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David Cutcliffe On Kansas And Next Weekend At UNC

UNC is the biggest challenge yet for the 3-1 Blue Devils

Duke v Virginia
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - OCTOBER 19: Head coach David Cutcliffe of the Duke Blue Devils paces the sideline in the second half during a game against the Virginia Cavaliers at Scott Stadium on October 19, 2019 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

Rivalry Week. Victory Bell. ACC play. Big Goings On.

Can Duke actually spring an upset on a North Carolina team that begin the season ranked in the national top-10?

Lots of things have to go right.

It probably starts with pressuring Carolina quarterback Sam Howell. Howell’s Heisman Trophy hopes have crashed and burned. But he’s still the same guy who helped his team put up 59 points against Virginia earlier this season.

Of course, he’s also at the helm of an offense that under-performed in losses to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, the first loss a surprise, the second a shocker.

What did Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech do that Virginia couldn’t?

Well, they got in Howell’s face, early and often. The Hokies notched six sacks and forced three interceptions. Georgia Tech had eight sacks and recovered three Howell fumbles.

An opportunity for Duke to exploit?

Maybe. But Duke’s defense has only five sacks to its credit this season.

David Cutcliffe isn’t going to give away the game plan, of course, but he suggested today that Duke has to start winning some individual battles.

“He’s a great player. He’s got such arm talent and poise and timing and a lot of ability and he can also move and run. He’s an athletic guy. We haven’t had a lot of success getting to quarterbacks. Their offensive line has four returning starters. They’re big, they’re strong, they’ve given us problems. How are you going to provide pressure? You work really hard on every individual’s ability to get better this week. In studying offensive linemen, one on one, how do you compete and win? We’ve got to try to get to him. If we don’t, we’ll have a long afternoon.”

Other areas of concern?

Kansas had five plays of over 35 yards against Duke with a lesser-talented group of skill players than Duke will face this Saturday.

“The first thing I did yesterday was go in with the defensive staff. I didn’t want to go in with a focus of all the things that were wrong. I went in with a focus on the things we did really well. And then we had a great discussion on areas that we know have to be addressed and have to be better. You have to look at your people and then you look at scheme and then you look again at your people and what do they do best to lead you to your scheme decisions and then how do you practice them. This isn’t a verbal fix. It’s not something you just sit and talk about.”

Duke had two unforced turnovers, an interception that stopped a Duke drive at the Kansas 23 and a botched handoff between Gunnar Holmberg and Mataeo Durant that gave Kansas the ball at the Duke 18, a short field that they exploited for points.

Shouldn’t have happened, Cutcliffe said. Shouldn’t happen again.

Duke also had six penalties. One was a taunting call on Jake Bobo, a senior who should know better. Cutcliffe said it was “talking, just jawing back and forth.”

This penalty didn’t hurt Duke but some other penalties did.

“Our offensive penalties have to stop for us to be successful in ACC play. We have addressed that. Three holds, we had that [taunting] penalty, we had an alignment penalty, we had two penalties that stopped drives that I think could have ended up touchdowns.”

Cutcliffe wasn’t happy that kicker Charlie Ham was involved in three tackles.

Not his job.

“The kicker should never really want to get into a tackle. We’ve got to work together better on hang time and location.”

It’s hardly all doom and gloom. After all, Duke is on a three-game winning streak, is averaging almost 40 points per game and leads the ACC in rushing yards per game. Holmberg, Durant and Bobo are all on track to challenge numerous school records.

And Durant did rush for 132 yards on 11 carries against the Tar Heels last season.

Cutcliffe says the offensive line deserves a lot of credit.

“This is one of our better offensive lines. It all starts there.”

It would help if that offensive line could help Duke sustain some long drives, hopefully drives that put points on the board but at the very least consume some time and keep Carolina’s potent offense on the sidelines.

“If we can keep converting third downs, it’s huge to keep your defense on the sideline. When you have drives of 5 plays, 8 plays, 10 plays, you’re helping your football team much greater than you might think. There are a lot of factors that win football games but when you stay on the field with the ball and take care of the ball, guess what they can’t do? Score.”

Cutcliffe described a team energized by its biggest rival and the beginning of conference play.

But a team with work to do.

“We’re playing an extremely talented team. If you’re not sound in every aspect, if you’re not doing the little things well, they will exploit it with that kind of talent. It goes back to focusing on Duke.”