David Cutcliffe addressed the media Monday afternoon, following a bye week after a dismal performance against North Carolina, with perennial nemesis Wake Forest on the horizon.
Like any competent coach Cutcliffe isn’t going to give away much and he did revert to some traditional themes, mostly relating to the importance of practice in developing winning habits.
But some useful information was conveyed.
Duke clearly was disappointed with the poor play of both their offensive and defensive lines against the Tar Heels. It all begins with blocking and tackling and Duke didn’t do either of those very well in its most recent game.
Duke had “a bit more physical open date. We felt like we needed to address a few things on both lines of scrimmage. We got better during that time. We have to get better. . . . Physicality is a mentality, no question. But there’s no question it requires technique, it requires pad leverage, it requires bringing your feet on contact, doing the little things.”
Cutcliffe said Duke had some personnel issues after the Carolina game and is still working its way towards putting the best 22 on the field.
Duke has been practicing first-team against first team. “Head-to-head on some inside drills. Head-to-head on some outside drills. I think it paid dividends.”
“I don’t know if we’re going to see a flip of the depth chart but we’ve got people that have earned playing time. We’re also having to look . . . at potential adjustments in position changes because of injuries and departures. We’ve got some areas that we’re concerned with.”
Duke will finalize any position changes by Thursday.
Nobody asked about quarterback. No reason to. If Duke is going to make a change-note the qualfier—they certainly aren’t going to announce it ahead of time.
Injuries continue to be an issue.
“Some of them [injured players] have been able to benefit. The injury list is still long. Not everyone is out. We’re closer. That’s just part of being late in the season.”
Looming is a Wake Forest offense that has averaged almost 40 points per game this season and has toasted Duke for 98 combined points over the last two times the rivals have met.
“What they do is they’re always having a pass option for the quarterback . . . . the lengthier the read is, the defense has to commit run or pass so they put you in a bind as well as anyone. They do as good a job as anyone at limiting penetration. Their backs do a great job of picking holes.”
It starts with quarterback Sam Hartman. Hartman has completed 62.6 percent of his 195 passes and is averaging 13.8 yards per completion. Most impressively, he has not thrown a single interception this season.
“Great hands, really quick hands,” Cutcliffe says of Hartman. “He’s got a really great throwing motion. . . . He throws a lot of balls off their RPOs. He’s a smart player, he takes care of the football. It’s difficult to pressure him. You’re not going to live or die with every play. If he completes three passes in a row, the fourth pass you’d better be competing. He’s a very efficient quarterback.”
And Hartman does have plenty of weapons at his disposal. Wide-out Jaquarii Roberson has 45 receptions for 657 yards, running back Christian Beal-Smith is averaging 5.5 yards per carry, while fellow running back Kenneth Walker has a jaw-dropping 13 touchdowns.
But Hartman has been sacked 23 times in seven games, which suggests some opportunities for Chris Rumph and Victor Dimukeje. Cutcliffe acknowledges Duke will have to try something to get Hartman out of his comfort zone.
But Wake’s defense has been vulnerable. This is a team that has a 59-53 loss and a 45-42 loss on its 2020 ledger sheet.
Cutcliffe says Duke has seen things on tape that it thinks is can exploit. But it comes down to execution.
Doesn’t it always?
We “addressed some of things that were just not part of our program, the way we play, the way we compete. I also showed them enough tape of when we do compete, how well we can play. We certainly had captains challenge their teammates. We didn’t win the battle in the trenches, we did not win the battle in the back end. You have to address that on the practice field. You can’t just talk about it. I believe this team has done that. We’ve played some good football at times this year. At times we haven’t been what we’ve expected ourselves to be. But consistency is what we’re hunting and the only way I know to get that is to give everything you’ve got on that practice field, not every day but every play. That’s been our approach.”
The Wake Forest game is the first of a three-game blitz that will define this season. None of Wake Forest, Georgia Tech or Florida State is unwinnable, none remotely approaches a sure win. Anything from 5-6 to 2-9 is possible. Duke played well against Charlotte following its first open date. Can they duplicate that result against an upgrade in competition?