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Virginia Tech football: Respect mutual as heavily favored Hokies host Duke – Roanoke Times

BLACKSBURG — Early in his tenure as head coach at Memphis, Justin Fuente ’s Tigers played Duke teams coached by David Cutcliffe twice — and lost both games handily.

His opinion of the Blue Devils’ coach didn’t change last fall as Duke gave Fuente’s ranked Virginia Tech squad all it could handle in a tight game in Durham .

“He’s as fine a football coach as there is in all of America. Maybe the most underrated football coach in America,” Fuente said. “We played Duke when we were just starting out at Memphis, and they had good, solid teams then, and I don’t think that those teams, as good as they were, are even close to as good of teams as they have now.

“When you look at the way they’re coached, how fundamentally sound they are, and the type of athletes that they’re recruiting now, I mean … they’ve got the perfect recipe to have success.”

Fuente hasn’t departed from his Virginia Tech predecessor’s tendency to heap praise on Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils.

That respect is mutual as Cutcliffe prepares to bring struggling Duke (4-4, 1-4 ACC) into Lane Stadium on Saturday night to face No. 13 Virginia Tech (6-1, 2-1).

Cutcliffe was among the biggest of Frank Beamer’s fans in the ACC prior to the Hokie legend’s retirement after the 2015 season. Cutcliffe has also said there hasn’t been much of a departure under Fuente from how Virginia Tech played when Beamer coached.

“Watching their tape all weekend, every phase of the game and every aspect of coaching is just absolutely done well,” Cutcliffe said. “They play hard; they play smart.”

Mutual respect also comes from many tight games between the Hokies and Blue Devils in recent years. Tech and Duke have split their last four meetings, with the road team winning every time and each game decided by three or fewer points .

Duke’s last trip to Blacksburg resulted in a 45-43 quadruple overtime victory for the Blue Devils that was among the toughest defeats during the stretch run of Beamer’s farewell season.

“When you play one another over and over again, you get to know one another,” Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “And there are some struggles. It’s like tug o’ war. You’re pulling back and forth and there may be a momentum swing here and then you get it back.”

Of the two teams, momentum has swung Virginia Tech’s way so far this season. The Hokies enter Saturday’s game already bowl eligible, having breezed through a relatively easy schedule — despite a home loss to No.2 Clemson — with a plus-170 scoring margin that’s tops in the league.

Part of that has to do with playing five games as at least a two-touchdown favorite. Saturday’s will be the sixth, with Virginia Tech favored by 15 ½. The schedule gets considerably tougher afterward with trips to Miami and Georgia Tech.

The Hokies haven’t played a close game since their 31-24 season-opening win against West Virginia at FedEx Field.

“Well, I know that it’s coming,” Fuente said on Tech Talk Live. “The bottom line is, people haven’t scored very much. We’ve been led by our defense. Our veteran crew over there has played really well. Our younger offense has contributed and taken care of the ball, and when they’ve done that it’s given us a chance to win, and then we’ve made some big plays on special teams. So, I know that we’re prepared.”

Meanwhile, Duke has lost four straight since starting the season 4-0. After Miami handled the Blue Devils decisively 31-6 last month , Duke has lost by a touchdown in each of the last three weeks to Virginia, Florida State and Pittsburgh.

“Well-coached teams don’t lose consistently by touchdowns,” Cutcliffe said. “So it is a combination of things, and consistency falls on the coach. We’ve got to find that.”

Oddly, offense has been the Blue Devils’ biggest shortcoming this year. Cutcliffe’s known as a quarterback guru, but Duke starter Daniel Jones is down eight completion points from a standout freshman campaign and has six interceptions to go with his eight touchdowns.

Not surprisingly, Duke has scored just 16.2 points per game in conference play, second-lowest in the league, and only slightly better than a North Carolina team that’s bottomed out.

It doesn’t mean the Hokies, coming off a 59-7 rout of the Tar Heels, are taking this game lightly.

“I think [Cutcliffe’s] a little disappointed in the outcome of some games,” Foster said. “I’ve heard through the grapevine that I think this game will kind of be a statement game from the mindset of them coming out and playing with tremendous passion and effort and emotion, besides execution.

“And at the end of the day … we’ve got to be ready to play a good football game.”

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