First look: Mike Elko, Duke football travel to face Virginia in ACC play on Saturday

Duke signed head football coach Mike Elko to a new contract in July, yet here the Blue Devils are again with concerns about keeping him in Durham.

That’s the price of the success Duke has experienced under Elko the past two seasons.

Texas A&M, the school that employed Elko as defensive coordinator for four seasons prior to his arrival at Duke in December 2021, needs a head coach after firing Jimbo Fisher on Sunday.

Elko, though, has two regular-season games to coach with the Blue Devils (6-4, 3-3 ACC) before they make their second consecutive bowl game appearance. He reiterated Monday, as Duke prepares to play at Virginia on Saturday, that he’s comfortable coaching the Blue Devils.

“I’m very committed to this place,” Elko said. “Everybody knows I’m very happy at this place. We’re doing a lot of really special things at this place. My family’s very happy here. We love everything that this place is.”

This has been simultaneously a successful and trying season for Elko and the Blue Devils. They started 4-0, with a win over Clemson, to attract ESPN’s GameDay college football show to make its first visit to campus.

Numerous injuries, most notably to starting quarterback Riley Leonard and back-up Henry Belin IV, played roles in Duke dropping league games at Florida State, Louisville and, on Saturday, at North Carolina.

All three of those teams are ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, as is the only other team to beat Duke this season, Notre Dame.

Duke’s final two games are against Virginia (2-8, 1-5 ACC) and Pittsburgh (2-8, 1-5 ACC), teams that won’t finish with winning records and won’t be playing in bowl games.

So Elko is tackling the task at hand, getting Duke in position to possibly finish 8-4 for a second consecutive regular season.

“Between 6-6 and 8-4, it’s a huge difference,” Elko said. “And that’s not lost on anyone in our locker room.”

Key matchup: Duke RBs vs. UVA rush defense

Three teams have rushed for 200 yards or more against the Cavaliers this season. Georgia Tech hit Virginia for 305 yards and five rushing touchdowns while winning 45-17 on Nov. 4.

Duke should be able to feast in this area against a rushing defense that’s allowed 180.3 yards per game, No. 12 in the ACC.

Duke’s rushing offense is No. 5 in the ACC at 179.9 yards per game. The Blue Devils average 5.1 yards per carry, No. 2 in the ACC behind only Georgia Tech (5.46 yards per carry).

Duke running backs Jordan Waters (677 yards, 12 touchdowns) and Jaquez Moore (491 yards, four touchdowns) figure to find plenty of running lanes.

Player to watch: Duke QB Grayson Loftis

The freshman quarterback, starting his second game, turned in a gusty performance while leading Duke on three fourth-quarter touchdown drives at UNC in a game the Tar Heels won 47-45 in double-overtime. His 30-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Moore, on a fourth-and-7 play, put Duke in front 36-33 with 41 seconds left in regulation.

He’s grown more comfortable while playing in place of Leonard and Belin. With Leonard’s left foot in a cast due to a toe injury and Belin still recovering from an upper-body injury, Loftis is preparing to start at Virginia. He’s come a long way from playing scout team quarterback in September. His teammates have noticed.

“I think the guys were kind of like okay, yeah, this kid can can get us where we need to go,” Elko said. “You saw that and then I think they just kind of rallied around him in the fourth quarter (at UNC) and we played really good football on offense.”

Vegas betting odds

U.S. sportsbooks installed Duke as a 4-point favorite over Virginia on Sunday.

Duke at Virginia

Teams: Duke Blue Devils (6-4, 3-3 ACC) at Virginia Cavaliers (2-8, 1-5 ACC)

Where: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Virginia

Date: Saturday, Nov. 18

Time: 3 p.m.

TV: ACC Network

Stream: DIRECTV Stream, fuboTV, Hulu + Live TV, YouTube TV, SlingTV