David Cutcliffe told the media Monday that he was going to turn up the heat in practice this week.
Tuesday is the day Duke has its most physical practice, the one they call “Bloody Tuesday.” It’s also the day when a couple of players meet with the media immediately after practice. The practices are closed to the media, who are on the other side of a locked metal fence, guarded by a very nice retired Durham policeman named Mark.
Practices usually end in the 10:15-10:25 range. Tuesday’s practice ended after 11.
You can draw your own conclusions.
Or you could listen to quarterback Gunnar Holmberg and defensive tackle DeWayne Carter, each of whom was asked to describe this morning’s practice.
“Taking ownership,” Holmberg called it. “You’re crazy if you think doing the same things over and over again, you’re going to get difference results. Just trying to change things up to try and get different results. Nobody is happy with the result of Saturday. I felt like we left a lot out there. Whenever he [Cutcliffe] feels like he needs to push the guys, that’s what he’s going to do. I’ve seen him turn up the heat before and seen people get different results from it. Guys need to learn how to handle it because that’s football.”
“Left a lot out there.” Cutcliffe used almost the same terms to describe Duke’s offense against North Carolina. What does that mean?
“I think a lot of it is execution. Say a guy can trip on a route, or an O-line guy missing one little block that turns somebody that would have busted a play for 50 yards or a throw that maybe I hit differently that hits for a big play. Or even as Coach Faris says ‘the play they called was better than yours’ and move on.”
Holmberg says the offense shot itself in the figurative foot too often in Chapel Hill, “pre-snap penalties, especially when you’re moving the ball and you lose momentum, it’s tough to come back from in the middle of the drive.”
Duke needs to do a better job of reducing those gaffes and a better job of overcoming the ones they can’t eliminate.
Carter called Tuesday “real bloody today. It’s always bloody but it’s a little more bloody after a loss. From a defensive standpoint, we worked a lot on consistency. Saturday we had great plays but we also had lots of bad plays that ended up costing us in the long run.”
The word “consistency” pops up a lot in these conversations. Cutcliffe always cites the value of quality practices when the subject comes up and it’s hard to argue the point.
But Carter adds some nuance.
“From my own eyes, consistency grows from repetition, especially knowing we have a young defensive front like we have. The more reps we get, the better we get. But you can’t teach experience. You can’t grow experience. It just comes from playing the game. From my own unit’s perspective, I feel like we get better week to week. In a game you can actually see how teams try to attack you, you can see how they come after you, how they adjust when you stop them.”
Not one of Duke’s defensive linemen came into this season with extensive college experience at the position they currently play. So, there’s a big learning curve going on.
Cutcliffe suggested yesterday that the growth of that unit is uneven and Duke might be looking at some fresh blood.
He didn’t name any names but Carter did. Michael Larbie is a junior, a bit undersized for defensive tackle at 6-1, 265. But Carter said Larbie has been making a case for seeing the field.
“He’s really come along. He works his butt off. Technique-wise, he’s very sound. He’s a very smart guy. He’s an engineering major, a Pratt guy. He’s taken a lot of strides.”
Larbie is number 74, for those scoring at home.
Carter knows Duke’s defense needs to control Georgia Tech’s gifted and mobile quarterback Jeff Sims for Duke to pull off the win this Saturday.
“If we get pressure on the quarterback, they [Duke’s secondary] can’t give up big plays. Coach Albert is one of the best, if not the best in the pass-rush business and D-line business. He puts that plan together and lots of guys are starting to see how things work, starting to understand responsibility and once you understand responsibility, that’s when you start making plays. Jeff Sims is a talented guy. He can run like a running back and throw the ball as well. We’ve got to be gap-disciplined and do our 1/11th and we’ll be alright.”
Forcing a few turnovers wouldn’t hurt.
“Our goal for every game is two turnovers every game, at least.” Carter acknowledged. “Honestly, we need to tackle better because once you start putting hits on guys, wrapping guys up, that’s when you have the opportunity to rip the ball out. Hit the quarterback, bad throw and he’s throwing the ball to one of our [defensive backs].
Duke is 3-0 at home, 0-2 on he road. The Georgia Tech game is Duke’s last home game until November.
“The captains got together before the year and one of our goals was to go undefeated at home. To get back to normal and have seven home games is huge, to get to play in front of your parents, your friends who are students, I think is always cool for us, as opposed to last year, having nobody there. Trying to instill the pride of playing at home is something this team has taken to heart.”
Kickoff for Georgia Tech at 12:30. A big game for two teams trying to rebound from big losses as the 2021 season hits its midpoint.