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David Cutcliffe On Syracuse And NC State

A nice Saturday - can Duke build on it?

NCAA Football: Duke at Syracuse
 Oct 10, 2020; Syracuse, New York, USA; Duke Blue Devils place kicker Charlie Ham (44) kicks a field goal against the Syracuse Orange during the third quarter at the Carrier Dome. 
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a long time since the Duke football team went back to practice coming off a recent win; about a year in fact, when Duke followed up a win over Georgia Tech with a five-game losing streak. Duke broke that losing streak with a win over Miami but that was the last game of the season and Duke didn’t go bowling.

So, what do you do when you’ve just posted your first win of the 2020 season?

You ratchet it up, according to David Cutcliffe.

A win “makes practice better. You should be more motivated than ever. I expect our team will be excited to work and prepare. Right now . . . our will to prepare has been outstanding. I want to see it go up another notch. When you win it should increase hunger rather than decrease hunger.”

Duke is going to need all the hunger and preparation it can muster this Saturday against a suddenly hot NC State team. State is 3-1, with a 30-29 win over Pittsburgh and a 38-21 win over Virginia in its two most recent starts.

State has scored 137 points in four games. Duke cannot get into a shoot-out with the Wolfpack.

They’re “balanced on offense,” Cutcliffe says. “They do a great job of mixing things up, run and pass. They’ve got receivers, they’re protecting their quarterback well and [Ricky] Person and [Zonovan] Knight are both outstanding backs. They run the football in a variety of ways. Their scheme is good.

“What we have to do defensively is we have to be complete. You have to try to stop the run. Everybody in football says it. It’s much easier to say it than it is to do it. You have to do a tremendous job of being in gaps. You have to do a tremendous job of trying to wipe blocks. You have to stop the run game before it really gets started. You’ve got to be able to rush the quarterback.”

And you have to be able to stop explosives. Syracuse had no success sustaining long drives against Duke Saturday but they hit touchdown passes of 79 and 53 yards. And State has more talent at the skill positions.

“Rush the passer. Keep the ball in front of you. We’re a very aggressive defensive team with a lot of man coverage and when you do that you have to be a great technique team.”

It will help if senior defensive tackle Derrick Tangelo can build on the Syracuse game, where he had three tackles-for-loss. Ends Chris Rumph and Victor Dimukeje get the lion’s share of ink but Cutcliffe says Tangelo is just as important.

“I thought he played terrific.” I told him to “build off of it. Understand how explosive you are and can be and let’s see where we can take this. It’s got to be a consistent thing.”

A complete game will include building on Saturday’s run dominance. Fresh off a career-best 169 rushing yards Deon Jackson went out of his way to praise the blocking of Duke’s wide receivers.

Cutcliffe says this is no accident.

“If you’re going to play for [position coach]Trooper Taylor, you’re going to block. No block, no ball. It’s that simple. I’m very proud of those guys. It’s become important to them. It’s a habit in practice. It’s not one of them, it’s all of them.”

Cutcliffe also talked about Duke’s return game. With Josh Blackwell out Duke has tried several options at punt returner.

True freshman Jontavis Robertson got the nod against Syracuse. Cutcliffe says he’s “encouraged” by Robertson’s progress.

Damond Philyaw-Johnson dressed out against Syracuse but didn’t play due to an injury. No word on his return day. Jaylen Stinson, another true freshman, will return kicks in the interim.

He’s “really dynamic” Cutcliffe says. “I think he has a chance at being terrific.”

Despite being separated by only 25 miles or so Duke and NC State don’t play often. This will only be the fourth time they’ve met since Cutcliffe came to Duke. The Blue Devils have won the last two.

Cutcliffe was asked if the two programs should meet more often. He agreed in the abstract but added that it is “not really something you can do from an ACC standpoint” and deflected attention back to the more immediate task of turning one win into a winning streak.

“They’re very aggressive on defense. They’re physical, they tackle well. They’re a complete football team; we need to play a complete game. We know we’re capable. In all five of our games we have had moments where we’ve played really good football. The thing we have to continue to do . . . is put together a complete game.”