“More football games are lost than won.”
That was David Cutcliffe quoting Bear Bryant in Monday’s media conference.
You won’t get much an argument from Duke fans, not after Saturday’s error-laden 26-6 loss to Boston College. If you’ve already erased it from your memory, that’s the one with five turnovers, a missed PAT, a missed field goal, a shanked punt, a few dropped passes and enough penalties that Duke actually faced a fourth-and-46 one time.
In the best tradition of losing coaches Cutcliffe fell on his figurative sword, saying “we have standards that have to be met. We didn’t play near as well the second week. I’m 100 percent responsible for that.”
What needs to be prioritized?
Ball security has plagued Duke’s offense since at least the middle of last season. Duke was 127th last season in turnovers. That’s out of 130 teams.
Seven turnovers in two games isn’t a sign of improvement.
Cutcliffe dismissed the idea that there’s any carryover from last season.
“I don’t tie anything in to last year, with different players and circumstances.”
There’s some truth to that of course. Then again, Duke’s two fumbles were by senior running back Deon Jackson and redshirt junior Damond Philyaw-Johnson, while returning starter Jalon Calhoun had a potential scoring pass sail through his hands.
The red-zone inefficiencies are more recent but equally troubling.
Cutcliffe made it clear that the compressed time-line of fall football is still negatively impacting his offense, saying that Duke missed a lot of “foundation work” and still is having trouble cobbling together enough people for optimal practices.
“You have a difficult time knowing where you are. We had one scrimmage in the fall camp. . . . We had no scrimmages from the spring . . . That’s one of things I’ve critiqued myself as a play caller, when you see things, when you try things, you’d better know what’s game ready. And I’m not going to blame a player if it’s not executed just like it should have been if we haven’t put it in a circumstance where it’s game ready.”
Taking care of the football?
“What I call staying belly down. I don’t want to see people carrying the ball while turning their belly up. That’s going to be fumbles. People have to finish catches and runs. Quarterbacks have to be accountable for where they put the ball. Receivers have to be accountable for where they are on the field. If that sounds like coaching, it is. . . . You have to coach all of those things. The reality is this: we’ve probably left eight touchdowns on the field in two games. Can you fix it? Yes,. You’ve got to go out and fix it on the practice field.”
Cutcliffe made it clear that quarterback Chase Brice has to continue taking forward steps,
“There’s no question he’s made positive plays. What I’m looking for is consistency. The first job a quarterback has is to make the other ten people around him right. . . . You have to go through your progressions . . . . But the biggest thing is a quarterback should never surprise you with his decision making. . . . He’s the functional part, getting people where they’re supposed to be.”
Duke will be playing its third game this Saturday against a Virginia team playing its first game. In theory this should work to Duke’s advantage, as the Blue Devils should have long ago worked through any opening-game anxieties. But this isn’t a normal year and a game under their belt certainly didn’t help against Boston College.
“They’re really a good, defensive, systematic team,” Cutcliffe says of the Cavaliers. “I think they’re as intricate defensively as anyone we’ve played. They’ve done a good job of recruiting players and their players are well-prepared. . . . . They’re challenging for a lot of people and certainly we haven’t played as well as we would have liked against them. . . . We’ve got to turn that worm and we’ve just got to go out and do the things we need to do to win football games. We know a lot about Virginia but we’re not looking at the 2020 team [on film].”
It wasn’t all doom and gloom of course. Cutcliffe praised both lines, singling out offensive tackle Devery Hamilton as playing “really, really well.”
Cutcliffe said more than anything Duke need more consistency and more hunger moving forward.
It wasn’t easy to rekindle a fire,” he said of Sunday’s brief practice “but we were able to do that.”
Duke is going to need consistency, hunger and fire against a Virginia team that has won five straight against Duke.