When Duke left the field following their defeat at Georgia Tech Saturday night there was a realistic possibility that the Blue Devils’ 2020 season had ended. Florida State was on the schedule for December 5 and their COVID-19 struggles have been well-documented.
A lot has happened since then. Late last night the news broke that the ACC had deep-sixed the Duke-FSU game for the time being and added potent Miami to the Duke schedule for Saturday night.
David Cutcliffe addressed the media Monday afternoon and shared his thoughts on this turn of events.
“We found out late yesterday so we started work on them late last night.”
Cutcliffe was asked what input, if any, Duke had in that decision and gave a terse response.
“I’m not privy to those calls. You’ll have to ask Dr. White or Nina King.”
There’s more. Cutcliffe said that based on communications with FSU he expected the Seminoles to be Duke’s December 5th opponent and expected FSU or perhaps someone else to be on Duke’s schedule December 12.
“I see us playing the next two weeks but right now I would hesitate to say an opponent. We’ve been healthy all year, we’ve been available. . . . we’re up and ready and our team enjoys the challenges and opportunities to play.”
Back to Miami. Duke has defeated the Hurricanes the last two seasons but figures to be big underdogs against the ninth-ranked team in the AP poll. Miami has lost only once, to Clemson.
Cutcliffe calls Miami “one of the more explosive offense teams in the country . . . . [with] a defense that can consume you.”
That defense is athletic and aggressive.
“They will pressure you. . . . they put elite athletes in different positions to make plays.”
Duke has to be consistent on offense and sustain possessions to give the defense a chance to catch their breath.
Duke struggled with Georgia Tech’s uptempo offense last Saturday but Miami goes uptempo at a different level. The key is quarterback D’Eriq King, a transfer from Houston. King’s stats are pretty impressive. He’s completed 64 percent of his passes for over 2,000 yards, while adding 421 yards on the ground. He’s thrown 17 touchdown passes but only four interceptions. He does not beat himself.
“He’s a great athlete and he can extend plays,” Cutcliffe says of King. “Any quarterback who can . . .. extend plays can make plays.. . . He has a great knowledge of what they’re trying to do. He takes advantage of everything a defense gives him. . . They hurry up, get to the line of scrimmage, he gets the ball quickly, knows what to do with it and has become more and more consistent at the season has gone by.”
And Duke doesn’t have much time to prepare for him.
“It’s challenging because we take a schedule . . . and do what we call a” summer-scout-report” and try to work eight or nine days ahead breaking down an opponent. We can’t start just on Sunday after playing a game. A lot of pre-work goes into it amongst the staff and when you don’t have that you’re basically cranking up a little late. . . . We’re trying to catch up today. But we’ll go out there tomorrow well-prepared and in good condition to put a plan in for Miami.”
Duke will have to play better than they did in Atlanta.
Cutcliffe says Duke competed against Georgia Tech but made too many mistakes to close the deal.
“We played with great effort. We laid it on the line. . . . We just didn’t execute. We had an alignment problem or two on defense that hurt us, giving up big plays. Offensively we didn’t execute at certain times. Certain times we looked really good. A big part of turning the ball over was getting out of sync and it’s hard to explain.”
Cutcliffe says Duke is hanging together under difficult circumstances and is still ready to compete.
“It’s been remarkable what these young people have done. . . . I think it’s a tribute to relationships that are developed on teams. . . . when things aren’t going well, that bond is even stronger.”
Cutcliffe said that linebacker Rocky Shelton is not expected back this Saturday. He indicated that Shelton was “part of the [COVID-19] protocol . . . and I’m going to listen to the medical people.” It’s not clear if he tested positive or not.