Virginia Tech-Duke Preview
Virginia Tech's depth on defense has been receiving a stiff test - one that the Hokies have so far passed.
After losing a third defensive starter to a season-ending injury, No. 15 Virginia Tech visits Duke on Saturday looking for its 11th straight win in the series.
The Hokies (7-1, 3-1 ACC) have climbed to the top of the Coastal Division by winning their last three games, defeating Boston College 30-14 on Saturday.
Virginia Tech allowed 272 yards, its lowest total in four games, and 91 on the ground. The Hokies rank 13th in the nation in total defense with 294.9 yards allowed per game and are seventh in rushing yards given up at 84.6.
The gaudy numbers are all the more impressive given the rash of injuries that has hit the defense. Leading tackler Bruce Taylor was the third Hokies defensive starter to be lost for the year, as he suffered a foot injury against the Eagles.
"I can't remember one (season)" being worse, coach Frank Beamer said when asked about the amount of injuries his team has sustained, "but I think it's just the way it goes. Some seasons you get to play with the same guys every week and that just isn't the case for us."
Replacing Taylor will be tough, even for a team that has weathered the loss of key defensive players. Taylor had 53 tackles - seven for loss - and is second on the team with five sacks.
Senior linebacker Barquell Rivers is among the Hokies that will be expected to step up. A starter before suffering a torn quadriceps tendon during workouts before the 2010 season, Rivers has nine tackles in eight games this season.
Before Saturday, he had been on the field for just 44 plays this year.
The Hokies got another big performance last week on the other side of the ball from David Wilson, who ranks fourth in the FBS with 129.6 rushing yards per game. He ran for 134 yards last Saturday to surpass 1,000 for the season.
Wilson and Virginia Tech's defensive reinforcements could spell trouble for a Duke team that has been mostly overmatched in this series. The Hokies' 10 consecutive victories over the Blue Devils have come by an average of 23.1 points.
Also daunting for Duke is the fact that Virginia Tech can set an ACC record with its 11th straight road victory Saturday. Plus, the Blue Devils haven't defeated a Top 25 opponent in nearly two decades.
Duke (3-4, 1-2) has lost two in a row, falling 24-23 to Wake Forest last Saturday. The Demon Deacons scored on a 66-yard touchdown pass with 6:52 left, giving them the win after Duke erased a 17-0 deficit.
Sean Renfree was intercepted on the team's final drive.
It was the second straight game the Blue Devils fell behind early en route to a loss. They trailed 17-3 after the first quarter against Florida State and fell 41-16 on Oct. 15.
"This is two weeks in a row now that we weren't able to come out and play like we know how to play," receiver Conner Vernon said. "We have to learn how to play it for four quarters and not just two. ... Hopefully we can figure it out next week."
The Blue Devils have been particularly weak in defending the pass, as they rank 102nd in the FBS at 264.0 yards allowed per game.
Those numbers might not improve against Logan Thomas, the first Virginia Tech quarterback under Beamer to throw for at least 260 yards in three consecutive games.
Thomas went 22 of 36 for 268 yards and one touchdown against the Eagles, while also running for a score. He has six passing touchdowns and no interceptions the last three games while completing 66.7 percent of his passes.
"Every outing is a learning experience, and he'll keep getting better," Beamer said.
Virginia Tech beat Duke 44-7 at Blacksburg last Oct. 23.