DURHAM – There’s something about Virginia that always brings out the best in Duke.
Since David Cutcliffe took over the Blue Devils, they have beaten the Cavaliers more than anybody else in the Atlantic Coast Conference by far. Duke has gone 4-1 against Virginia since the coach’s first season in 2008 and 5-32 versus the rest of the league.
And if the Blue Devils (4-2, 0-2) can keep that trend going this week against a program they consider almost as much of a rival as North Carolina, they’ll move one win from a second straight season of bowl eligibility.
“I don’t know what it is about Duke and Virginia,” cornerback Ross Cockrell said Tuesday, “but it’s just a rowdy game.”
According to Duke receiver Jamison Crowder, the seeds of this unlikely rivalry were planted two years ago in Charlottesville during the Cavaliers’ only victory since Cutcliffe’s arrival.
Crowder said some Cavaliers were “jawing back and forth with our sideline” and “that kind of got us sparked up a little bit.”
“The main thing is, when we play against UVa., there’s a little edge,” he said. “It’s something that’s kind of turned into a little rivalry of some sort. A lot of people on the outside don’t really know about it.
“We kind of get up for it almost like Carolina,” he added.
The Cavaliers (2-4, 0-2) are 2½-point favorites in this one despite a three-game losing streak that includes a three-touchdown home loss to Ball State.
“Our focus is just to do what we need to do to start our own tradition or start our own win streak,” Virginia coach Mike London said.
His team doesn’t seem to consider it as much of a rivalry as the Blue Devils do.
“It doesn’t matter as much that it’s Duke this week,” guard Jay Whitmire said. “No matter what, we need to get a win this week. We need to get everything back on track. Duke has beaten us the past few years, but that doesn’t exactly affect this year. It’s not like you single out a single team and get extra amped up for them.”
Maybe Virginia doesn’t, but it sure sounds like the Blue Devils do.
They always seem to play with confidence against the Cavaliers, and that’s at least partially because so many of their firsts under Cutcliffe came against them. Duke’s home win in 2008 snapped a 25-game ACC losing streak, and its victory in Charlottesville the next year marked the Blue Devils’ first conference road win since 2003.
Last year, Anthony Boone lit up Virginia’s secondary for a career-high four touchdown passes in his first career start, a 42-17 rout. Boone – who is 4-0 as a starter – is expected to make his second straight start after he missed three games with a broken collarbone.
“At first, that (2008 win) was a positive for us because we weren’t really used to beating anyone in the ACC, so you had a group of guys ... that had lost 25 games in a row in conference,” Cutcliffe said.
“Obviously, we’ve beaten a few people now, but that was the one that was like, ‘Wow, hey, we won an ACC game,’” he added. “I think with those early teams, that might have been the case, but now we’ve got to go play and I think these guys know that we’re capable of winning when we play a conference game, but we’ve got to play well.”