Okay, class. Today’s lesson is on Overcoming Adversity.
One of the points of emphasis for this year’s Duke football team is overcoming adversity.
No one could deny the necessity of that emphasis. Last year Duke would all too often let a bad play turn into a bad series, a bad series turn into a bad quarter, a bad quarter turn into a bad half, a bad half turn into a bad game, a bad game turn into a bad season. Once Duke went into a downward spiral, it didn’t seem to be able to pull out of that spiral.
How do you coach overcoming adversity and how do you know it’s working?
David Cutcliffe addressed the question at Monday’s media session, two days after Duke lost to its biggest rival by 31 points, a sequence of events that we can agree meets the criteria of adversity.
“The way you do that—and it’s become more difficult in the climate we practice in—is you create adversity in practice. You carry them to the wall. That’s the way it’s always been. You want to find out what a player’s got at practice, not in a game. If you can’t get off the ground in practice consistently and give your best effort, then it’s going to show up in a ball game.”
Is it working?
Duke certainly didn’t respond well to two crucial turnovers in the season-opening loss to Charlotte. But wide receiver Jake Bobo told the media last week that every single player in the Duke locker room after that loss vowed not to have a repeat of Duke’s 2-9 2020 debacle.
And Duke responded with a three-game winning streak, topping last season’s win total by the end of September.
Now Duke again needs to respond to adversity.
“Life is hard,” Cutcliffe added. “I really believe—and I’ve talked to our staff and team—I’ve doing a disservice to them if I don’t create more adversity, because you know what, life later is going to be harder than Duke football or David Cutcliffe. We’ve got to find a way to turn up the heat a little bit. That way you know what they’re capable of doing.”
Of course it would help if Duke didn’t create so much self-inflicted adversity. Duke is being penalized at an unacceptable rate, penalties that nullify big plays or stall drives.
“Penalties don’t just come from the practice field,” Cutcliffe said. “How well are we listening in meetings? Are we really hearing what’s said and once we learn here, what are we doing to act upon it once we get to the field? I’ve got to do a much better job of making sure we’re hearing loud and clear.”
Duke’s defense did some good things Saturday. Sam Howell was sacked five times and Duke forced seven punts. But they didn’t force any turnovers and allowed enough explosives to turn what might have been a winnable game into a blowout.
“We didn’t do anything consistently that wins games,” Cutcliffe summed up. “We gave up explosive plays. They had seven plays that equaled 275 yards. We only produced three explosives the entire game.”
Cutcliffe again referenced consistency, specifically the lack thereof.
“We were better in a lot of techniques, little things that helped us. I think it was 56, 57 percent of their plays were three yards or less. That’s good production. But two big long scores and then the offense gives up a score. Those seven plays teach us a lot. But those other 50 plays teach you a lot. We’ve got to be technique-wise better in the back end and avoid giving up explosive throws and we have to continue to work on tackling better.”
Georgia Tech is next on Duke’s schedule. Like much the ACC, the Yellow Jackets have been erratic. They dominated North Carolina 45-22 and were one goal-line stand from beating Clemson. But they also lost at home to Northern Illinois and got waxed by Pittsburgh 52-21 last Saturday.
Cutcliffe called the Tech-Pitt game an “outlier” and described a Tech team with size, speed, athleticism and skill.
“Offensively, they have a lot of weapons. It starts with the quarterback. Their offensive line is playing better. They have a lot of speed on defense. We know we have to be at our best. One thing we know is that they have lots of talent.”
Tech quarterback Jeff Sims has fought through some injury issues but he seems healthy now and is playing at a high level. He’s the kind of mobile pass/run quarterback who gives everybody trouble.
“He’s just a heck of a football player,” according to Cutcliffe. “There’s no counter to it. You just prepare yourself and play.”
But there’s still that 52-21 loss last week. Two teams staggering into Wallace Wade, each off a 31-point loss, each desperately in search of a win to turn around a season that could go either way.
In other words, overcoming adversity.