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Duke’s growing pains will eventually pay off

Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire

Two or three years from now we’ll be talking about the seamless transition from Virginia Tech legend Frank Beamer’s retirement to Justin Fuentes’ successful first season in Blacksburg.

By then, the Hokies may add to the ACC Coastal title to the one they’re so close to clinching in 2016. Virginia Tech, ranked No. 19, beat Duke 24-21 Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium to improve to 7-2 overall and 5-1 in conference play.

At the same time, two or three years from now, we might also be talking about how Duke (3-6, 0-5 ACC Coastal) matured into a title contender from valuable experience young players gained in a season that was more competitive than suggested by the Blue Devils’ records of 3-6 and 0-5 in the ACC Coastal.

In all six losses this year, Duke has had the ball in the fourth quarter when the game still a one score contest. The Blue Devils don’t have the horses to win, but they have the young colts to throw scares into ranked teams such as the Hokies and last month against Louisville.

“We knew it was going to be tough coming here,” Fuentes said after the game. “Duke is much better than their record. They’re very well coached and they play hard. I’m awfully happy to find a way to win this game.”

The ACC Coastal standings read Virginia Tech is still tied with North Carolina (7-2, 5-1 ACC Coastal), but the Hokies hold the head-to-head tiebreaker from a 34-3 victory to take the division and advance to the ACC Championship game in Orlando. The Hokies now have only two conference games remaining to clinch the division title.

Both remaining ACC opponents– Georgia Tech (5-4, 2-4 ACC Coastal) and Virginia (2-7, 1-4 ACC Coastal) – have losing records in conference play. Virginia Tech’s final games are Nov. 12 at home against Georgia Tech, a non-conference test Nov. 19 at Notre Dame (3-6) and the regular-season finale against in-state rival Virginia on Nov. 26 in Blacksburg.

We’ve also learned that one of Fuentes’ wisest first recruiting moves was bringing in junior college transfer quarterback Jerod Evans. Fuentes signed a five-year deal with the Hokies on Nov. 29. By Dec. 11, Evans visited Virginia Tech. He committed by Dec. 12 and signed Dec. 16.

Evans, a 6-foot-3, 238-pounder from Dallas by way of Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Tx., has provided the quarterback play the Hokies lacked in the legendary Beamer’s final season before retirement.

Against Duke, Evans completed 15-of-27 passes for 192 yards and rushed 18 times for 83 yards and one touchdown.

“Some of those (runs) were third downs,” Fuentes said. “(Duke’s) package on third-and-long can cause you a lot of problems. I felt we needed to run a few quarterback draws to try and get the pressure picked up.”

Of Fuentes’ seamless transition, it can also be said Virginia Tech won this game with a page out of Beamer Ball – that is, a blocked punt or field goal returned for a score.

Duke was about to go ahead 10-7 in the second quarter when A.J. Reed lined up for a 30-yard field goal, but Greg Stroman blocked the kick and Adonis Alexander returned it 75 yards for a 14-7 lead.

Meanwhile, each week Duke redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Jones shows us why his coaches talked up him in fall camp and his teammates were already calling him “The Future” with NFL potential.

He struggled with consistency and turnovers earlier in the year, but as the season has progressed he’s learned to find holes left open from the defense taking away one part of the offense.

Last week Jones found his tight ends for big plays in a 38-35 loss at Georgia Tech.

This week Virginia Tech dared Jones to run. He carried 19 times for 99 yards and two touchdowns on runs of 7 and 2 yards. He had a long of 29. His passing was limited to 18 of 31 for 148 yards, but he had big completions of 30, 22 and 19 without an interception.

“The growth of the program, the growth of this team continues,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “I just wish our players had a record that indicated as to who they are and the amount of good work they’ve put in. We’re a good football team and we can’t lose faith or lose hope.”

Follow Tom Shanahan of Today’s U on Twitter @shanny4055

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