After Duke’s loss to Clemson Saturday night, David Cutcliffe said he wanted to look his players in the eye.
Here’s what he found.
“I thought Sunday, it was outstanding. When you go into a team room—and I’ve been doing this a long time—I felt like we responded exactly the way we expected them to respond. They were focused, they understood the circumstance that surrounds us here. I had lots of individual meetings that I thought went exceptionally well. I would expect our team to respond to all that.”
Cutcliffe added that he doesn’t often have a lot of individual meetings this late in the season.
“You could tell my mood. I felt like it was something I needed to address.”
If we go in the way-back-machine to about this time last year, we find Duke and Wake Forest in almost exactly opposite positions. Duke went into Wake Forest at 5-6, desperately needing a win to become bowl eligible.
Duke needs to be able to answer that sense of urgency.
“It’s definitely fresh on our minds,” Zach Harmon says,” how much we were willing to do anything, whatever it takes to win that game. We know what to expect from them, because they’ll have the same mindset. You have to stay hungry. A win might give us a better bowl placement. But there’s so much more to play for. Wake Forest is a physical team. It’s a pride thin. It’s an in-state rival.”
T.J. Rahming agrees.
“They’re going to come in swinging. Managing the game. If we match their intensity, we’ll come out hard. At the end of the day, we don’t want to end the season on a loss. So, I think we’ll match their intensity.”
Duke has discussed this in team meetings.
Duke may have to match that intensity without star linebackers Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys, both battling injuries.
Look for Koby Quansah and Brandon Hill to start at linebacker.
Quansah has been battling a foot injury but says he’s ready to play lots of snaps, should the situation dictate.
“I believe I’m ready to go. The training staff has gotten me ready, so when I go in, I don’t miss a beat.”
Quansah notes that he and Hill have practiced together a lot on the second team, so they’re starting to develop some of the chemistry that has helped make Giles-Harris and Humphreys so successful.
Duke has moved defensive end Chris Rumph back to linebacker for at least this week. Rumph played some linebacker earlier this season.
Xander Gagnon and true freshman Shaka Hayward are also getting work at linebacker.
There is some good news on the injury front. Brittain Brown got his most extensive work in some time against Clemson and Cutcliffe says Brown has responded well and we should see more of him this week.
Duke’s battered defense again failed to force a turnover.
“To create fumbles,” Cutcliffe says, “you’ve got to be conscious about stripping the ball, about putting a shoulder on the ball, doing every little thing. You get what you emphasize and obviously I’ve not emphasized this enough. I think we have a chance to force some turnovers, if we play well.”
Cutcliffe noted that Wake quarterback Jamie Newman camped at Duke and that he has some elite playmakers, especially wide receiver Greg Dortch, whom Cutcliffe calls “a great player.”
“I think this is as big a game as we’ll play all season,” Cutcliffe says. “If we can go 3-1 in November, that’s a pretty good November. If we can’t exceed our opponents in intensity, things aren’t going to go well. We’d better be hungry.”
The team will celebrate Thanksgiving with a big lunch Thursday at the Hilton. Since this is a holiday weekend, Duke expects lots of parents to be in attendance.
Harmon is a senior, playing his final home game.
He sums up his emotions.
“I’ve grown a lot here, physically and mentally. Duke has shaped me into the man I am today and the man that I want to be. That’s through a lot of the great examples of players who have played here and shared their blood, sweat and tears to set up this program to be where it is today. I hope in four or five years here from now, another guy will say that about our class of seniors. It’s nice to put a product out there that we can be proud of.”
The list of seniors for Senior Day includes three players who have eligibility remaining, safeties Jordan Hayes and Brandon Feamster and defensive lineman Twazanga Mugala.
Running back Deon Jackson has 776 rushing yards. Bowl game stats count, so Jackson needs 224 yards to become the first Duke player under Cutcliffe to rush for 1,000 yards.