If things are going wrong, get back to the basics.
David Cutcliffe prefers the word “fundamentals” to “basics” but he agrees with the premise.
And his football team has lost three straight, a most-recent a 48-0 beat-down at the hands on a Virginia team that hasn’t come close to pitching a shutout against any other ACC teams.
Pretty much a textbook definition of things going wrong.
Blocking and tackling are the most basic of football’s basics. Duke had an open date after the Virginia loss but practiced only three times last week, as Duke tried to balance getting better with getting healthy.
But Duke did work on those basics when they hit the field.
“The open date came at a good time for us,” Cutcliffe told the media Monday. “Our work has been better than good. We’ve got a lot of determined people.”
About those fundamentals.
“There’s a lot of basics involved in football. Contact is one of them. Trying to win the contact battles you face in football is about as basic and primary as it can get. It starts not just on the line of scrimmage but a tackler versus a ball carrier, tackling them on the spot, a blocker finishing a block, pad leverage, all of those things are more basic than schematic things. The term we all use is ‘fundamentals.’ We’ve worked really hard at reinvesting in the fundamentals of the game and you hope that pays of. It’s got to become a habit.”
Cutcliffe acknowledged that his team might be pressing, trying too hard to make the big play instead of concentrating on those fundamentals, pressing that leads to turnovers and penalties.
“It’s important to them. I don’t think there’s any magic reason. They’re not an undisciplined group of people. I think you can start pressing. We’ve got players who played last year who felt that year and when you start pressing too much, there’s two things that occur; you get too-desperate play, which can cause some of those things and then you also lose focus. So, we’ve got to get back to believing in the process and what we’re doing. It’s not magic. You’ve got to carry into the game with some confidence and focus. Do I think that we get a little pressed and a little panicked at times? I think that has occurred. That’s called natural human response to a lot of things. ”
Duke better get it fixed in a hurry. The Blue Devils travel to Wake Forest to face a 7-0 Wake Forest team. Cutcliffe votes in the coaches poll and said he has the Deacons in his top 10.
Sam Hartman is the latest in a line of great college quarterbacks going against Duke and the Blue Devils didn’t have much success even slowing down North Carolina’s Sam Howell or Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong. And Hartman just lead his offense to a 70-56 road win over Army, a game in which Wake Forest never had to send its punting unit on the field.
Hartman threw for 458 yards on 29 attempts, five touchdown passes, 41, 54, 75, 75 and 2 yards.
“The biggest part of the thing is that you have to make things as hard as you can for a player like that. They’ve got a good combination of protecting him, they do a great job of throwing to spots, he’s really accurate. But you’ve just got to compete at a whole different level, mix up the looks. You can’t let him know where you are all the time. He’s not just a gifted quarterback physically, he’s a gifted quarterback mentally.”
Of course, Hartman doesn’t put up the kind of numbers he’s putting up without an outstanding group of receivers, Jaquarii Robertson and A.T Perry leading the way.
Cutcliffe says it works because Hartman trusts his receivers and his receivers trust him.
“They do a great job of contested catches. They’re strong, they’re long-limbed guys, aggressive with their hands and able to catch the ball as well as anybody but they’ve got speed and quickness on top of it. I think what’s happened with those receivers, the longer you play with a guy like Sam Hartman, you get better. There’s a belief that the ball is going to be where I can make a play on it and that’s how they’ve been really successful.”
Some good news. Cutcliffe said that his star running back Mataeo Durant has been practicing but without contact. The open date has given Durant a chance to rejuvenate his body for the stretch run.
“He feels good, looks quick, energized and is a fierce competitor. He’s in a good spot right now.”
Cutcliffe noted that Army’s 56-point explosion against Wake Forest doesn’t really help Duke much since Duke cannot replicate Army’s option-based run offense.
He also suggested that Duke still is having internal competition for playing time, “still looking at some of our younger people. That’s part of the circumstance when you’re not winning games. You don’t just look at the schemes, you look at the personnel you have two ways; one, do we have the right people out there, two are we doing the right things with the ones we have on the field?”
Big questions, basic questions if you will. And questions that will have to be answered in the affirmative if Duke is going to have any chance of coming back from Winston-Salem with a win.