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Virginia has to figure out how to stop Duke back Mateo Durant

dukeThe weakness for the Virginia defense is up front against the run. Duke might be able to exploit the ‘Hoos there with explosive tailback Mateo Durant.

“Yeah, I just think when different types of runs, he’s got the skill and the talent level to be an explosive type runner, create explosives. He can run 50-yard touchdowns. He’s proven that. But, he also is a guy that consistently gives you what I call the dirty yards. If a run is a three-yard run, he’s likely going to get four or four and a half out of it, which is a very successful run,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said of Durant, who is second in the ACC and fourth national yin rushing (131.3 yards per game).

The bulk of that damage comes between the tackles. Durant has run for 593 of his 788 yards through the A and B gaps, averaging 7.0 yards per carry, with 33 of his 85 carries between the tackles going for first downs, seven of them going for scores.


Louisville ran for 172 yards on 19 rushing attempts at the A and B gaps last week. North Carolina, you may remember, ran for 215 yards on 19 runs through A and B back in Week 3.

The guys gaining the yards in those games: not Mateo Durant.

And if you load up the box against Durant, Cutcliffe can dial up QB Gunnar Holmberg, who is completing 72.5 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,616 yards in six starts in 2021.

“He has been fearless in the pocket, and his pocket movement has been solid and he’s kept his eyes downfield,” said Cutcliffe, a noted quarterback whisperer. “Then he’s got a group of receivers that work with him and for him. If you’ll look, I mean, those guys are there to make good catches. They’re getting that little bit of edge, and the difference sometimes is this much him being that much more accurate and them being that much more separated. So, it’s a combination.”

One issue for Duke will be trying to defend against UVA’s second-ranked passing offense with a banged-up secondary.

“I guess you start every morning with a good prayer, right?” Cutcliffe said of the game-planning going into the week. “It may make a lot of sense, playing coverage against a guy like him. As I said, he’s mobile. So that increases the hardship of staying in coverage if he breaks the pocket because he sees downfield well. He’s very accurate. So, we have to mix coverage. We have to do what we believe in. We have to have vision on receivers, and we’ve got to generate some rush. You always have to have pass rush.

“And then the other thing, may sound crazy, but if a guy is throwing the heck out of the ball, which he will, you also have to try to stop the run. You got to make them one dimensional if you can. You can’t lose that in the process because they can run the ball. It’s not an easy task in this league to play defense at all. We know we’ve got to play better defense than we have against him to be successful.”

Story by Chris Graham