What was Duke’s reaction after playing well last Saturday against Notre Dame but still losing by two touchdowns?
“Disappointment but also an understanding that we are different than we were a year ago,” David Cutcliffe told the media today. “But to prove that we’re a good football team, you don’t prove it by playing well against a great opponent, you prove it by winning.”
Duke gets a chance to win this Saturday, hosting Boston College. Not only did the Eagles not play last weekend, they’re under new management. Jeff Hafley is the new coach, coming in from Ohio State, where he was defensive co-ordinator.
“All we can do is do the research, do the work and prepare our team the best we can,” Cutcliffe said.
Boston College will be without prodigious running back A.J. Dillon, Green Bay’s 2020 second-round draft pick. Dillon rushed for 1,685 yards last season. That’s a lot of production to replace.
Regardless of the head coach Boston College has long built its program around physicality and there’s no reason to think that a defensive coach from the Big Ten has any inclination to change that.
Cutcliffe says Duke came back from South Bend ready to work and improve.
“I do think there’s a different feel for our team now that we’ve played a game. I think most of August there were a lot of them [Duke players] who thought we weren’t going to play. . . . Now that we’ve played they’re excited about playing. We’ve got the opportunity to get back on the practice field. I think our preparation will really be outstanding.”
Duke certainly has to improve its rushing attack. Deon Jackson rushed for 23 yards in his first four carries against the Irish, 29 in his final 11.
Granted Notre Dame has the best defensive front Duke will play this season. But Cutcliffe said Duke “missed some opportunities out there, left some yards on the field, particularly in our draw game, in our counter game.”
He assigned blame equally, referencing blocks that weren’t finished, holes that weren’t hit.
It should get better and not just because of the caliber of competition.
“We’ve had very little live live running the football in the . . . circumstances that have been put upon us. The way you get better at running the football is doing it and it’s got to be some of it live to get your timing. I think we learned a little bit more about ourselves and we’ll be better at it this week.”
Cutcliffe added that more success running the ball would have opened things up for the passing game. Still, he was more than happy with Chase Brice, saying that the Clemson grad-student transfer made some “big-time” throws and “great decisions,” adding that Brice is starting to feel ownership of the offense.
“I thought Chase played pretty well against some difficult circumstances.”
He added that Duke didn’t handle the Notre Dame pass rush “as well as I had hoped.”
Combined with the shaky running game, a gauntlet may have been thrown down to the offensive line.
But Cutcliffe definitely saw some building blocks.
“We played well enough to win. We were fatigued a little bit in second half. For the most part I was pleased with our talent, our physicality, our ability to make plays.”
One bright spot was the performance of redshirt freshman place-kicker Charlie Ham and redshirt punter Porter Wilson. First game at Notre Dame? Talk about being thrown into the deep end of the pool.
Ham made both of his field-goal attempts and his only PATS, while Wilson boomed punts at an average of just under 46 yards-per kick. His first college punt went 60 yards, with a net of 57.
Cutcliffe said both took maximum advantage of last season.
They “did a great job all their redshirt year getting themselves ready. They’re very, very talented. We had both of them in camp, if I could have done a backflip, I would have done it. I was that excited about their abilities. The best is yet to come for those two.”
Kickoff for Boston College is at noon, barely time for that virtual tailgate.
The ACC announced that the Duke-Virginia game on September 26 would kick off at 4 and be shown on the ACC Network.
Cornerback Mark Gilbert co-led (with Shaka Heyward) Duke with seven tackles in his first game in almost two years. Cutcliffe said Gilbert will get even better now that some nerves have been placated.
“I thought he played well. His cover skills were outstanding. He got into the physical fray. . .. He got a little banged up early but he was not coming out of that game. He told me that. He’s okay.”