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Duke Football: Wednesday Notes

A big game looms Saturday and Duke is working hard to get ready

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NCAA Football: North Carolina Central at Duke
Sep 22, 2018; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils running back Brittain Brown (22) with the ball in the first quarter at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Raise your hand if you had Duke a six-point favorite over Virginia Tech at the beginning of the season.

Liar, liar.

Nobody saw VT being in a position to play the we-don’t-get-no-respect card.

Duke has earned its stripes, 4-0, a win over Army that looks more impressive every day and two road wins as underdogs against teams from Power-5 conferences.

But, oh, the Hokies. They jumped in the rankings after opening with a 24-3 win over a Florida State team that hasn’t impressed anyone recently. But they plummeted after last weekend’s 49-35 debacle at Old Dominion, a game that put ODU football on the national map for the first time in, well, forever.

What to make of that ODU game?

David Cutcliffe says not much.

He calls it an “outlier,” especially the 49 points allowed by Bud Foster’s usually solid defense.

“They’ve looked at the tape and I’ve talked to them,” he says of his team. “If you’re foolish enough to take Tech lightly, then you probably need to be in another sport, in another line of business. That’s not coach-talk. That’s reality. No offense to Old Dominion but if they play 100 times, that only happens once. They’re [VT] very systematic in their defense. They have a large repertoire. They are a team that has always adapted to the team they are playing well and I know they would do that with us. Will they be ready? Absolutely. They make you beat them. It will be a huge challenge.”

Duke can also show their team from last year, when Virginia Tech pounded Duke 24-3, on a cold, wet, miserable night in Blacksburg.

“I think we take the mistakes we made last year and understand how we fix them,” linebacker Joe Giles-Harris says of that game. “I think we also consider it a big game, an ACC game at night, very similar to last year. We just focus on playing our game. We definitely don’t want a slow start. We want to play high-energy, go fast for four quarters.”

A conference rival, at night, on ESPN-2?

“There’s so much energy built up for this game.” Giles-Harris adds. “We’re 4-0, at home, on national TV. It all builds up. You play college football to play in these games.”

The Hokies will be without starting quarterback Josh Jackson, who broke a leg against ODU. And not in the theatrical sense of the term.

But backup QB Ryan Willis played well for the Hokies after Jackson went down. He played two seasons at Kansas, so he’s been around the block.

Giles-Harris says Duke has seen enough of Willis to be impressed.

“He’s very capable. They trust him. He’s an older guy. He can run their schemes. We expect the same thing we would expect from their starter. We’re not expecting a drop off. If he weren’t talented, he wouldn’t be playing quarterback for them.”

Cutcliffe adds that Duke expects Tech to run the same schemes, the same plays for Willis as they would for Jackson.

“The system is the system. He can run, he’s athletic, he has a really good arm. I’m more concerned about those running backs, receivers and tight ends and that big offensive line.”

Cutcliffe says Tech is one of the most physical teams Duke plays, which brings up a practice conundrum. Duke wants a couple of very physical practices going into the game but they can’t afford to exacerbate their injury woes. Threading the needle, 101.

Zach Harmon, Aaron Young and Michael Carter got some work today but Cutcliffe isn’t sure if any will play Saturday. Jeremy McDuffie seems to be responding well to the 28 snaps he took against Central.

Daniel Jones?

He should practice some next week. But unless Duke is planning some serious deception games, I still expect Quentin Harris to start Saturday.

Harris says he’s ready.

“We’re looking forward to what [Virginia Tech] is going to show us this week. We definitely expect them at their best. Practice reps can only teach you so much. Getting those game reps really helps me see defenses, slows things down for me. It’s made me a little more confident of my reads.”

A big game, in every respect. The best advice is to forget about ODU. Duke and VT enter Saturday night’s nationally-televised contest 0-0 in ACC play and the winner will have a head-start on the Coastal Division race.


Not including the special-team guys who have been playing all along, Duke used 15 walk-ons against Central. A lot of that came on special teams. But Carter Griffin and Ryan Wolitzer each had a carry, while defensive lineman Scott Jones had a tackle from scrimmage.

Cutcliffe praised these guys for their hard work and dedication and seemed delighted at rewarding them with what likely will be their only game action of the season.

My old-school heart loved the classic screen pass from Harris to Brittain Brown, that went for 44 yards and a score.

Here’s Harris’s call.

“I thought it was a great play call by Coach Roper, just to kind of set the defense up. You have a read based on the defense. You have a player going the other way and if they respond to that, then you knew, if it opened up, then Brittain was going to have a great opportunity to run it like he did. I noticed (Jack) Wohlabaugh had a great block. It was a really well-executed play on their part. All I really had to do was not get sacked and get the ball to Brittain.”

Brown says improving his receiving skills has been a priority since day one.

“As soon as I came here, I knew I wanted to start working on my hands. I worked with DJ and Q over the summer. It’s a process and you have to do three things as a running back, run, block and catch and if we can do all three of those, then we’re unstoppable.”

Through four games of his redshirt sophomore season, Brown has averaged 5.46 yards per rush, 13.67 yards per reception and 25.5 yards per kick return.

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