Duke football players Chris Rumph II, Mataeo Durant and Porter Wilson met via Zoom with the media Tuesday morning to discuss Duke’s up-coming 2020 season-finale at Florida State.
The trio have been three of Duke’s most successful players in a mostly unsuccessful season. In fact, Wilson was just named one of ten semifinalists for the Ray Guy Award, given to the nation’s top punter. That’s an accomplishment for anyone but especially so for a redshirt freshman.
“It means a lot to me, it humbles me,” Wilson said, adding a punter-like comment that he was going to keep his head down and keep working.
But inevitably the conversation turned to how Duke can flip the switch on last-week’s dismal 48-0 loss to Miami and end the season on a high note, Duke’s first ever win over Florida State.
I asked all three players some variation of the same question; what’s the mood of the team?
You might have expected to hear some variation of the word “angry,” or maybe something more in the NSFW range.
But you would have been disappointed. These guys are coached up to stay away from inflammatory statements and we don’t know for sure what kind of internal dynamics are at work at the end of a 2-8 season.
But back-to-work seems to be the operative mind set and truth be told that’s likely going to carry further than rage and fury.
“Trying to keep our head down, stay working, stay focused. . .. everyone’s locked in and excited for this week.”
That’s Wilson’s take and it’s pretty much congruent with that of Rumph and Durant.
But there’s an added way of looking at it. These guys have been playing a pretty Darwinian sport since they were about seven or eight. They’ve made it to a Power-Five school because they are good at it and have been fortunate enough to dodge the career-ending-injury boulder rolling down the hill.
But they also love football, love the game, love the competition, love the teamwork and camaraderie.
Rumph is a glass-half-full type, one of the those guys whose next bad day will be his first.
Here’s what he says.
“We do have fun playing this week . . . it’s the last game of the season, so we’ve got to send the seniors out on a good note. The main thing we’re focusing on is playing together, having a good time, playing loose. We’ve got a lot of guys in the locker room who want to win. That’s the motivation, to win. . . . every week is a new week.”
Duke’s chances of coming out with a win depend largely on the ability of Rumph, Vic Dimukeje and cohorts to control FSU’s mobile quarterback Jordan Travis.
“You can’t let him get out of the pocket. You can’t let him extend plays with his feet. He’s an incredible athlete. . . he’s a warrior. He’s tough.”
Note that Dimukeje is at 21.5 career sacks, trailing only Charles Bowser’s 22 in Duke annals. Breaking that mark in his final game certainly would help Duke’s efforts.
Somewhat lost in the doldrums is the fact that Durant is having a spectacular season. The redshirt junior has rushed for 690 yards on 107 carries. That’s 6.45 yards per carry and that ranks 15th in the nation. If he can maintain that level it would be the fifth-best yards-per-carry-average in Duke history; Shaun Wilson tops the chart at 7.67 in 2014.
Durant wants to win for the seniors but he also says a victory can be a bridge to a better 2021 season.
“Everyone wants to go out there and compete to the best of their abilities. . . . I think it’s a great stepping stone to next season to go out with a winning effort. It will help to build confidence.”