DURHAM — Don’t look for a chess match between coaching staffs when Duke heads to Virginia Tech on Friday night.
“This is the 12th time we’ve played (Hokies defensive coordinator) Bud Foster,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “He’s seen everything we do. I’ve seen everything he does. You’ve got to put players in position to execute.”
Then he added, “Not gonna be a lot of secrets in Blacksburg, Friday night.”
With the familiarity between the two staffs, perhaps the biggest secret will be just how good Duke is.
The Blue Devils have played three games, but it’s tough to get a read on the team.
So far, we’ve established that Duke is not the equal of Alabama, who blew out the Blue Devils in the opener.
“They were the most talented team we’ve seen so far,” defensive end Chris Rumph II said.
And we’ve established that Duke is better than NC A&T, who is a power at the FCS level, winning last season’s HBCU national championship. The Blue Devils blew out the Aggies in week two.
Duke is also better than Middle Tennessee State, a Group of Five team picked to finish in the middle of the Sun Belt East Division. The Blue Devils seized control of the road game from the outset and won going away.
So, three weeks into the season, it’s been established that the Blue Devils aren’t up to the caliber of a perennial College Football Playoff power but are better than an average Group of Five team.
Now it’s time for ACC play.
The opener, in prime time on ESPN, with Metallica echoing through Lane Stadium, is going to be a key test for the Blue Devils against a fellow contender in the Coastal Division.
Duke seems to be relishing the challenge.
“We started the season off playing Alabama,” receiver Scott Bracey said, dismissing any concern over the hostile environment.
“We’re always going to show up,” Rumph said. “On Fridays, Saturdays. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing on Facebook Live.”
The Blue Devils did exactly that two weeks ago. Now it’s time to show they’re ready for the big stage.
“As an athlete, every player likes those environments,” Cutcliffe said. “Yeah, it’s going to be problematic to hear. When momentum goes in their direction, it can become harder to regain it.
“Or,” Cutcliffe added, pounding his fist against his heart, “you find out that there’s something in you that you hope lives there and stays there. I think you embrace those times.”
Duke’s offense has some mixed news on the injury front. Jake Bobo, out all season with a broken collarbone, is expected to play. The sophomore receiver is versatile enough to play several spots, allowing Cutcliffe to work him in without slashing the playing time for the freshmen receivers who have stepped up.
The news isn’t as promising on running back Brittain Brown. Cutcliffe said he’s been practicing and would make the trip to Blacksburg. Sophomore Mataeo Durant, who has gotten time in Brown’s absence, made his first appearance on Duke’s depth chart, a sign that perhaps Brown will be out a while longer.
Despite claims that there are no secrets in the game, Cutcliffe’s offense has put plenty of different looks on tape for the Hokies to prep for.
“Their offense is a mix of everything,” Tech coach Justin Fuente said. “They’ve got options looks, spread looks.”
In addition to standing tall in the road atmosphere, the Blue Devils need to contend with Hokies quarterback Ryan Willis.
The senior is completing 64.6% of his passes, the highest rate of his career, and his passer rating of 145 is also his best season. He’s also a threat on the ground, rushing for nearly 400 yards since the start of last season.
“Ryan Willis does a good job of managing the game,” Rumph said. “If we can stop the run and do a good job rattling him, that will help.”
The job of rattling Willis falls on Rumph and his teammates on Duke’s defensive line. It doesn’t sound like they’ll be getting much help from any trickery in the defensive scheme.
“The toughest thing is they’re always really good in the offensive line,” Cutcliffe said. “To create a pass rush, you can pressure. You can rush five or six or, on occasion, seven. But to depend upon that is never what we hope. So some guys are going to have to win some battles.”
In other words, no blitzes. No trick plays. Just what Duke does, against what Tech does.
Not gonna be a lot of secrets in Blacksburg on Friday night.