Already suffering through a month-long losing streak, Duke’s woes sunk further on a cool Saturday night in a heavy rainstorm at Virginia Tech.
The No. 13 Hokies were already plenty good enough, and their defense had no problem stifling the Blue Devils’ wayward offense.
In addition to all those challenges, Duke saw one of its most experienced players make a mistake that essentially ruined his team’s upset hopes and doomed the Blue Devils in a 24-3 loss at Lane Stadium for their fifth loss in a row.
On their way to gaining just 183 yards in the game, the Blue Devils (4-5, 1-5 in ACC) trailed by only a touchdown with the first half about to expire. That’s despite the fact Virginia Tech (7-1, 3-1) drove into Duke territory on all eight of its first-half possessions.
It was the Hokies’ final possession of the first half, and a play that precipitated it, that allowed them to take control thanks to a mental error by Duke senior running back Shaun Wilson.
With Virginia Tech leading 10-3, Duke faced third down at its own 6 with less than a minute remaining. The Hokies had no timeouts so when Wilson was tackled inbounds by Virginia Tech’s Brandon Facyson for no gain on third down, it appeared most of the 42 seconds remaining in the half would expire.
But as the Hokies celebrated their stop on the field, Wilson reacted by shoving Hokies defensive end Trevon Hill with one hand and was called for a personal foul. That stopped the clock, moved Duke back to the 3 and forced Austin Parker to punt from the end zone.
Parker got the kick away under heavy pressure, but the Hokies took over at the Duke 42 with 30 seconds left that they wouldn’t have had without Wilson’s penalty.
Josh Jackson fired a 16-yard pass to Eric Kumah to the Duke 26, then completed a 26-yard touchdown pass to Sean Savoy with 15 seconds left in the half for a 17-3 Virginia Tech lead.
Duke continued to struggle to move the ball against Virginia Tech’s defense. The Blue Devils recorded just four first downs on their first 11 possessions.
When Jackson rushed 6 yards for a touchdown to put Virginia Tech up 24-3 with 2:31 left in the quarter, Duke was in a hole from which it couldn’t recover.
Virginia Tech started by dominating play in the first quarter, taking a 7-0 lead. As has been the case during its losing streak, Duke’s offense sputtered to put its defense in adverse situations.
The Blue Devils lost 10 yards on their first play from scrimmage when Jones slipped while trying to avoid a defender. Duke didn’t move into positive yardage as a team until 13 minutes had been played.
By then, the Hokies lead thanks to Deshawn McClease’s 4-yard touchdown run with 5:06 left in the first quarter.
With 27 seconds left in the quarter, Duke’s T.J. Rahming fumbled, and Virginia Tech’s Hill recovered at the Duke 19.
The Blue Devils defense stuffed the Hokies, though, and they settled for a Joey Slye 34-yard field goal to lead 10-0 with 14:51 left in the half.
Duke’s offense had one sustained drive in the first half and it led to points. Jones scrambled out of pressure and found wide receiver Johnathan Lloyd for a 41-yard gain to the Virginia Tech 10.
The Blue Devils lost 3 yards on three plays, but Parker booted a 31-yard field goal to cut Virginia Tech’s lead to 10-3 with 5:09 left in the half.
Duke’s defense stifled Virginia Tech on its next two drives, giving the Blue Devils two possessions with a chance to tie the score. But Duke not only failed to get a first down on either of the possessions, the last one was marred by Wilson’s personal foul penalty that set up Virginia Tech’s final touchdown of the half.