Takeaways from the Hokies' victory over Duke

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By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – On a miserable evening in which a pouring second-half rain made for an ugly game, Virginia Tech embraced the elements and came away with a workmanlike 24-3 victory over Duke to conclude its October slate.

The victory put the Hokies in perfect position for their rugged November stretch run that starts Saturday with a Coastal Division clash against unbeaten Miami in South Florida. Tech continued its dominance over Duke – 12 victories in 14 meetings since joining the ACC – and moved to 7-1 overall, 3-1 in the ACC. The Hokies also remained at No. 13 in both of the major national polls.

Saturday night, Tech did what it needed to do. The Hokies got the early lead, took care of the ball, stymied Duke’s offense and made no gaffes on special teams. It was the perfect recipe to win a game when the conditions refused to let the Hokies play to their strengths on offense.

The game of the season, at least in Coastal Division terms, is now set. Yet first, let’s look back at the takeaways from the home win over the Blue Devils.

Bradburn, punting team were fantastic – Tech punter Oscar Bradburn and the entire punting team deserve to wear the No. 25 jersey this Saturday against Miami. They simply kept Duke bottled in its own end of the field all evening. Bradburn placed four of his five punts inside the Duke 10. In fact, Duke started those four possessions at its 9, 7, 2 and 5.

Bradburn’s punt right before halftime changed the game, as it forced Duke to start at its 2 with a little more than a minute to go. Tech used its timeouts wisely, received a gift personal foul penalty on the Blue Devils’ Shaun Wilson and forced a Duke punt that gave it field position around midfield. That led to a touchdown with 15 seconds left in the first half to take a 17-3 lead – and that was the ball game.

Duke struggles offensively, and Bradburn and that unit made things doubly difficult. The Blue Devils simply weren’t going to march 90-plus yards against Tech’s defense.

Tech defense stout again – Yes, Tech has played struggling opponents the past two games, but the Hokies’ defense is playing its best ball of the season. Coordinator Bud Foster really has that unit dialed in, as the group has allowed just 10 points in four home wins.

Tech’s defense really flew to the ball and shut down Duke’s running game. The Hokies handled the quarterback runs, which hurt Tech in a 45-43, four-overtime loss two years ago. Quarterback Daniel Jones finished with just 65 yards on 17 carries, an average of 3.8 yards per carry. Duke mustered just 101 yards on the ground – and that was the only way to win the game given the conditions.

“I don’t know if we did anything special,” Foster said. “We brought in a new wrinkle in one of our pressures, and we hit that early. I think it just goes back to our guys being sound in their fits and taking that away. They came out throwing and tried establishing that, but then they couldn’t get that established … All in all, I’m really proud of our kids and how they played. They [the Blue Devils] couldn’t get the run game established, and that was big.”

The Hokies now rank in the top 15 in scoring defense, rushing defense and total defense. That defense is playing exactly the way a defense needs to play heading into November.

Run game solid – Tech lost left tackle Yosuah Nijman early in the game, and with the conditions, Duke knew the Hokies would try to run the football. Despite all that, the Hokies ran the ball quite well against the Blue Devils’ strong front.

Tech has just one 100-yard rusher this season – quarterback Josh Jackson rushed for 101 yards in the season-opening win over West Virginia. But the Hokies amassed 187 rushing yards against Duke, and now has rushed for at least 180 yards in five of eight games this season. Not coincidentally, the Hokies are 5-0 in those games.

Tech got an unlikely spark from Deshawn McClease, who set career highs in carries (15) and yards (75). Tech’s staff approaches the run game a little differently than a lot of staffs, using an array of tailbacks, but it obviously works.

Importance of ball security – Arguably the most impressive stat of the game was the number of Tech turnovers – zero. In fact, the Hokies didn’t even put the ball on the ground. No fumbles and no interceptions during a rainy, sloppy, muddy game speaks volumes.

“[Eric] Gallo did a great job handling the snaps in this weather, and Josh did a great job taking care of the football,” head coach Justin Fuente said. “We made it a big point of emphasis that, for us to have success, we have to have control over the football. I told the guys I wanted to see visual confirmation that they are taking care of the football, meaning that it is going through their mind and through their actions. I saw a lot of visual confirmation today, and it’s really nice when you hear your message being disseminated throughout the team by the team.”

The Hokies have committed just six turnovers in eight games this season – a number that ranks tied for fifth nationally. They also rank in the top 20 nationally in turnover margin (plus .75).

Fuente and his staff preached ball security after last season when the Hokies gave up the ball a little too much. His players received the message, and more importantly, acted on it.

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