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UVA D pressures Harris, forces TOs, setting tone in win over Duke

uva footballDuke didn’t get its first snap in UVA territory until the six-minute mark of the third, and only then after converting a fake punt.

A fake punt, for the record, that came after another fourth-down conversion that was the punter running for his life after dropping a snap.

For a good while, said punter, Austin Parker, was Duke’s second leading rusher, because of those two plays.

The Blue Devils made the final stats look less bad with some yardage in garbage time, but the Virginia D was stifling in the 48-14 Cavaliers win on Saturday.

Duke quarterback Quentin Harris never could get into a rhythm, forced into quick throws to avoid the UVA rush, eventually getting intercepted twice, fumbling once on a strip sack, and a second time on a botched handoff.

The miscues led to 20 Virginia points, and a curious move by Duke coach David Cutcliffe to go for it on fourth-and-one at the Duke 34 – Harris was stuffed by Noah Taylor and Eli Hanback for no gain – led to another Virginia touchdown.

“You’ve got to give them a lot of credit, I thought they had a good game plan defensively,” said Harris, who finished 13-for-26 passing for 88 yards, a touchdown and two INTs passing, and had 37 yards on eight attempts on the ground.

“They got pressure on us on passing downs and they penetrated the line of scrimmage on run plays, so I think they definitely limited our run game a little bit and played a good game all around,” Harris said.

Virginia was coming in on a two-game losing streak, but the defense had been doing its job all season long, even in the losses at Notre Dame and Miami.

The ‘Hoos lived up to their reputation on the defensive side. The UVA D had come into the game ranked third in the ACC in total defense, allowing opponents 273.7 yards per game.

Duke gained 250 yards, 84 of those coming in garbage time in the fourth quarter, with Virginia holding a 48-7 lead one play into the final 15 minutes.

Coach Bronco Mendenhall said after the game that he felt something – “urgency” – from his team in practice this week, after last week’s frustrating 17-9 loss at Miami.

“We felt like we let a game slip away from us a week ago, and man, that hurts,” Mendenhall said. “We have a lot of goals that we are after, not only for this season, but for the future of the program. Our team expects to win. They’re not surprised when they do and they’re actually mad when they don’t now. That’s a completely different place than where this program was.”

Which is to say, it wasn’t anything schematic. Just hard work.

“Tuesday and Wednesday, we practiced really hard. We always practice hard, but there was a different level of urgency with Bryce [Hall] out,” said junior linebacker Zane Zandier, who had eight tackles and three pass breakups on Saturday. “All of our DBs stepped up. Chris Moore and Devante Cross really stepped in and did great tonight. Not that we didn’t miss him tonight, but we did well without him.”

That was the cloud hanging over the Virginia D on Saturday. It was the team’s first game without star defensive back Bryce Hall, who was lost to a season-ending leg injury in the loss at Miami.

Cross, a former quarterback and wide receiver, stepped in at cornerback after playing most of the first six games at free safety, and availed himself well, recording a tackle and two pass breakups.

You don’t get better, of course, losing a first-round NFL draft talent.

“We’re a cohesive unit. We’re all really close friends off the field. Another person stepping in, I feel like we really didn’t miss a beat,” said junior cornerback Nick Grant, who had four tackles in the win over Duke.

“You saw what happened this game. We didn’t really give up anything besides the one pass. We just try to stick together and know that we have each other’s back more than anything else. If anything, Bryce going down brought us closer together. We’re all just unified and trying to lift him up through our play,” Grant said.

Story by Chris Graham

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