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Coach Cutcliffe On Adapting To Injuries

No one wants injuries, but Duke has prepared for this sort of situation.

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Duke v Northwestern
EVANSTON, IL- SEPTEMBER 08: Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman #81 of the Northwestern Wildcats tries to catch a pass as Michael Carter II #26 of the Duke Blue Devils defends him during the second half on September 8, 2018 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. The Duke Blue Devils won 21-10.
Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

Depth. That’s been one of David Cutcliffe’s mantras since his first day at Duke. Recruit depth, develop depth, play depth.

That depth is going to be tested big time as Duke’s injury-plagued 2018 season develops.

“It’s not Pollyanna,” Cutcliffe says, “but this is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for Duke football, it’s an opportunity for the program. I’m not trying to minimize anything that has happened but every one of these circumstances, but if you’re a competitor, it’s an opportunity.”

We’ve talked a lot in the last few days about Mark Gilbert’s season-ending hip injury and Daniel Jones’s clavicle injury. But it’s not just those two key players. Wide receiver Aaron Young, safety Jeremy McDuffie and offensive lineman Zach Harmon are all listed as day-to-day. Cutcliffe praises Duke’s medical people but there’s no guarantee any of these key players will suit up against Baylor this Saturday.

Who replaces Gilbert?

“Michael Carter and Josh Blackwell have stepped up in a big way,” Cutcliffe says. “We have different combinations we’re working out there. Antone Williams is getting work, Myles Hudzick is getting work, we’ll get Mason Williams possibly some work. You can never have enough. They’re great athletes, with a lot of speed. Josh Blackwell has great speed.”

Jones’s replacement will be redshirt junior Quentin Harris, the only other quarterback on the roster who’s ever taken a snap in a real college game. I’ll have more on Harris and the quarterback situation later in the week.

Redshirt freshman Leonard Johnson has likewise made a big impact at safety, moving ahead of veteran Jordan Hayes. He can also play corner.

“Talk about freak in the weight room, freak athlete,” Giles-Harris says of Johnson, “when you’re called upon, you either make or break. Last week he stepped up and made some plays, got his feet wet, got those first-game jitters out of the way.”

Ohio State transfer Jack Wohlabaugh has snapped the ball 46 times in Duke’s first two games and has been practicing with the first team this week.

He will start if Harmon can’t go.

We’re ready for anything,” Wohlabaugh says. “Whatever happens, we’ll be prepared for it.”

Cutcliffe says that Wohlabaugh would practice eight days a week if he could.

Young’s injury is a hamstring and we all know how tricky they can be.

“He’s chomping at the bit,” Cutcliffe says. “But I’m chomping at the bit to make sure he’s healthy.”

What about Baylor? They’ve already won twice, after last season’s 1-11 mark. Their victories are against Abilene Christian and Texas-San Antonio, so it’s not much of a reach to say they haven’t been tested against a team of Duke’s caliber.

But Cutcliffe says he’s seen significant improvement in Matt Rhule’s second Baylor team.

“They’re good schematically, offensively, defensively and absolutely in the kicking game. They’re physically better. Confidence, conditioning playing harder. They chase the ball, they play to the end of the play. You can tell it’s their team, now. You’ve got to battle every down. You can’t let the down and distance remain normal against a team like that. You have to defend and keep the explosives down.”

Baylor’s strength is a wide-receiver corps that includes sprinter Chris Platt, who torched Duke for touchdowns of 73 and 79 yards in last season’s 34-20 Duke team and former Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd.

No question that Duke’s young secondary will be tested. They will be helped if Duke can get the pass rush against Baylor’s Charlie Brewer and it did last week against Northwestern’s quarterbacks.

“Our D-line is probably one of the in the country, if not the best,” Giles-Harris maintains. “Those guys are phenomenal. They make playing linebacker easier, they make playing D-back easier. When the quarterback has two seconds to throw, maybe less, they make bad decisions. They just have a killer mentality.”

All of this will be taking place in Waco, Texas in the backdrop of Hurricane Florence, which has already shut down weekend sports activities around North Carolina. Duke has amended its schedule so that they will fly out (chartered) Thursday instead of Friday. With classes at Duke canceled, there’s no reason not to.

Duke expects to find a local high school for a Friday practice. If they can’t fly back into RDU, they’ll fly into an alternate airport and bus back to Durham.

“We’ll adjust,” Cutcliffe says. “Every once in a while, you have to improvise.”


Cutcliffe said he was “struggling” when he visited Gilbert in the hospital after Sunday’s surgery.

“He picked me up. He’s a special young man. He will grow from this adversity. I believe in my heart of hearts that he’ll come out of this a better physical prospect than what he is today.”

Duke and Stanford are the only teams this year with two wins over teams that won at least 10 games last season.

Duke allowed 21 points in its first two games, the lowest total against two FBS teams since the 1971 team allowed six to Florida and 12 to South Carolina.

Duke is one of only 13 teams to have not thrown an interception after two games.