An anemic offensive performance last weekend at Miami not only knocked Virginia out of the Top 25, it also dropped the Cavaliers from their perch atop the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division.
Virginia now is bracing for a visit from another division contender this weekend.
The Cavaliers (4-2, 2-1 ACC), preseason favorites in the Coastal, Saturday play host to the Duke Blue Devils, who are tied with the Cavaliers and North Carolina in the standing as the ACC season enters full bloom this weekend.
"It is a huge football game for both of us. These are the games you want to play in," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said this week. "... It is about your preparation, it is about your focus and if you want games to remain big and bigger, you've got to play well in these games. But I think it's a fun thing for our team."
Virginia started 4-0, but has since lost at No. 8 Notre Dame and Miami. The Cavaliers have won four in a row against the Blue Devils.
Virginia struggled inside the Hurricanes' 25 a week ago, settling for three field goals on six trips. It will have to be better against Duke.
"I'd say this is the most important game of the season so far," Cavaliers wide receiver Joe Reed said.
There's no panic in the Cavaliers, but they are looking forward to getting back on a winning track.
"We still have the same goals in mind," defensive lineman Mandy Alonso said. "And we're still trying to win every week. So right now we're focusing on Duke and we can't let these two losses linger. So we have to just forget about it and just keep moving forward and have that winning mentality."
Some other things to watch when Duke plays at Virginia:
Virginia's dual-threat quarterback Bryce Perkins has largely been contained this season and turnover-prone. He's thrown six interceptions and eight touchdown passes and fumbled the ball away three times against Miami. The Cavaliers would love for him to be more efficient, but Duke is wary of letting that happen.
"He's a great player. I want to say that first, right off the bat," Duke linebacker Brandon Hill said. ".. We know that going into this game, so we've created a standard for this game ... making sure we contain him, keep good edges, keep him contained in the pocket and just play our game, play our defense."
The Blue Devils have scored 30 or more points in five consecutive games, averaging just over 40 points a game in that span.
Virginia ranks 11th nationally, allowing just 273.3 yards per game. The Cavaliers are also tied for second nationally in sacks with 27.
Virginia will be without All-American cornerback Bryce Hall, who suffered a left ankle injury against Miami and is lost for the year. In his place, the Cavaliers will use De'Vante Cross, who came to Virginia as a quarterback and has since also played wide receiver and safety, often playing two positions at once.
Virginia's joe Reed has 2,699 career kick return yards and is averaging 28.4 yards per kick return. If he passes 2,700 career kick return yards on his next return, he would be the only FBS player — according to records dating back to 1976 — to have 2,700 career kick return yards and a career average of 28+ yards per return.
Duke has won the coin toss in all six of its games this season, and has deferred to receive the second-half kickoff each time.
Quentin Harris, the Blue Devils' go-to caller, is 3-0 on the year when making the toss call.
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