David Cutcliffe met with the media Monday morning to discuss Duke’s season finale against Miami.
Will it also be Cutcliffe’s career finale?
There certainly was no announcement along those lines, not that I was expecting one. Duke doesn’t work that way and Cutcliffe isn’t the kind of person who goes in for surprise drama.
He did, however, address the perception that he’s tired or worn out, calling himself “a young coach.”
He said he doesn’t read what anyone writes about him but he hears things.
“That’s what everyone is speculating,” he said of his energy level. “I don’t know if I look worn out but I’ve got a lot of fire in me. I love what I’m doing. Has this been fun? No. Has it been rewarding? Yes, because you find out more about yourself during these times. I’ve had to fight adversity all my life and you don’t run from it. You just get better.”
He then quoted Galatians 6:9 and dared anyone in the room to match his energy level.
There was talk of farewells, of course. It is the last game and every coach of every non-bowl team is facing something similar this week, saying goodbye to players who have been an integral part of the program in some cases for half a decade.
“Always a unique week because we spend a lot of time together as a team. As long as I’ve been in college football, it’s a sad time for a coach to say goodbye to anybody who’s been in your life for so many years.”
“Speed, size, strength, they have it. Obviously, we feel like we have to play our best game.”
Two years ago Duke hosted Miami on Thanksgiving weekend. Duke came into that game on a five-game losing streak but responded with a 27-17 win.
Many of the Duke players in that game are still around.
“I’ve heard some of them mention it. They’re well aware of it. You’re always—when you’re in this circumstance—everybody looks for hope and belief and I wouldn’t discourage that. They know that this is a different Miami team and a completely different Duke team. But it’s what you do when you try to rally from a difficult time, it takes everybody and they remember that it was all in and that’s what you’re looking for this week.”
For Duke to have a chance at duplicating that outcome, the Blue Devils are going to have to do something about their porous defense, especially their tackling.
“We have to do a better job of teaching them and they have to do a better job of being fierce as a tackler. You have to have confidence to close and tackle with speed. The only way we’re going to get better at tackling is to be more aggressive tackling, not less aggressive, not cautious. You can’t fear missing a tackle and be a good tackler.”
Duke has been facing a gauntlet of talented, experienced quarterbacks, too many of whom have burnished their credentials against Duke. Louisville’s Malik Cunningham became only the second player in FBS history to pass for 300 yards and rush for 200 yards in the same game; Washington’s Marques Tuiasosopo was the first, back in 1999.
Not the way you want to make the record book.
Miami starts Tyler Van Dyke at quarterback. Van Dyke took over from touted but injured D’Eriq King early in the season and Miami hasn’t seen much of a drop-off. Van Dyke has had five straight games with at least 300 passing yards and three passing touchdowns.
But he is a freshman. Does that give Duke’s defense a window of opportunity?
“Any time you take a guy that has less experience, you hope you can put him in at least mentally thinking. When a quarterback is thinking, he’s not playing. You’ve got to play that position on time. You can’t depend upon disguise. It’s got to be change-ups and disguise but it also comes with effective good play.”
Of course, Duke has to score some points, preferably of the seven-point variety. Cutcliffe says we should expect to see Gunnar Holmberg, Riley Leonard and Jordan Moore at quarterback, situations and effectiveness dictating which one and for how long and hopefully sewing some confusion into the Miami defense.
Then there’s Mataeo Durant, who enters his final Duke game with 1,173 rushing yards. Steve Jones holds the Duke record with 1,236, established back in 1972.
Earlier in the season it looked like Durant would have that record by now. But he’s only carried the ball 23 times combined over the two most recent games, for 111 yards.
Cutcliffe again credited Louisville with loading the box with extra defenders to stop Durant and forcing Duke into throwing the ball. That answer made sense after Virginia Tech, because the Hokies held Durant to 3.3 yards per carry. But Durant had 78 yards on 13 carries against the Cardinals, an average of 6.0 yards per carry. Even taking away his longest run of 27 yards, Durant averaged 4.3 yards per carry.
In other words, Louisville didn’t stop Durant, Duke just didn’t get him the ball very often.
Something else going on?
Durant has been “banged up the last couple of weeks, which is another reason we’ve lowered the number of carries.”
For the record, Durant has carried the 233 times this season and has added 25 receptions. He’s taken a ferocious beating. Hopefully, a few extra days of rest will benefit him, which should benefit Duke.
“I’m well aware of it and the coaches are well aware of it. An individual record is always secondary to trying to win a football game. But we would love it for a youngster who’s had a special year. Let’s hope we win and that happens. Wouldn’t that be fun? That would not cure everything but it certainly would make you feel better going into the off-season.”
Not sure if we should try to read anything into the “off-season” portion of that comment. But the off-season will come soon enough. Before then Duke football has one final chance to make something good happen for a program that hasn’t much good happen for some time.