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Duke Football Notes

Jim’s weekly update on Duke football

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NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Duke
Sep 29, 2018; Durham, NC, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies wide receiver Phil Patterson (8) makes a second half touchdown catch against Duke Blue Devils safety Jeremy McDuffie (9) at Wallace Wade Stadium. The Virginia Tech Hokies defeated the Duke Blue Devils 31-14.
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Sixty-six to thirty-one. That was the score of Georgia Tech’s last football game. Tech was the team with 66 points, Louisville the team with 31.

Now there’s some evidence that Louisville may not be a very good football team this season. But 66 points, on the road, against an ACC team working on an eight-season bowl streak merits considerable respect. Tech has scored 16 touchdowns and kicked a field goal in its last 20 possessions, against Bowling Green and Louisville.

Duke linebacker Ben Humphreys is one of the people tasked with making sure it doesn’t happen this Saturday, when the 4-1 Blue Devils visit the 3-3 Yellow Jackets.

“They’re running their offense at a high level right now,” he says. “That makes us want to practice harder, to do well. Everyone has to do that 1//11th.”

What is 1/11th? Doing your job and trusting your teammates to do theirs. Option teams thrive when opponents lose their discipline, two defenders chasing the man with the ball, who all of a sudden doesn’t have the ball and the man who does is all alone.

“It’s great to have a week off, “he adds, “to change that mindset, because an option attack is a completely different thing.”

Duke switches from a 4-2-5 to a 4-3-4 when they play Georgia Tech. Look for Koby Quansah to get a start at linebacker, alongside Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris.

Humphreys says he can make the adjustment.

“I’ve played in the middle, the outside. Same mentality, same attitude. It’s to my advantage that I’ve played different positions against the option. I know what Joe is going to do, what Koby is going to do. I just take advantage of those reps in practice.”

Option teams can be prone to turnovers against an aggressive and disciplined defense. But Duke hasn’t forced a turnover in its last two games. It didn’t hurt against NC Central but it did hurt against Virginia Tech.

“We’ve had a couple of periods getting the ball out.” Humphreys says of recent practices. “That’s the way to win games, to get the ball on the ground and we have to do a better job of that this weekend.”

David Cutcliffe says that this Tech offense is “maybe as good as I’ve seen them. They’re a very experienced football team.”

It’s not like Duke doesn’t know what’s coming.

“We play Georgia Tech every year,” Cutcliffe notes. “That does help us. We’ve played multiple option teams since we’ve been here. We have film on Georgia Tech. We’ve played them 11 times. Think about that. Paul Johnson calls a game as good as anybody. He knows his offense.”

Duke can keep some of what it learns playing the Armies of the world. But Tech has ACC-level athletes and Cutcliffe says they pass better than does Army.

While Georgia Tech was demolishing Louisville, Duke had an open week.

Did Duke get better? Humphreys said they spent a few days working on problems that emerged during the VT game, before shifting focus to GT. Fall break just ended and Cutcliffe gave his team some extra time off.

Cutcliffe says his team responded well to their disappointing performance against the Hokies.

“This group of people—it’s not just the team, it’s everyone in the organization—needs to respond. We have good habits here. We rely on good habits. You don’t change everything you’re doing because you have a loss. When you do that, players will respond positively. Disappointed? Everybody was. But you can’t stay disappointed because you won’t work hard. The quality of work we got during the week was good. The mentality coming off the break was great.”

Did Duke get healthier? Cutcliffe says this might be the worst season he’s had for injuries, both game and season-ending and nagging injuries. Injured players took advantage of the down time for rest and rehab. However, he declined to go into the status of specific players.

There is good news on the Daniel Jones front. He came out of the Virginia Tech game hale and hearty.

“I feel good.” He says. “Physically, I felt the same after the game as before the game. I don’t think I took any big hits or landed hard on it (left clavicle). Once the game started, I really didn’t think about it. Right now, I feel normal. I don’t have any pain.”

Jones says he’s comfortable running the ball, albeit with some respect for his body.

“Going into this year, I was thinking about running smarter and getting down. But the play (on which he was injured) happened in the pocket. But I feel good and ready to go.”

Of course, Duke’s offensive line has to block better than it did against VT.

Guard Julian Santos has some ideas how that can happen.

“The biggest thing we can do is get a better understanding of the game, the odds, our weaknesses and how we can improve every single week. Our game plan no matter what is to control the ball, make sure we execute every chance we get. Against a team that runs a triple option, you may not get the ball more than 10 or 11 times. Every opportunity we have, we have to execute, make sure our defense keeps off the field and to execute and make sure we keep drives alive.”

Duke has won three of the last four games between the rivals and kept Tech off the scoreboard in the second half of last season’s 41-20 Duke win. Perhaps, Duke has figured Tech out. Or perhaps, Duke finally has the personnel necessary to slow down Paul Johnson’s triple-option attack.

But Cutcliffe says Duke has a big challenge this weekend. Considering that Duke has won one of its last 11 games in Atlanta, no one thinks this one is going to be easy.


Duke walk-on football players Kevin Gehsmann and Clark Bulleit designed a shock-absorbing pad to protect Daniel Jones’s left clavicle. It was produced off a 3-D printer. Since Gehsmann and Bulleit are engineering majors, none of the coaches or players can really explain it to a bunch of media members who wouldn’t understand it anyway.

Here’s Jones’s best shot.

“They were able to put some of what they were working on in class to use. I don’t know the exact specifics of how all that works. Those are two brilliant guys. But I know it feels good and I’m super appreciative.”

With Marvin Hubbard III out for the season with an Achilles injury, an opportunity has opened up at running back. Cutcliffe suggests that true freshman Mataeo Durant may be the next man up.

“Durant’s getting a lot more reps right now. We’re at the point where we’re moving him forward. Mateo is practicing really well. He’s a unique talent.”

Nico Pierre is also getting extra work.

Durant could still redshirt. But Cutcliffe says that will not factor into the decision.

Georgia Tech leads the nation with an average of 373 rushing yards per game.

Duke is allowing 122.8 yards per game.