With three wins in the first month of the season, Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall has been receiving praise from the same Cavaliers fans that suffered through a two-win campaign in his first year at the helm in 2016. Mendenhall and his improving quarterback Kurt Benkert will shoot for their fourth win of the season in five games Saturday when rejuvenated Duke visits after suffering its first defeat of the season last week.
The 2016 campaign was a tough one for Mendenhall and Virginia, losing the opener to FCS Richmond, while beating only Duke and Central Michigan and finishing with seven straight losses. However, the Cavaliers have responded this season with three wins by a combined 57 points sandwiched around a 34-17 loss to Indiana in Week 2. “When I was able to be out in a professional setting as the head coach (I was taken aback) that there’s a lot of people that are pulling for us,” Mendenhall said this week. “And that became clear. And that feedback has not been subtle but pretty overwhelming where I think there’s a lot of folks that would like to see UVA have a really good football program, have a really good year.” Virginia, which has not played since posting its third win of the season - a 42-23 decision at Boise State on Sept. 22 in which Benkert threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns and wideout Andre Levrone caught five passes for 141 yards and two scores. The Blue Devils, leaving the state of North Carolina for the first time this year, opened the season with four double-digit wins - matching its win total from 2016 - but was demolished by No. 12 Miami 31-6 last week.
TV: 12:20 p.m. ET, ACC Network. LINE: Virginia -2.5.
ABOUT DUKE (4-1, 1-1 ACC): Sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones completed 21-of-41 passes for only 166 yards against the Hurricanes and ran for 68 yards on 12 carries but was sacked six times for 31 yards to net 37 rushing yards for the game. Jones threw five interceptions in last year’s 34-20 loss to the Cavaliers while completing 33-of-54 passes for 324 yards, but he’s thrown 15 TDs against four interceptions since that contest. The defense has 18 sacks for the season (tied for fifth in FBS), has recorded at least three in every game - a record during coach David Sutcliffe’s 10-year reign - and ranks second in the nation in third-down conversion defense at an ACC-best 17.7 percent.
ABOUT VIRGINIA (3-1, 0-0): Benkert (1,249 yards passing; 144.2 rating) has 10 touchdowns to one interception this year after posting just under a 2:1 ratio last season, and the senior has improved his completion percentage from 56 to 66 percent. Jordan Ellis leads the team in rushing with 312 yards and has rushed for at least one TD in every game this season (five total), Olamide Zaccheaus is tops with 30 receptions while Levrone has averaged 26.8 yards on 13 catches. Linebacker Micah Kiser leads the team with a conference-high 45 tackles and five sacks while safety Quin Blanding is tied for third in the ACC with 43 stops.
1. In a series that dates to 1890, Virginia leads 35-33 but Duke has won six of the last nine. Benkert threw for 336 yards and three TDs in last season’s win.
2. Duke senior DT Mike Ramsey has 3.5 sacks and six tackles for loss in the last three games, and his six total quarterback pressures are double his career total entering 2017.
3. Blue Devils WR Johnathan Lloyd set career highs with nine catches for 82 yards against Miami.
PREDICTION: Duke 27, Virginia 24