CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Virginia knows Duke quarterback Daniel Jones is a different — and more improved — player than he was a year ago.
Jones was just a freshman last season when Virginia traveled to Duke, and the Cavaliers’ plan to pressure and rattle the young quarterback worked. He threw five interceptions and fumbled the ball away once, and in a season when the Cavalier won just one other game, they rolled over the Blue Devils, 34-20.
“Last year he was young but he’s gotten a lot of experience,” defensive end Juwan Moye said this week. “He likes to run a lot. He’s really confident in his game. He’s a solid piece. Like last year we knew that if we got to him we could own the game. I think we’re going to have to have the same game plan, but he’s going to be a lot tougher.”
The Cavaliers (3-1, 0-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) look to be as well. They are off to their best start after four games in a decade, but have no expectations that it will be an easy game against Duke (4-1, 1-1) on Saturday.
Jones has 172 rushing yards, third on the Blue Devils, and has run for three touchdowns.
But Virginia is feeling better about itself than it has in quite some time. The Cavaliers are coming off a 42-23 victory at Boise State two weeks ago — the Broncos’ worst home loss in 16 years — and had last weekend off.
Their play has gotten the attention of coach David Cutcliffe and his players.
“We have reason to prepare well, because they’re a solid football team with a quarterback playing well,” Curcliffe said, speaking of Kurt Benkert. “They’ve got a running game, they’ve got skill people. … They’re very systematic, do a good job of it. Defensively, they are as consistent with their system as anybody we will play.”
As for Jones, Cutcliffe’s approach is pretty much that that was last year.
“You know he knows in his mind what happened and he wants to prove himself and play better,” he said. “What Daniel’s got to do is make sure the people around him are in position to make plays and just do what he does best.”
Here are some other things to watch when Duke visits Virginia:
MOMENTUM KILLER? Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall would have preferred not to have an open week after the victory at Boise State. But in an effort to keep the Cavaliers focused, he had them working in pads all last week like it was the preseason rather than allowing them to bask in the victory. “I think we’re doing well. I think our coaches are doing well too, making sure that we’re grinding every day,” Benkert said.
JONES KEEPING UP: Since his six-turnover debacle last year, Jones has impressed opposing coaches with his toughness and his efficiency. In 12 games since, he’s thrown just four interceptions with 15 touchdowns passes.
HOME SUPPORT: It might be a bit early for Virginia’s players to start looking for fans to start piling on the bandwagon, but they said this week they notice the empty seats while also saying they have felt a buzz around campus. Still, They have drawn fewer than 40,000 to a 61,500-seat stadium in each of their first three games.
STOP THE BIG PLAYS: Duke’s improved defense has allowed seven touchdowns of at least 40 yards, and has given up at least one of them in four of five games. Three came against Baylor and two against North Carolina. Safety Alonzo Saxton II called it “kind of the recurring theme” and added that “it’s hard to stay focused on every play throughout the whole game and not lose your eyes one time or miss an assignment there, but that’s still what we’re trying to work towards is perfection on every play.”
JUST FOR KICKS: If the game comes down to a field goal, significant advantage Duke. Austin Parker has made nine of 11 tries, with a long of 45. Virginia A.J. Mejia is 2 for 3 with his longest coming from 28 yards.
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