Christmas in Shreveport.
Sounds like a John Prine song.
Or maybe Tom T. Hall.
That’s how I got to Shreveport.
We know how Duke got to Shreveport.
What will they find when they get there?
Shreveport is the third largest city in Louisiana. It is the corporate headquarters of Frymaster. If you eat fries in a fast-food restaurant, they likely were fried on Frymaster equipment. There’s an Air Force base. The Red River runs nearby, which leads to some riverboat casinos. Robert Parish played college ball in Shreveport, at Centenary.
But Shreveport also has the Independence Bowl, officially the Walk-On’s Independence Bowl, sponsored by Walk-On’s Bistreaux and Bar. The game has been around since 1976 and is the 11th oldest bowl currently active.
And it’s a very big deal in Shreveport.
Put a bowl game in a pro-centric city like New York, Detroit or Atlanta and it can get swallowed in the larger sport universe.
That is not going to happen in Shreveport.
David Cutcliffe took three Ole Miss teams to the Independence Bowl and he has great affection for the bowl and for Shreveport.
“The hospitality, the team hosts, the executives who volunteer, the entire community, is just incredible. It’s a great city. We’re going to see a lot of things. Our players are in for a treat if they like spicy food. We have a great place to stay. The venue is fantastic.”
The players have gotten the message.
“They put a lot of effort into this, “Joe Giles-Harris says. “For us, this is exciting. I don’t think half of our team has even been to Louisiana. So, we’re excited to see what it holds, what it has for us, to be part of the tradition.”
Daniel Jones says the team is looking forward to “a local tradition where the community gets excited about the game. We’ve got some fun things planned, like a trip to the Air Force base, that we’re looking for. But the best thing is being with your teammates. Being with your teammates is still something where you feel that holiday tradition.”
Cutcliffe says many parents will be there.
“If they can get there, the parents will be there, if not for Christmas Day, we’ll have great turnout at the bowl game.”
But make no mistake, the focus is still on winning a football game. Giles-Harris says it’s a “business trip,” a chance to end the season with a win and wipe away the memories of a season-ending loss to Wake Forest that “is not what this program represents.”
Will Giles-Harris be more than a cheer-leader?
To be determined.
Giles-Harris says he’s “day-do-day, in the training room, trying to get better every day.”
Cutcliffe says Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys will both make the trip but a decision to play or not to play will come later.
Wide receiver Aaron Young will not play.
Cutcliffe says his team has dealt with so many injuries for so long that they have adjusted and moved on.
Duke has had almost a month to put the Wake debacle behind it.
Jones says Duke nursed its wounds for a few days but has moved on.
“We settled in and realized that happened and we were going to learn from it and grow from it and get better. We took time to regroup and practice really well and get ready for this game.”
Giles-Harris compares the lengthy interval to August.
“The extra rest and extra treatment time has definitely been beneficial. It’s like getting back in camp, back in summer. We’ve been through it, we know how to work through it.”
Cutcliffe says Thursday’s practice was the best practice of the season.
He also says that Duke will need that sharpness to come out of next Thursday’s game with a win.
Temple was so impressive in their last game, a 57-7 win over a woeful Connecticut team that Duke ignored that game as an outlier, focusing on the four games preceding it.
“If they can run the football on you, you’re going to have a long afternoon,” Cutcliffe says. “We have to do the best we can. You’re not going to stop them. But what you have to do is minimize explosives, minimize their ability to just turn first down after first down after first down. If we were perfectly healthy, we would be extremely challenged by this team. So, this team will have to play well to compete with Temple.”
Jones cites Duke’s recent practices as reason for optimism.
“I think they’re fast. Up front, they rush the passer well. That’s something we’ll be ready for. They can do a lot of different things. We expect them to be a little bit different with their coaching changes. But it’s the same guys, the same people, solid defense. They play man and zone. They do a good job of mixing it up. But we’ve had time to prepare and another week ahead of us to prepare. I think we’ll be ready.”
Giles-Harris adds that Duke needs to force some turnovers; Temple threw 19 interceptions this season.
“It’s on us to go make them make mistakes. We haven’t capitalized on our opportunities. I’m excited about our matchups on the outside.”
You might be wondering about interim coach Ed Foley’s viral video.
Duke has seen it. Cutcliffe acknowledges Foley’s energy and passion.
As does Giles-Harris. But he adds “we’re excited too. I don’t get any extra motivation from extra noise. We definitely watched the video but we’re motivated to do our best for us. We found out against Wake Forest what happens when you’re not ready to play. It won’t happen again.”