Duke's Cavalier Challenge

PHOTO: Duke RB Shaun Wilson
Credit: Grant Shorin

Steve Phillips, Special to theACC.com

Duke emerged as the ACC’s surprise team in 2013, winning 10 games during the regular season and claiming the program’s first Coastal Division crown.

The Blue Devils (5-1, 1-1) aren’t letting up, but Virginia (4-2, 2-0) has been the team defying expectations so far this season. The Cavaliers enter Saturday’s 12:30 game at Duke as the only Coastal Division team without an ACC loss.

The confounds many of the “experts” who picked the Cavaliers for a seventh-place finish in preseason, but Duke coach David Cutcliffe says his team is going up against a legitimate contender.

“(They) could very easily be undefeated if you watch them on tape,” Cutcliffe said. “They’ve really played well all year. They do outstanding things in all three phases. They’re playing well on offense. They have a lot of weapons, and they use them well. They’re playing well in the kicking game. Their specialists are performing. Their return game is outstanding. Their defense is playing as well as anyone.”

The Cavalier defense has been especially opportunistic.

Virginia ranks second nationally with 19 turnovers through six games. The Cavaliers also rank second nationally with 10 fumble recoveries. Seven of those fumbles came on quarterback sacks.

“Their defensive front, secondary and linebackers blend together well,” Cutcliffe said. “They’re taking the ball away from people. They’re stopping teams on third down extremely well. They have 23 sacks and a lot of tackles for losses.

“We have to prepare well and we’re going to have to play well,” Cutcliffe said. “It’ll be a huge challenge, but I think I’ll find myself saying that every week. That’s what we’re faced with at this point. It’s a big game and another big opportunity to go out there and compete, to see what we can do.”