The Blue Devils may be 0-3 but with a healthier football team coming off a bye week, optimism is riding high for this Saturday's ACC tilt against Virginia.
Who are the players to watch for Duke this weekend?
Read on for this week's HOT 11 team:
Thaddeus Lewis-Coach Ted Roof has pronounced his prize freshman quarterback as ready to go two weeks after getting roughed up in the 36-0 loss at Virginia Tech. All eyes will be on Lewis this Saturday to see if he has any lingering effects from suffering the concussion against the Hokies. Will he be gunshy at all? After seeing him practice throughout fall camp and seeing his on field actions so far in his college career, our belief is that he will come out with as much competitive fire as he has ever had. Lewis is mentally and physically tough and Roof rightfully expects that to be evident against Virginia.
Mike Tauiliili-Perhaps a little bit lost in the disappointment at Virginia Tech was the second 11 tackle performance of the season from Tauiliili. Duke's anchor at linebacker is on pace for a 112 tackle season and has had at least one tackle for loss in all three games. Going against a running game that has struggled so far this season, Tauiliili should have another productive outing this week and may be able to focus a bit more attention on helping the Devils rush the quarterback.
Eron Riley-Riley has gotten off to a quietly productive start. Even though he hasn't scored a touchdown yet, he is on a current pace to total nearly 40 catches and more than 500 yards for the season. His 38-yard catch in the second half against Virginia Tech was his longest play of the season and hopefully for Duke is a sign that he is a ready for a true breakout game. With Lewis healthy and Duke going against a pass defense that has had more breakdowns than coach Al Groh would like to see, Riley could be primed for his first scoring reception of the season.
Patrick Bailey-Duke's first mission on defense is always to stop the run. However, this weekend the Devils face an opponent that is ranked dead last in the ACC in rushing offense. That means players like Bailey may be able to pin their ears back a little more and go after freshman quarterback Jameel Sewell, who will be making just his second start. Bailey has been shut out in the sack department since the season opener against Richmond. For Duke to beat Virginia, he probably needs to resurface as a key pass rusher this week.
Eli Nichols-Going into the fourth game of the season, Nichols is still looking for his first breakout game of the year. He was solid in the opening game against Richmond but has been rather quiet against Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. Playing on the interior of the line more often this season has changed his role, and he has had a noticeable effect on opponents' schemes to keep him out of the backfield, but if he can find a way to get in the backfield this week, it could have a snowball effect that would help free up a heavier rush from the outside as well.
Raphael Chestnut-Duke's number three target in the passing game has arguably been the most consistent receiver so far this season. He only had one catch for a meager four yards against Virginia Tech, but he has been very reliable when Lewis has been on the field against Richmond and Wake Forest. In those two games, Chestnut had 11 catches for 124 yards. With the strong armed freshman back on the field this week, it's reasonable to expect Chestnut could have another productive outing on Saturday.
John Talley-The inevitable first interception of the season for Duke's All-America candidate came in the last game against the Hokies, and with a green quarterback set to start for the Cavaliers it's a safe bet Talley would love the chance to make another big play or two this week. He has never had an interception against Virginia, but he has had 19 tackles in the last two meetings combined.
Cameron Goldberg-Duke's left tackle will be on the spot this week to make sure Lewis keeps his jersey clean. Coming off his concussion, the Devils can't afford for Lewis to be hit much at the outset of the game to give the quarterback enough snaps to redevelop his rhythm and feel. Virginia's defensive ends, Chris Long and Jeffrey Fitzgerald, are a load for any offensive line to handle, but Duke's front in particular will have to sharp to keep the pressure away from the pocket. Goldberg has to anchor that effort on the left side.
Fred Roland-On the other side of the line, Roland will be equally important at right tackle. As mentioned above, Virginia can bring adequate pressure from either side of the line and it's reasonable to think the Cavaliers may target Roland as the player they want to pick on in their schemes to get in the backfield. Roland has to nail down his side to help Goldberg bookend the pressure and keep the heat off Lewis.
Justin Boyle-Boyle is as healthy as he has been since the opening kickoff of the Richmond game. Duke's top tailback really benefited from the off week and should be much better off for having had a chance to rest his body and recharge his batteries. Certainly the injuries have slowed him, but he showed some good burst early in the game at Virginia Tech and looked to be on the verge of developing a rhythm against Richmond before going down with injury. Having a healthy Boyle deep inside Virginia territory should go a long way toward helping Duke overcome its red zone struggles through the first three games.
Marcus Jones-Duke's starting quarterback turned backup quarterback turned athlete reappears in this week's HOT 11. Roof reiterated his plans to play Jones some at receiver this week against Virginia. Of course, that was the plan against Virginia Tech before circumstances forced him to go in and finish the game at quarterback. Jones has plenty of athletic ability that can help him at wideout, but his lack of experience at the position over recent months will require him to play some catch up. However, his potential to go high for catches or perhaps be worked in on some trick plays certainly makes him a player to watch.
Moved in: Riley, Goldberg, Roland, Boyle, Jones
Dropped out: Jomar Wright, Vince Oghobaase, Tielor Robinson, Requan Boyette, Jabari Marshall