Duke football has its home opener this Saturday against perennial FCS power North Carolina A&T. Duke wants to move on from last week’s closer-than-the-score-suggests 42-3 loss to Alabama. But first they want to take away some lessons.
“We played hard,” David Cutcliffe told the media Tuesday. “There’s no question. You know what was interesting? They played harder. If there’s a lesson learned, that’s it. That’s what really great football teams do. You find a way to play harder than your opponent no matter how hard they play. If we take that challenge and we really absorb that--and this was the conversation Sunday--I wasn’t upset, I wasn’t raising Cain. But I was pretty emotional about this. That’s the game. That’s where it lives.”
Cutcliffe did see some good things, especially from his defense.
“The defense played well early. The defense managed the front.” But Duke missed some tackles and didn’t always pursue well. The defense “stayed on the field too much, got tired but the biggest thing is we need to tackle better.”
Safety Dylan Singleton, end Tre Hornbuckle and especially linebacker Koby Quansah were singled out for praise. Cutcliffe said Quansah “played fierce in that game and he’s a week out of surgery. . . . let’s see if we can’t get our entire football team at that level.”
Running back Deon Jackson says the team will take what it can from the loss and move on.
“Definitely not the result I was looking for. We were all pretty amped up. I was pretty amped up. I had a lot of family and friends. It left a sour taste in my mouth after the game. But there’s a lot of stuff we can build on for the rest of the season. The mood hasn’t been negative or anything like that. Everybody’s uplifting. We saw some positive things from the film. We hung together and fought together. We feel like we’re going to have a great season.”
Singleton conceded that Duke’s defense got tired in the second half but added that Duke needs to improve its conditioning.
“We competed hard. We flew around and went after the ball. We need to build on that. We worked on conditioning and tackling today.”
North Carolina A&T comes into Wade 1-0, off a last-second field goal to beat Elon 24-21. The Aggies are ranked 14th in the coaches FCS-poll and were good enough to beat East Carolina last year.
Duke has never played A&T in football but Cutcliffe praised Sam Washington’s program.
“ They are champions. They do what champions do.” Cutcliffe cited their talent, coaching, and the fact that they “compete at an extremely high level. Systematically, they’re as good as I’ve seen.” Balanced, with speed at the skill positions and great kickers.
Duke ran the ball well at times against Alabama but Cutcliffe says Duke will still strive for balance between the running and passing games.
Cutcliffe said the first of Quentin Harris’ two interceptions “was a great play by the corner [Trevon Diggs]. The second one, Quentin made a bad decision and let the ball drift inside and put way too much air under it. It’s just part of the game. You move forward.”
Maintaining composure will be a priority. Cutcliffe and Edgar Cerenord had a meeting Sunday to discuss Cerenord’s personal-foul penalty in the third quarter.
“Disappointment was an understatement,” Cutcliffe says of his response. “Edgar was out-competed on the play” and took out his frustrations with a costly 15 yards and an ejection.
Duke did come out of the opener without any significant injuries. Brittain Brown practiced today and X-rays on Noah Gray’s ribs came up negative and he should be good to go later this week.
Duke said all the right things today about focus and intensity and attention to details, about learning from your mistakes and moving forward. Saturday we’ll start finding out if those lessons have truly been learned.