David Cutcliffe met with the media Monday prior to Duke’s first ever football meeting with Charlotte. Because of COVID-19 issues the 49ers have only played four times this season bit are coming off a 49-21 win over North Texas and a 38-28 win over UTEP, evening their record at 2-2.
Charlotte runs a pro-style offense and a 4-2-5 defense. Cutcliffe says it’s not exactly like looking in a mirror when he looks at them but there are some similarities.
“Offensively they’re multiple. I think they’re really creative offensively. Everything kind of revolves around the quarterback. He’s very talented. A balanced run-pass. You can tell it’s a Will Healy offense. They do an outstanding job. They’re very dangerous offensively. On defense . . . I love what they do. They have a versatile defense, an aggressive defense.”
That quarterback is redshirt junior Chris Reynolds. He’s not very big-5-11, 190-but he’s mobile and accurate.
And Duke will face him with a depleted secondary. Cornerback Mark Gilbert opted out for the remainder of the 2020 season to prepare for the 2021 draft. Gilbert has been out with an injured foot and Cutcliffe said he did not expect Gilbert back this season but Gilbert wanted to make that clear to his teammates. Cutcliffe said that he does not expect injured cornerback Josh Blackwell back this season and said that injured cornerback Leonard Johnson is “questionable” for this Saturday.
And don’t forget that safety Lummie Young will miss the first half of the Charlotte game after being called for targeting in the NC State game.
“Whether it’s Jeremiah Lewis . . . Michael Carter, Tony Davis, who’s getting more and more work, those guys have been outstanding. They work so hard at practice. . .. The [position] room has gotten tighter and smaller.”
Davis is a highly-touted (four-star recruit) redshirt freshman who has a big opportunity to step up and make a positive impact.
Defensive backfield isn’t the only depleted position. Cutcliffe confirmed that starting center Will Taylor will undergo surgery this week and likely will not return this season.
Taylor began the season backing up Jack Wohlabaugh, also out for the season with an injury.
Duke has the option of moving someone like guard Maurice McIntyre to center but right now Duke is going with true freshmen Graham Barton and Addison Penn and redshirt freshman Elijah Wroten.
Barton got his feet wet at Carter-Finley and Cutcliffe liked what he saw.
“I couldn’t be more proud of true freshman Graham Barton who stepped up. . . . He will be our starting center. He’s an extremely talented young man.”
Cutcliffe added that the 6-6, 315-pound Barton is an exceptional athlete.
Cutcliffe said Duke is concentrating on shoring up several areas of concern.
“We have resilient people. They came to work. We got outstanding work done during the open date. . . . On offense you had to focus on two things. You can’t turn the ball over like that and be a winning football team. . . . Also not scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Take those two things . . . and your point production is going to be poor. So, you look at the calls and then you attack it. We really tried to focus on that offensively.”
Defensively? “The biggest thing is consistency. It’s always a challenge not giving up explosive plays. It’s always a challenge to tackle well, to get pursuit in the right places, to get more people to the ball.”
“It’s just continuing to learn . . . progressions and making decisions . . . that are going to be aggressive while still taking care of the football. All of those things that we do to train quarterbacks. He’s kind of been thrown to the fire. . . . It was a good time to catch up and I think he used that time well.”
Teams will not be allowed to practice next Tuesday, which is election day. Cutcliffe is not remotely a fan of that decision. Tuesday is Duke’s biggest practice day, Duke has worked to register its team and they have taken advantage of mail-in and early-voting options.
“Our weekly schedules are jammed anyway. When you build Monday as your day off we can’t adjust our Tuesday to Monday because we’re not going to interfere with our guy’s academic process. . . . I’m not a fan of it. It sounds good but it doesn’t really serve a purpose.”
One of Charlotte’s starting defensive backs might look familiar. Antone Williams is a grad-student transfer from Duke. He has started all four games for the 49ers.
Watch out for running back Aaron McCallister. He’s a home-run hitter. He had a 97-yard touchdown kickoff return against Appalachian State.