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Virginia returns home with Coastal title aspirations after pair of dramatic road wins
COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Virginia returns home with Coastal title aspirations after pair of dramatic road wins

By winning consecutive ACC road games for the first time since 2011, the Virginia football program has thrust itself back into the Coastal Division race.

The Cavaliers also benefited greatly from a series of wonky results within the division. North Carolina, which steamrolled UVa 59-39 in September, has three ACC losses after last weekend’s letdown against Florida State.

“We’ve known from the beginning of the season that if we handle our business, we can take the Coastal,” junior defensive back Antonio Clary said. “Seeing these teams losing and stuff like that, now we can really do it.”

Every Coastal team except Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech — both teams are 1-0 in league play — have conference losses. The two teams with unblemished conference records play this weekend, guaranteeing one side a loss. UVa (4-2, 2-2 ACC) faces Pitt and Virginia Tech in November, giving it a chance to hand both teams a defeat.

The possibility of winning the Coastal is alive, but UVa knows it needs to hold serve at home to have a shot. Three of Virginia’s final four conference games come at Scott Stadium, including Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. matchup with Duke (3-3, 0-2 ACC). That’s good news for a UVa program with a 14-2 home record since the start of the 2019 season.

A win over the Blue Devils — who sit in last place in the latest Lee Enterprises ACC power poll — keeps UVa’s Coastal dreams alive. The Cavaliers are all in on this week.

“It’s just this week,” head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “We’re at Scott this week, and based on that one we’ll sit around the phone and see if someone calls us to see if we have a game next week.”

Mendenhall is aware his team hosts Georgia Tech the following weekend, but his tongue-in-cheek comment illustrates his mindset moving forward.

“We’re really just going literally, cliché, one at a time, and that’s the best thing I can do for our team,” Mendenhall said.

To win the Coastal, UVa may very well need to win each of its final four ACC games.

That makes defeating Duke a must.

Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong — the nation’s leading passer — is likely salivating at the chance to face Duke. Virginia is one of two ACC teams averaging more than 500 yards per game, and the Cavaliers lead the ACC with 412.8 passing yards per game.

The Blue Devils struggle defensively — ranking in the bottom three of the ACC in scoring defense, rushing defense and passing defense. Only Louisville allows more yards per game than Duke among ACC teams.

Duke also struggles on the road. The Blue Devils are 3-10 in away games since the start of the 2019 season. They haven’t won in Charlottesville since 2013.

While UVa enters the weekend with a favorable matchup in many regards, Duke’s running game seems like a mismatch. The Blue Devils rank second in the ACC with 219.3 rushing yards per game and 18 rushing touchdowns this fall. UVa’s defense is the ACC’s worst at stopping the run — allowing 201.2 yards per game. Louisville rushed for 233 yards against UVa last weekend. The Cavaliers have allowed 249.3 rushing yards per game in ACC play.

Duke running back Mataeo Durant averages 131.3 rushing yards per game, the second-best mark in the ACC.

Slowing Durant and the Blue Devils’ rushing attack figures to be critical for the Cavaliers. Beating Duke keeps UVa in the Coastal race. It took dramatic road wins to pull UVa back into the mix after starting 0-2, but the Cavaliers have a chance.

“There’s just momentum right now,” Clary said. “We’re on a roll.”

To keep that going, UVa needs to stack home wins together.

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