David Cutcliffe tells his football team that people will remember them by what they do in November.
Well, guess what? It’s November. It’s cold, it gets dark early and Duke will be hosting one of college-football’s most storied programs Saturday night in front of a sold-out Wallace Wade Stadium, good portions of which are expected to be wearing Irish Green.
I’m not sure Duke’s players have the same sense of Notre Dame’s place in the football universe as I have.
Quentin Harris says “It’s a very storied program with a lot of history behind it but that’s very similar to all the teams we’ve played so far. We’re very fortunate to play in the ACC, where we have lots of schools that are rich in history. We obviously respect, them, but we’re taking it week-by-week and they’re the most important team on the schedule because they’re the next one.”
Well, not really. Notre Dame has more Heisman winners than the ACC combined.
But it might be good that Duke doesn’t put Notre Dame on a pedestal. After all, it’s only been three years since Duke went into South Bend and came back with a stunning, upset victory.
“What they do realize,” Cutcliffe says about his team, “is the practicality of how good they [Notre Dame] are. They’re a team that was in the college-football playoffs a year ago for a reason. . . . They don’t remember what we remember. The Notre Dame football tradition is as rich and as deep as any in college football. But that’s not on social media, so they don’t know about it.”
What does Duke have to do to duplicate that 2016 win?
Duke is coming off a bye week, where it’s always crucial to get some healing while retaining an edge.
Duke defensive back Leonard Johnson talks about that.
“If you’re banged up, it’s mandatory treatment during bye week. Get relaxed but get extra treatment. But we have to maintain our edge. We can’t take it easy just because it’s a bye week.”
“A lot of people who were playing hurt, we just held out of practices,” Cutcliffe added. “That hopefully has helped us. We had a good contingent out there today, healthy.”
Notre Dame averages a healthy 13.2 yards per pass completion and they’re fond of taking shots down field.
“What we play is man-to-man, right in their face,” Johnson says. “We do the same thing every week, prepare and do what we do, execute what we do. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
He adds that the secondary will need some help from the defensive line if it hopes to contain mobile quarterback Ian Book.
“You’ve got to be a warrior,” Cutcliffe adds. “You’ve got to be physical. Our defense sees big, strong receivers in practice everyday. We spent a lot of time today going good versus good.
It’s the best way we can mimic what we’re going to see. . . First of all, you have to find some way to generate some pass rush. You’ve got to make the quarterback uncomfortable about holding the ball. Secondly, we’ve got to mix coverages, we’ve got to put ourselves in good positions to avoid giving up explosives plays. One of the best ways to do it is for our offense to stay on the field and make a few explosive plays of our own.”
Harris is looking at a Notre Dame defense that sticks to basics.
“They’re not doing a whole lot of different things. They really trust their guys, trust their athleticism, as they should. They’re a group that’s going to make plays, very sticky guys in coverage, athletic linebackers, disruptive front.”
Cutcliffe says Duke has concentrated on offensive precision.
“We’ve got a multitude of things to run. But you can’t be the master of all. We’ve got to make sure that what you do is make tough decisions and this is what we’re going to be outstanding at doing and we’re going to ride this. The other part of it is we’ve taken the approach in practice, that everything matters. That’s how you have to play pristine.”
Harris says he’s okay if lots of visiting fans contribute to an electric atmosphere.
“That’s fine, the more noise, the better.”
And he’s from Connecticut so he’s played in colder weather than what’s projected for Saturday.
“I’ve gotten pretty used to the southern climate now. But I do feel comfortable playing in a little bit colder weather.”
Cutcliffe noted that Duke practices in the morning and has already seen some cold temperatures. Cold weather will not likely be an advantage playing against a team that practices right by Lake Michigan but perhaps not a disadvantage either.
Football coaches tend to hype up the opposition but Cutcliffe’s description of Notre Dame may not be coach speak.
This Notre Dame team is “very typical of the better Notre Dame teams I’ve seen. They’re really big, powerful, but at the same time, they have a lot of people that can run. They’re explosively fast, they’re skilled on offense, they’re skilled in the secondary, their linebackers are aggressive.”
Sounds like a lot to take on. But Duke feels like it can meet the challenge with pristine execution and commitment to detail.
We’ll find out soon enough.
And don’t forget the hot chocolate.