Once a house of horrors for ACC teams as a whole and Duke in particular, Lane Stadium became a playground for the Blue Devils on Friday night.
That statement, following the resounding statement Duke made with its 45-10 win over the hapless Hokies, speaks as another reminder where the Blue Devils program is now as this decade draws to a close.
Back in 2010, the first time Duke visited Blacksburg during the second decade of this century, the Hokies pounded the Blue Devils 44-7. That was part of an ACC championship season for Virginia Tech, the last of the four the Hokies have won since entering the league in 2004.
Duke flipped this annual battle with its Coastal Division rival around over the last nine years. The Blue Devils left Lane Stadium with wins in 2013 and 2015 on the way to bowl appearances.
Those were different kind of games, though. Duke won those games by three and two points, the latter coming in an epic four-overtime game.
On Friday night, the game appeared headed in the wrong direction for Duke when it managed just eight yards of offense in the first quarter to trail 3-0.
Bud Foster’s Virginia Tech defense was shoving the Blue Devils offensive line aside on the way to stuffing Duke’s ball-carriers. Duke’s defense had gifted Virginia Tech (2-2, 0-2 in ACC) three first downs with penalties, two coming on a drive that resulted in a Hokies field goal.
The Blue Devils, though, never doubted themselves. They were the more mature team and, in the end, far and away the better one on this night.
“I never really fretted,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “I kept going up and down (the sideline). What I told them is there are no negatives tonight. You go play. You are on the road. If you start focusing on negatives in Lane Stadium, you are not going to play well. So were are going to focus on moving forward.”
Two plays changed everything
In the span of two plays early in the second quarter, the Blue Devils went from down and out to in the lead for good.
On a play that started at the Hokies 40, Linebacker Koby Quansah recovered a Virginia Tech fumble after the ball had rolled all the way back to the Hokies 16.
Cutcliffe and offensive coordinator Zac Roper went for the quick kill, asking senior quarterback Quentin Harris to fake a short throw before he found junior tight end Noah Gray wide open in the end zone for a 16-yard scoring strike that put Duke up 7-3.
Those two plays left Virginia Tech staggered and Duke soaring.
“That was a lot of momentum that we needed at that point of the game,” Duke senior defensive end Tre Hornbuckle said.
The Blue Devils reeled off 31 consecutive points over the second and third quarters to post a historic rout.
Virginia Tech hadn’t lost a home conference game by this large a margin since 1950 in the Southern Conference. Duke had never won an ACC game this easily under Cutcliffe and hadn’t won an ACC road game by this large a margin since whipping North Carolina 41-0 in 1989 under Steve Spurrier.
Blowout wins are rare. Doing so after starting so slowly and allowing the Blacksburg crowd of 59,537 to get rowdy say even more about this Blue Devils team.
Rather than wallow in what looked to be a tough night, with memories of last year’s 31-14 loss to the Hokies in Durham still fresh, Duke dominated instead.
“We are going to focus on moving forward,” Cutcliffe said. “We’ve got some mature young men. Even though we’ve got some youthful people in certain spots, I thought that was the biggest thing we did. That’s how momentum can play for you. Only if you are really mature enough to handle it and know what you’re doing with it.”
Harris, offense shake off slow start
After a slow start Friday night, Harris ran the Blue Devils offense with precision. He completed 20 of 27 passes. While he only threw for 163 yards, he did so without being sacked and without throwing an interception.
He also rushed for 100 yards on 17 carries, the most impressive being a 42-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
That run was the first play after Duke had stopped the Hokies short on a fourth-and-1 play from the Virginia Tech 43. Duke already lead 24-3 early in the third quarter and the defensive play, with Quansah and safety Michael Carter tackling quarterback Herndon Hooker, looked like the Hokies’ final hope.
Harris ensured it was with his touchdown run seconds later.
The earlier fumble recovery-touchdown pass sequence knocked the Hokies back. This two-play run knocked them to the mat for good as Duke took a 31-3 lead.
“Coach Cut talks about blending offense, defense and special teams,” Duke linebacker Brandon Hill said. “Getting that momentum going forward was huge for us.”
While Duke’s offense finished with 422 yards and no turnovers, Virginia Tech was limited to 259 yards with two turnovers that the Blue Devils converted into touchdowns.
Formerly the class of the Coastal Division, the Hokies were run off their own field by a Duke team they previously dominated.
Duke’s third win in its last four trips to Lane Stadium opens up exciting possibilities about what the rest of this season could bring.
Winners of three games in a row, the Blue Devils (3-1, 1-0 in ACC) play four more games with Coastal Division rivals over the next four weeks -- home games with Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech followed by road trips to Virginia and UNC.
If the maturity that allowed Duke to use an opening to create momentum that led to a surprising blowout on Friday night continues to lead this team, the Blue Devils could very well contend in the Coastal Division.
That’s quite a statement for Duke and quite a let-down for Virginia Tech.