Midseason report: Duke

DUKE (5-2, 2-1 ACC)

The inexplicable ACC ran through Durham this year. Then it hit the brakes in Blacksburg.

Duke started out 5-1, its best start to a season since 1994, and the last time the program went bowling. The Blue Devils were 2-0 in league play and ahead of Coastal Division favorites Virginia Tech in the ACC standings heading into Week 7. Duke had won four straight games and was undefeated at home. Receiver Conner Vernon set the ACC record for career receptions with his 233rd catch, which came in a 42-17 win over Virginia. The Blue Devils looked like they had finally turned the corner in the fifth season under coach David Cutcliffe.

That magic came to a halt in the second quarter against Virginia Tech this past weekend. After taking a commanding 20-0 lead in Lane Stadium, Duke’s defense allowed the Hokies 41 unanswered points. Duke had a chance to become the ACC’s first bowl eligible team this year, but lost it when they turned it over four times for the second straight season against the Hokies.

That’s not to say it wasn’t a successful first half of the season. By Duke’s standards it already has been a special season. Those within the program, though, are hungry for more.

Offensive MVP: WR Conner Vernon: He became the ACC’s all-time receptions leader in Week 6 against Virginia when he caught his 233rd career catch to break the previous record of 232 by Clemson’s Aaron Kelly. Vernon needs just 218 receiving yards to become the league’s all-time receiving yards leader.

Defensive MVP: Ross Cockrell: He is ranked No. 7 in the nation and leads the ACC with 13 passes defended, and he leads the ACC with four interceptions. His nine pass breakups also lead the ACC. He also scored two touchdowns, returning a blocked field goal 75 yards against FIU and an interception 32 yards against N.C. Central.