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Tuesday Football Notes

Looking back at a memorable win over Miami and ahead to UNC

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Duke v Miami
MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 03: Daniel Helm #80 of the Duke Blue Devils scores a touchdown in the second half against the Miami Hurricanes at Hard Rock Stadium on November 3, 2018 in Miami, Florida.
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Duke football is in an interesting place right now. The rainy, come-from-behind-win at Miami was Duke’s sixth win of the season, making Duke bowl eligible.


And coming to town is a 1-7 team.

A perfect recipe for a letdown.

But, of course, that 1-7 team is North Carolina, Duke’s arch-rival, the hated Tar Heels.

David Cutcliffe’s Tuesday media conference was full of praise for Carolina, great coaching, great talent, big, strong, fast, skilled, so much coach-speak that Cutcliffe had to deny that he was using coach-speak.

Doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a point. UNC’s only victory was 38-35 over a Pitt team that has dominated Duke of late. Carolina played Virginia Tech a lot tougher than did Duke and played Virginia about as tough.

And we all remember 2014, when a 5-5 Carolina team came into Wallace Wade and pounded an 8-2 Duke team 45-20, afterwards having a baby-blue paintball-party in the visitors’ locker room.

They have talent, certainly enough to come out of Saturday’s game with a win.

Cutcliffe says Duke “I don’t think that [six wins] was ever the focus of this team and it doesn’t need to be now. This team should be focused on what lies ahead, potentially. It makes you hungrier. Our seniors expect more from this team and from themselves. So, if you feel like it, go out and play like it. Seniors get one November. We’ve got three games left, all of which are going to be huge. You take one at a time but they’re going to be huge collectively.”

The players seem to have absorbed that message.

“We’re certainly happy to be bowl eligible,” Daniel Jones says. “But I don’t think being bowl eligible was necessarily our goal going into the season. We’re looking forward to winning a few more games and putting ourselves in a position to go to the best bowl game we can.”

How does Duke do that?

Jones says Duke’s offense is energized by some of the new stuff it’s put in, especially the empty sets, which have opened up things.

Minimizing mistakes continues to be a priority. Playing under horrendous conditions at Miami, Duke committed only three penalties, allowed one sack—center Jack Wohlabaugh said that play was a communication issue—and turned it over once, a tipped interception on fourth down.

Duke has “wet-ball Sundays” weekly, preparing for the monsoon conditions faced last week.

“It’s a product of good habits,” Cutcliffe says. “Consistency comes from good habits. You don’t ever take a snap, as a quarterback or snapper, for granted. You don’t take an exchange between a quarterback and a running back {for granted]. Some people give it lip service. But you don’t take any little fundamental for granted. You never know when it’s going to pay off. Playing on a wet field, it pays off a lot.”

Which suggests it should pay off even more on a dry field.

Duke expects a close game and special teams helped win a close game at Miami. Austin Parker’s clutch punting, a blocked field goal and the snap/hold combination of John Taylor and Jackson Hubbard all came in for praise. A.J. Reed seamlessly took over for injured Jake Driggers on kickoffs.

“Kirk Benedict is a young coach, doing it for the first time,” Cutcliffe says of his special-teams coach. “No one puts more focus and effort into it and the players feed off that. He’s as consistent as anyone around.”

“That was s big edge for us this past weekend,” Johnathan Lloyd says. “That was really good for us to blend our offense and defense and make them have to go a long way in bad conditions. It was a winning edge for us last week and needs to be this week.”

Then there’s Colin Wareham, a big question mark coming into the season. Wareham hit both field goal attempts, the first cutting a 12-7 Miami lead to 12-10, the second extending Duke’s fourth-quarter lead to eight.

“His rhythm and routine is so good, I don’t think he’s ever going to be bothered by bad conditions,” Cutcliffe said.

Wareham is 7-for-8 on field goals.

Duke also needs to continue to force turnovers. Duke has five take-aways in the two ACC wins, none in the three conference losses.

“We always emphasize it but we’re over-emphasizing it,” Cutcliffe says. “We’re putting a quota on our defense and there’s consequences to not reaching the quota.”

That quota if forcing a certain number of turnovers during practice.

Linebacker Koby Quansah elaborates.

“We made it a big priority. We got on ourselves, our coaches got on us. We have a new quota of forcing five turnovers every practice, so everybody is stripping the ball, everybody is tackling the defender and wrapping them up. We know that winning the turnover battle wins the game. Everybody needs to meet at the ball.”

Quansah says his body responded well to his first game in a month.

He could be starting Saturday.

Here’s what Cutcliffe says about injured linebacker Joe Giles-Harris.

“We don’t know right now. Depends on how he feels. No definitive timetable at this point.”

Sounds like a no.

But the rest of the defense is getting healthier. The return of Ben Humphreys was a huge boost to the defense. But players like Drew Jordan, Victor Dimukeje and Derrick Tangelo are healthier than they’ve been in months. Jeremy McDuffie is beginning to resemble last-year’s All-ACC safety. Cutcliffe said McDuffie had his best practice of the season Tuesday.

Cutcliffe says the season is in balance.

“We can’t afford to be up and down. We’ve got to finish this off. November has to be special for us.”

He says he’s relying on his seniors to instill and maintain a sense of urgency.

Lloyd is one of those seniors and he’s determined to guard against a letdown Saturday.

“It’s not going to happen because we know it’s our next game and we know important it is to win this game. If you turn on the tape, they’re not a bad football team. We have to come out and play and if we don’t, they can come in here and win.”


Jones says Duke practices quick kicks on a regular basis. He jokingly says that around the 30 is a good spot for a quick kick because “I can’t kick if through the end zone from there. All my leg goes into getting it to the goal line.”

Wohlabaugh acknowledged that the offensive line responded to media criticism the right

way. “We responded great. We stayed together as a unit. There was no inner fighting. We’re just going to work every practice and just trying to get better. We’re still hungry to keep proving ourselves.”

The Victory Bell was introduced 70 years ago, 1948.

T.J. Rahming has at least three receptions in Duke’s last 16 games. He leads Duke with 44 receptions on the season, 222 for his career.

But Lloyd leads Duke in receiving yardage, 480, on 37 catches. Lloyd is up to 110 for his career.

Rahming is third on Duke’s career receptions list, Lloyd 20th. Max McCaffrey is next for Lloyd, at 117. Second place is out of reach for Rahming. But Lloyd could move into 15th place with 19 more catches over his final four games.

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