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'New season' continues Saturday against pass-happy Duke offense

Following Virginia’s 24-19 upset win Saturday over then-No. 22 Miami, junior cornerback Chase Minnifield proudly proclaimed that the Cavaliers were 2-0 ... in their “new season,” that is.

Before Virginia defeated Eastern Michigan by 27 points on Oct. 23, the team decided to make every attempt possible to rid itself of the sour aftertaste left by the Cavaliers’ 2-4 start to Coach Mike London’s first season at the helm. With one half of its season completed, Virginia (4-4, 1-3 ACC) aimed to write a new script for the latter half. Thus far – as Minnifield noted – the Cavaliers have been successful in that regard.

On Saturday, Virginia will travel to Durham, N.C. to take on a Duke squad that turned in an equally surprising performance last weekend. After dropping their previous two games by a combined 52 points, the Blue Devils (2-6, 0-4) defeated Navy, 34-31, behind a stunningly efficient performance from quarterback Sean Renfree (28 for 30 passing, 314 yards).

Consequently, London shot down Monday any notion that he might have to guard against a letdown following the first signature win of his head coaching tenure at Virginia.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” London said. “We have no reason to be having letdowns or things like that. We have to establish some wins around here before we even get to that point [ellipses] We’re going down to Durham with the attitude and the mind-set that this is game No. 3 for us of the second season.”

Duke’s passing attack will offer a stiff challenge for Virginia’s defense. The Blue Devils are averaging 261.6 passing yards per game, which ranks No. 2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Sophomore wide receiver Conner Vernon is the conference’s leader in receiving yards per game (89.4).

London described Duke’s offensive style as “a pistol offense, then sort of a spread offense, and then sort of a we’re-going-to-throw-the-ball-type offense.” He said Duke’s offense reminded him of the Texas Tech attack the Virginia faced in the 2007 Gator Bowl, back when London was the team’s defensive coordinator. Texas Tech compiled 407 passing yards that game and won, 31-28.

The Cavaliers expect Renfree to attempt a lot of short, high-percentage passes and to spread the field horizontally. Last season, Duke defeated Virginia, 28-17, in Charlottesville. Vernon caught seven passes for 103 yards and a touchdown. Donovan Varner – then a sophomore – tallied seven catches for 113 yards.

Although the Cavaliers will have to face Vernon and Varner again on Saturday, Virginia’s confidence is buoyed by its recent successes. The Cavaliers rank No. 2 in the ACC in pass defense (178.4 ypg allowed), and they’ve set that mark largely without the services of two-time second team all-ACC cornerback Ras-I Dowling, who has missed nearly all of five games due to multiple injuries.

“We know as a secondary that they’re definitely going to complete some passes,” junior strong safety Rodney McLeod said. “But you know, just stay focused, know what routes they like to run and, you know, rather than just reacting you’ll know and then be able to make plays as you see them coming.”

By Steve Yanda  | November 1, 2010; 5:46 PM ET
Categories:  Football  
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