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Virginia out to regain 'respect,' extend winning streak against Duke

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APTOPIX Duke Virginia Football

Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong (5) dives in for a touchdown in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Duke at Scott Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Charlottesville, Va. (AP Photo/Mike Caudill)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Brennan Armstrong knows opponents don’t fear Virginia’s passing game the way they did a season ago. The UVa star quarterback can see it in the defensive looks the Cavaliers get each game.

“They’re just coming out with no respect for us in the passing game because they’ve seen the past four games,” Armstrong said Tuesday after practice. “We gotta get respect back.”

Saturday, Armstrong and UVa (2-2, 0-1 ACC) get another shot at that, this time in Durham, N.C., against Duke, a team hasn’t won an ACC game since Oct. 2020, a 13-game conference slide. The Blue Devils have lost seven straight to UVa, including last season’s 48-0 drubbing in Charlottesville.

But under first-year coach Mike Elko, Duke has been one of the biggest early-season surprises in the ACC, winning its first three games before falling Saturday at equally-as-unlikely unbeaten Kansas.

The Blue Devils’ veterans said Tuesday that while this is a very different team than the one that’s struggled through league play the past three years, it also still carries the sting of the UVa losing streak.

“It’s the same players here, so we still have that nasty taste in our mouth of what’s happened in the past,” said senior offensive lineman Jacob Monk. “But also, at the same time, we’re not the same team. We’ve worked much harder this past offseason than we ever had.”

Duke (3-1, 0-0) shut out Temple, won at Northwestern and then beat North Carolina A&T before losing to fellow basketball power Kansas 35-27. The Blue Devils have an emerging star at quarterback in sophomore Riley Leonard, who has completed a staggering 71.3% of his passes.

Duke, which leads the ACC in turnover margin this year, has turned the ball over 27 times in its seven losses to UVa since 2015. That includes four in last year’s shutout loss and a whopping seven in 2020.

Virginia has outscored the Blue Devils 266-123 during that stretch.

“We try to focus on now, but of course guys who’ve been here, we know how that feels,” said junior defensive tackle DeWayne Carter. “We know ... what that feels like the past couple of years to go play against them and the results that we’ve had, of course it’s an internal thought.”

Carter said despite Virginia’s surprising passing struggles so far this season — the Cavaliers rank next-to-last in passing offense in the ACC and Armstrong is hitting on just 52.1% of his throws — Duke still has ample respect for what it is capable of.

“They’re the same team with a lot of great athletes,” said Carter. “I’ve played against probably every single old guy on that team. My fourth year playing against these guys. Still the same athletes. Still the same caliber. He’s a great guy under center, Brennan Armstrong. He’s a talented arm. He can run. He can do a little bit of everything.”

Duke’s defense has, to date, struggled against the pass, potentially creating a get-right opportunity for Armstrong. UVa benched starting center Ty Furnish in favor of Jestus Johnson III during the Syracuse loss and coach Tony Elliott said the team will start Johnson at Duke.

The offense also will have senior wide receiver Billy Kemp IV back for the first time in two games. The former Highland Springs star has been battling an illness and kidney issue, Elliott said Tuesday.

mbarber@timesdispatch.com

Twitter: @RTD_MikeBarber

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