To say that Duke football is coming off an interesting week would be a huge understatement. An injury-depleted Blue Devils squad upset Baylor in the 90-degree Waco sauna, a week after upsetting Northwestern on the road. Duke and BYU are the only teams with two road wins over teams from Power 5 conferences. Duke is high in the other-receiving-votes category in both national polls and is ranked higher in computer polls.
But it’s not just what happened on the field. Duke did all this while dealing with the impact of Hurricane Florence, which was devastating its home state. Duke left Durham a day early and practiced on local high-school fields.
Duke has players from Fayetteville, Jacksonville, Richmond and other places impacted by the storm.
“We’re getting solid reports,” David Cutcliffe says. “I’ve had a lot of conversations with them asking if there’s anything we can do for them emotionally, to help them but also to help their families. That’s what really matters the most.”
Duke was also dealing with Saturday’s death of Jim Guerrieri, father of defensive coordinator and safeties coach Matt Guerrieri. Guerrieri coached Saturday’s game before revealing the news of his father’s death.
He’s still out, with Duke covering for him with the other full-time defensive coaches, grad-assistants and skype-calls.
“I don’t know how he’s finding time to do that,” Cutcliffe says of the skype calls,” but he’s his daddy’s son. I stay out when he’s on because it makes me sad but he’s doing all that he can possibly do. That’s the kind of person he is.”
“We’re going to do everything we can to be successful for him,” cornerback Myles Hudzick adds.
“It was a tiring, tough trip in a game that zapped a lot of energy from us. I think our young people will be challenged,” Cutcliffe says.
Duke’s Saturday opponent is cross-town rival North Carolina Central. Rival might not be the right word. The Eagles are in the FCS-level and have never come close to straining Duke. Cutcliffe said all the right things about Central, praising their coaching, schemes and effort but nobody expects the game to be competitive for very long.
Doesn’t mean there aren’t things to work on.
There were some special-team issues at Baylor that need to be addressed. Colin Wareham shanked a PAT, his only missed kick this season.
The miss came after a one-play, 66-yard drive and Cutcliffe indicated his specialists weren’t ready to take the field.
“I told our young but senior place-kicker ‘there you go with your first one-play score.’ You’d better be like the battery; ever ready. You can’t rely on being able to go through your pre-kick routine, then decide you’re ready. When we call on a kick, you’d better have your butt ready. That goes for snapper, holder, kicker. I wasn’t very happy about that.”
Costlier was the blocked punt that led to a Baylor TD.
“A complete mental error,” Cutcliffe says. “A perfect snap, perfect execution by Austin (Parker). We just let a man go free for no good reason. And that’s the result. I’m still mad about that one. That can get you beat. It was bad coaching on my part.”
It wasn’t all bad on special teams. T.J. Rahming had 59 yards on three punt returns, his best day in Duke blue.
Cutcliffe says Duke let Baylor punt over Rahming’s head last year and moved him back 50 yards from the line of scrimmage to make sure it didn’t happen again.
Duke also needs to get healthy. Cutcliffe described Michael Carter, Edgar Cerenord, Jeremy McDuffie, Aaron Young, Zach Harmon and Terrell Lucas as day-to-day. Harmon, Young, McDuffie and Lucas got some work today, albeit “not all that they need.”
Cutcliffe says Duke’s injured players are getting so much treatment they they’re studying in the training room any time they’re not in class.
So, Duke needs to figure out a balance this weekend against NCCU, getting snaps for people who need snaps, perhaps working some walking wounded back in the mix, while trying to minimize the chances of additional injuries.
Quentin Harris? Expect him to play at least the first half, probably into the third quarter and work on getting even better.
“I’ve looked at the game film (from Baylor) to see where I can improve, where I can get better, where I can help our offense get better. I’ve never believed myself to be only a running quarterback. I’ve always thought of myself as a pocket passer and thought that Coach Cut could help me refine that.”
Timing issues on short passes?
“Some of that was timing, me being a little quick. We’ll continue to work on that.”
“I think he knows without question where he can take another step,” Cutcliffe says of Harris, “and I expect him to take that step. [Improving his completion percentage] often comes from better pre-snap reads.”
Both Harris and T.J. Rahming say that the seven-yard TD fade came as the result of lots of repetition.
“After Daniel went down, we put in the extra work, the extra reps,” Rahming says. “That’s something we probably ran 50 times during camp. He had perfect touch, a perfect angle. When you do it so many times, it’s muscle memory, just trusting the ball to be there.”
“T.J. and I have gotten some pockets of time together,” Harris adds “and have continued to build our chemistry. That’s a route we run all the time in practice. With a guy like, T.J., he‘s pretty quick, so just give him some air and let him run under it.”
Johnathan Lloyd’s one-handed TD grab? Harris jokes that Duke didn’t practice that one and Lloyd did it all on his own.
Leonard Johnson’s pick-six against Baylor was Duke’s 16th interception returned for a touchdown in Cutcliffe’s Duke tenure.
Harris notes that he and Jack Wohlabaugh have spent most of the pre-season and season on the second team, which gave them chemistry last week when injuries elevated both to the first team.
Duke will wear an MD decal on their helmets in honor of Mary Dinkins.