Key Matchups for Virginia Tech Football Against Duke

By: Grant Atkinson | @hokie_g | Sep 25, 2019
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor

Virginia Tech is set to take on Duke in a primetime matchup inside Lane Stadium on Friday. If the Hokies want to prove themselves on national television, these three matchups will be the important ones to watch.

Keshawn King vs. Duke Defensive Line

Maybe one week, the Virginia Tech running game will not be one of the key matchups, but this is not that week. Just like in the Hokies’ first three games, running the football will continue to be a huge factor in this game.

There is good news and bad news for Virginia Tech when it comes to the rushing attack this week. The good news can be summed up in two words: Keshawn King.

Against Furman, the Hokies finally got the big game from a running back that they have desperately needed. It came from true freshman Keshawn King, who ran for 119 yards on 12 carries in the contest, and earned Offensive Hokie of the Game.

In order for King to continue that momentum, the offensive line must continue to mesh well. Jerry Kill, the new special assistant to the head coach, said that should be a main focus for this Virginia Tech team. Head coach Justin Fuente seemed to agree.

“I do think the chemistry is going to continue to improve,” Fuente said Monday. “As long as that group as a whole continues to focus on that, I think they’ll continue to get better.”

The bad news? This week is going to be a much tougher test for both King and the offensive line.

Duke’s senior-laden defensive line has given up just 140.3 rushing yards per game this year. For comparison, the Hokies have given up 174.0.

The Blue Devils were also able to hold Alabama to just 3.5 yards per carry in the season opener. Long story short, Virginia Tech has their work cut out for them as try to continue to build a solid rushing attack.

Quentin Harris vs. Virginia Tech Linebackers

Quentin Harris has certainly had a good start to the season for Duke. Through three games, he has thrown 8 TDs, just two interceptions, and boasts a 159.8 Passer Rating.

However, passing is not the only thing Harris brings to the table. In the Blue Devils last two games, he has run for a combined 190 yards on 24 carries.

If there is one knock on Bud Foster’s defenses at Virginia Tech, it’s that they have not been able to contain running quarterbacks. In his twenty-fifth and final season, Foster would love to change that notion in this game.

Virginia Tech’s linebackers will need to be at their best if they want to contain Harris. Chances are Foster will bring a lot of different blitzes, so they will need to know what their assignments are each time.

That will be especially important for whichever linebacker is a spy on Harris. As the mike linebacker, Rayshard Ashby will probably fill that role on a lot of occasions.

Ashby has been able to step up to any challenge since he took over the starting role last year. In 2019, he leads the team with 27 tackles so far.

For Ashby and the linebackers, this may be the most versatile quarterback they have faced this season. The way they handle that challenge could very well decide the outcome of this game.

Ryan Willis vs. Josh Blackwell

One area where the Duke defense has not played exceptionally well is in the secondary. The Blue Devils have surrendered 226.33 yards per game through the air, including 7.72 yards per attempt.

Virginia Tech’s most dangerous weapons certainly come in the passing game. With so many talented receivers for quarterback Ryan Willis to go to, the Hokies can definitely do some damage through the air.

Duke’s youngest and most vulnerable cornerback is redshirt sophomore Josh Blackwell. While the Blue Devils will try to put their more experienced corners on Virginia Tech’s best wide receivers, the Hokies’ depth at that position makes it difficult.

Chances are Blackwell will be lined up against a guy like Kaleb Smith or even James Mitchell when he splits out wide. Both of those players have proven to be playmakers who could give Blackwell some trouble.

If Willis can recognize that mismatch and attack it, the Hokies will be able to pick up some chunk plays through the air. Willis protecting the football, but also not being afraid to take some shots will be important in this contest.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Hokies know what they need to do to win this game, but some of their goals may be a little bit harder to achieve than others.

First, if Keshawn King gets going, Virginia Tech has a good chance to win the game. That is a big “if” against a stout Duke defense.

Second, the Hokies need to contain dual threat QB Quentin Harris. Virginia Tech certainly has the talent on defense to do that, but they need to execute.

Lastly, Ryan Willis needs to have a good game. He should be able to get some favorable matchups for his receivers throughout the night, and he must take advantage of those.

Friday night will give us an answer as to whether the Hokies are relevant in the race for the Coastal title or not.