With a likely College Football Playoff elimination game looming next week at No. 8 and undefeated Miami, Virginia Tech second-year coach Justin Fuente needs to guard against a letdown when struggling Duke visits Saturday in an ACC Coastal clash. The 13th-ranked Hokies are coming off their best game of the season, scoring in all three phases of the game, including twice on defense in a 59-7 demolition of North Carolina.
Despite the fact Duke has lost each of its last three games by seven points, Fuente is certainly not looking past the struggling Blue Devils, who’ve managed to pull out victories in each of their last two trips to Lane Stadium and feature one of the best defenses in the country. “I know they’ve lost a couple of close games here the last couple of weeks, but we certainly know that we’ll have to be ready,” Fuente said. “I have seen (the defense) steadily improve. This wasn’t a one-time thing. They continue to improve athletically, through recruiting. They do some great things schematically.” The Blue Devils rank fifth in the ACC in scoring defense (20.1 points) as well as first in both interceptions (12) and second in sacks (24) but managed to score more than 20 points just once during the losing skid. Led by talented freshman Joshua Jackson, who leads the ACC in passer efficiency (157.9), Virginia Tech ranks second in scoring offense (33 points per game).
TV: 7:20 p.m. ET, ACC Network. LINE: Virginia Tech -15.5
ABOUT DUKE (4-4, 1-4 ACC): Sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones ranks 13th of 14th among qualified ACC passers in efficiency (107.8) but is coming off his best game during the skid, passing for 272 yards and two touchdowns against Pitt even though a tipped ball led to an interception deep in Panthers’ territory sealed the 24-17 defeat. All hopes in the passing game revolve around talented junior wideout T.J. Rahming, who had eight receptions for 142 yards last week and 44 for 567 yards for the season. The defense, led by sophomore linebacker Joe Giles-Harris (75 tackles, ACC-high 13.5 tackles for loss) has been impressive, but Pitt reserve running back Darrin Hall rushed for 254 yards and three TDs last week to lead the Panthers back from a 17-7 second-half deficit.
ABOUT VIRGINIA TECH (6-1, 2-1): Jackson is completing 64.2 percent of his passes for 1,832 yards with 16 TDs against four interceptions and has added 173 yards and a score on the ground. Duke will need to find wide receiver Cam Phillips, who has 47 catches for 657 yards and six TDs this season and 212 catches and 16 TDs during his four-year career. Virginia Tech is no slouch on defense either, ranking second in the nation in third-down defense (23.7 percent) and fifth in scoring defense (12.7) while returner Greg Stroman has returned two punts for scores already this season.
1. The Hokies lead the all-time series 15-9, including a 12-game win streak that started in 1982 that was ended in 2013 with a 13-10 home loss.
2. Jones has completed 72-of-151 passes over the last four games for 766 yards with three scores and four interceptions.
3. With its win over North Carolina, Virginia Tech extended college football’s longest active streak of bowl berths to 25 - tied with Alabama (1959-83) for the third-longest in college football history.
PREDICTION: Virginia Tech 31, Duke 13