The 15th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies have their sights set on yet another ACC Coastal Division title and seek to take one more step towards that goal when they invade Durham this weekend for a conference showdown with the Duke Blue Devils.
Frank Beamer's Hokies are in familiar territory, sitting atop the Coastal Division standings at 3-1. The team has just one loss on the season, that being a 23-3 setback at home against Clemson. Since then, Tech has reeled off three straight wins, including a 30-14 decision over Boston College this past weekend.
Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, they are in familiar surroundings as well. David Cutcliffe's squad did enjoy a three-game win streak this season, but it was sandwiched between a pair of two-game losing streaks. Duke sits in fifth place in the Coastal Division at 1-2. Last week, Duke showed great resolve, battling back from a 17-0 deficit to take a 23-17 lead late against Wake Forest, only to lose 24-23 to the Demon Deacons.
The Hokies hold an 11-7 advantage in the all-time series with the Blue Devils thanks to wins in each of the last 10 meetings.
Virginia Tech have long been a run-first team and 2011 is more of the same. The Hokies are putting up 427 yards per game, with 194.9 coming via the run. The backfield boasts of the ACC's top rusher in junior David Wilson. The 5-10, 205-pounder is averaging 129.6 yards per game and has already gone over the 1,000-yard mark with 1,037 yards and seven TDs.
Quarterback Logan Thomas has benefited from Wilson's production, completing 60.9 percent of his throws for 1,744 yards and 10 TDs. A talented receiving corps is highlighted by wideouts Danny Coale (40 receptions, 565 yards, two TDs) and Jarrett Boykin (32 catches, 418 yards, three TDs).
The Hokie defense is once again one of the best units in the country. Virginia Tech is allowing just 16.1 ppg and 294.9 yards. The rush defense has been particularly stout, limiting foes to just 84.6 ypg on 2.8 ypc.
This unit took a huge blow last week though with the loss of leading tackler Bruce Taylor (53 tacklers, five sacks) to a season-ending foot injury. Others will need to step up in Taylor's absence. There is still plenty of talent on the roster, including LB Tariq Edwards (41 tackles, 8.0 TFLs), DE J.R. Collins (28 tackles, six sacks) and CB Jayron Hosley (27 tackles, three INTs).
Duke has the ability to move the chains, but at the moment is a bit one- dimensional. The ground game has not really materialized at a mere 100.0 yards per game. The passing attack has been much more productive at 286.9 yards per outing.
Quarterback Sean Renfree has slung the ball around this year, completing 67.9 percent of his throws for 1,800 yards and six TDs. It helps having a pair of capable wideouts in Conner Vernon (47 catches, 652 yards, four TDs) and Donovan Varner (34 catches, 397 yards).
Juwan Thompson leads the way on the ground with 345 yards and five TDs. Backup QB Anthony Boone scored a pair of touchdowns last weekend and now has four rushing scores on the year.
The Duke defense has been inconsistent this season. The team is allowing nearly 30 points per game (29.3) and almost 400 yards of offense (398.9 ypg). In addition, the Blue Devils are lacking in the big play department, with just five forced turnovers and 13 sacks on the season.
Matt Daniels has been the top defender this year, leading the team in both tackles (69) and PBUs (11). Kelby Brown (43 tackles) and Walt Canty (42 tackles) are a distant second and third on the stops list.
Cutcliffe recognizes the opponent that Duke will be facing this weekend.
"We face a huge test," he said. "This team has hit its stride. I think they are the best team we will have played - and that includes Stanford."