Madison, but coach Frank Beamer's club deserves a great deal of credit for staying unified and ripping off five consecutive wins. The most recent triumph occurred last weekend over Wake Forest by a 52-21 final, and all five wins during the current streak have come by double figures.
"I thought we took a step as a football team," Beamer said after the win over Wake. "Last week, I was worried about a couple of guys assuming we were going to be okay and not going out there and playing, but I thought, for the most part, we were playing [against Wake]."
Virginia Tech owns a 10-7 series lead over Duke, which includes nine consecutive victories over the Blue Devils.
Duke is generating 25.3 ppg and 399.0 total ypg, numbers that are slightly better than what would normally be expected from a 1-5 football team. The ground attack has been largely unproductive, however, accounting for just 121.8 ypg at a clip of 3.7 yards per carry. As a result, a great deal of pressure has fallen on quarterback Sean Renfree. Although he has thrown for 1,621 yards and 10 touchdowns, Renfree has been intercepted 14 times, a total that is simply unacceptable. Conner Vernon paces the receivers with 37 catches for 581 yards and three scores.
It can certainly be argued with validity that the 19 turnovers committed by Duke has routinely put the team's defense in unfavorable situations. Still, there is clearly room for improvement on that side of the ball, as the Blue Devils are yielding 37.8 ppg and 434.5 total ypg. The fact is that they have been unable to stop the run or slow down the opposing passing attack. Foes are rushing for 210.8 ypg against Duke at a clip of 4.9 yards per carry, and the Blue Devils are also yielding 223.7 ypg through the air on 16.4 yards per completion.
Against Miami last time out, Duke finished with only 292 total yards while allowing 448 yards to the Hurricanes. Renfree was downright terrible in that contest, as he was intercepted five times and completed just 18-of-38 passes. Backup quarterback Brandon Connette, a freshman, saw some action in relief, and one can't help but wonder if Renfree's leash is getting shorter.
"If you look at all of our losses, there have been a lot of turnovers," said Connette after the game. "I know Sean is going to work hard at it this week and will come back strong next week."
Through seven contests, Virginia Tech is posting 36.0 ppg and 415.1 total ypg. As is usually the case with Beamer's teams, the Hokies are a run-oriented offense, and quarterback Tyrod Taylor leads the way with 480 rushing yards. Darren Evans has run for a team-high eight touchdowns, but both of those runners take a back seat to Ryan Williams when he is healthy. The standout tailback missed last week's tilt with a hamstring injury but is expected to be in action against Duke. Taylor has completed 62.4 percent of his passes with 12 scores against only three interceptions, and Jarrett Boykins paces the receivers with 29 grabs for 469 yards and five touchdowns.
Foes are managing 21.9 ppg against 354.7 total ypg against the VaTech defense, which has room for improvement against both the run and the pass. The Hokies are permitting 4.6 yards per rushing attempt and 12.4 yards per pass completion, numbers that simply must improve if Tech is to win the ACC.
Against Wake Forest last weekend, Tech posted staggering totals of 35 first downs and 605 yards of total offense. The Hokies got three rushing scores from Evans and one from Taylor, who also passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns. Defensively, the Hokies limited the Demon Deacons to 92 passing yards on 17 attempts and permitted a mere nine first downs all afternoon.
"We made plays all day on defense, but there were about five or six plays where we weren't as sound as we needed to be," linebacker Bruce Taylor said after the win, pointing out the minor negatives in what was an otherwise tremendous performance.