David Cutcliffe’s 11th Duke season opens in three days, Friday night against Army.
Today’s media luncheon touched on a number of topics.
Let’s start with the fact that the game is on Friday, a day that many believe should be reserved for the high-school game.
Cutcliffe understands the dilemma. He also understands the benefits that accrue to playing on Friday.
“When ESPN asks you to play these games, you’re going to get good exposure. I don’t love playing Friday nights, when high-school football teams are playing. But we have television contracts and we are certainly going to follow through when we’re asked. I’m particularly excited because this is Labor Day weekend and that gives people a great opportunity to come to a football game Friday night and if they want to have Labor Day off to do something, they can.”
Cutcliffe thinks his team is ready for the challenge of a new season.
“Our team has responded really well. We have no excuses as coaches because they’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do. We have some ability. But ability alone doesn’t win football games. We have to continue to be consistent and efficient. Our opening opponent requires that you be efficient. I expect us to play well. And every time we do that on a national platform, it helps us, because we recruit nationally.”
He’s especially pleased with Duke’s depth and competition
“Nobody feels comfortable saying ‘I can go through the motions and remain a starter.’ There’s a lot of competition, more at the skill positions than we’ve ever had before and defensively across the board. If you’re Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys, you might think you’d be the most comfortable people on the field. But you’d better perform because we’ve got young people trying to perform as well as them and that’s how your team gets better.”
That brings up Army. They’re an option team and Duke both has experience against Army (last three years) and Georgia Tech (every year).
Linebacker Joe Giles-Harris says Duke has been preparing for this game since the end of last season. Cutcliffe says Duke has spent seven days preparing for Army.
The biggest concern defending a triple-option team is getting off the field. When their offense is clicking, they can chew up the clock, exhausting opposing defenders and keeping the opposing offense off the field.
Giles-Harris had 10 tackles against Army last year, so he knows something about defending the Cadets.
“You have to be physically and mentally prepared for that. I think we do enough of that in practice, focusing on those seven, eight-minute drives. You have to stay true to yourselves, trusting the other 10 guys around you. We’ve been out in the sun, going against 10, 12-play drives. Getting them off the field is tough. Trust your assignment. Once someone tries to be a super hero, do a little bit more than you need to, it ends up being a big play for them. It’s definitely a small margin of error. Things that can be a two-yard play turn into a 60-yard play in the blink of an eye if you’re not careful.”
Cutcliffe says Duke may have some defensive tricks up its sleeve.
“We have lot of different combinations. Configuration adjustments. I’m anxious to see how we play them. We’re going to be very multiple in that regard.”
Army rarely throws the ball. But they use that to their advantage, showing a knack for a sneak attack. They only threw one pass against Duke last season but hit it for a 42-yard gain.
“You just play your responsibility,” Cutcliffe says. “We’re going to match up. We have really good athletes. But you can’t have an eye violation. You’ve got to play in the secondary remembering that it’s pass first, run second.”
Of course, Army’s ball-control offense can put pressure on opposing offenses.
“It makes each possession more valuable,” Daniel Jones says. “We’re aware of that, how we value each possession. It puts a little more pressure on you. It just shortens the game.”
“It places a higher value on each possession,” Johnathan Lloyd adds, “knowing that offensively your possessions are limited and you have to be productive and not fall too far behind because then they’re just going to chew up the clock.”
Duke only had eight possessions last season and Jones was sacked three times.
Jones owns that.
“I think we have a really good plan. With Army, what they do is pressure not as much one-on-one but give you different pressures, give you different looks, confuse you, ger you to go the other way. That’s on my shoulders to make sure we’re in the right situation, the right protections.”
“It’s a combination of Daniel’s awareness and schematically them doing a good job. If you give up three sacks in eight possessions, that’s an extremely high number. We have to protect him from a protection-scheme standpoint and he needs to be able to make those adjustments and the team has to be able to make them and everything has to happen in rhythm.”
Duke lost to Army last year 21-16, so no one is looking past the visitors.
“We’re aware of their success last year,” Jones dead-panned. “We’re looking forward to it. We certainly want to start off with a win. They were a 10-win team last year and we certainly expect them to be pretty similar to what they were last year. It’s a big opportunity to show where we are, what we’ve been working on.”
Lloyd says the team remembers the Army loss.
“After the game, we looked at ourselves and decided to make a change. We knew we were better than what we had been playing. We lost so many close games. We didn’t finish, didn’t do the little things we did do when we won our last three games.”
Jeremy McDuffie is listed as first team safety but Cutcliffe says he’s still not 100 percent, although he’s getting there. He should play Friday but no guarantees.
Freshman wide receiver Jake Bobo was injured in practice Sunday. He still might play.
Aaron Young, T.J. Rahming and Lloyd should start at wide receiver, with Chris Taylor and hopefully Bobo also seeing the field. Maybe others. A very deep position.
Duke had its Tuesday (hard) practice Sunday morning, before church. Cutcliffe said Duke asked for and received forgiveness. Yesterday was the first day of classes and Duke did not practice. Light practice today.
One surprise on the depth chart. Incumbent Ben Wyatt is listed as long (punt) snapper but sophomore John Taylor is listed as short (place-kick) snapper. No one can recall Duke ever having this split. No other great surprises on the depth chart.