Yes, Duke basketball is starting up again, Mike Krzyzewski’s final season as a head coach and that’s a big deal.
But that’s hardly the only game in town. David Cutcliffe’s football team is making the short trip west to Chapel Hill for a noon tip off Saturday against Duke’s biggest rival.
Duke is an underdog and that’s a logical proposition. But upsets happen. Any chance Duke has for pulling off the upset assumes that Duke’s best players lead the charge.
Senior wide receiver Jake Bobo and redshirt junior linebacker Shaka Heyward are two of those key players. Bobo leads Duke with 34 receptions and 385 receiving yards. In fact, Bobo leads the ACC in total receptions and is fourth in receiving yardage.
Heyward leads Duke with 42 tackles and is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss and interceptions. He leads the ACC in total tackles per game.
The duo met with the media earlier in the week to discuss this weekend’s match with Carolina.
Bobo said that Kenan and Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium were his favorite places to play but added that the crowd created some problems, especially for a wide receiver several yards away from the quarterback.
”Obviously, sometimes we get lazy and start rolling on the snap count. But you’re not going to be able to do that on Saturday. Can’t hear yourself think.”
But the crowd isn’t going to win or lose this football game.
Bobo says Duke has spent a lot of time looking at film of last season’s Duke-Carolina game. It wasn’t pretty for the darker blue; 56-24 worth of ugly, to be exact,
But lessons have to be learned.
Bobo says the cast may have changed but not the script.
“Their scheme is their scheme. They are going to play us how they played us last year so you have to go back and watch it. It’s painful to watch. Obviously, hoping to have a different result this year. Both instruction and motivation in that game film.”
How can that result be different?
Duke will need big games on offense from Bobo, running back Mataeo Durant and quarterback Gunnar Holmberg.
Bobo says the trio has worked hard to put themselves in the position to be difference makers.
“It’s cool to see that transformation. Those two guys have worked their butts off and not to toot my own horn, I have as well. To be able to do it together—it’s kind of always been the three of us. To be able to this through these first four, we definitely plan on doing it the rest of the year.”
Those first four games include a devastating loss at Charlotte and Bobo says the team has tried to learn from that loss.
Bobo called this team “very level headed” but added “I don’t think there’s a single player in that locker room after Charlotte, on that Friday night, you always say, next week you want to move it forward, clear your head and we’re going to attack the next game. But with this team, I think there’s a very fine line between dwelling on the past and moving forward. I think this team has done a very good job. We know we’re on a little bit of a streak, we know we’re hot. But we’ve definitely not forgotten where we were. It was not a good time.”
People have been able to score on the Tar Heels this season, 45 points by Georgia Tech, 39 points by Virginia.
But Duke is going to have to get some stops to bring back the Victory Bell.
Heyward shares some thoughts.
“The times that I’ve seen them when they haven’t scored, the defenses they’ve been playing have been getting after them, making sure Sam Howell is not a factor, making sure Josh [Downs] is not a factor in the game.”
How to do that?
“Doing my job, just like when I’m called on on a blitz, make sure I’m getting home, getting to the quarterback. If I’ve got the back man, just make sure I’m doing my piece on the defense.”
Heyward says the best is still to come for Duke’s defense.
“I feel like we haven’t put a full game together yet. We’ve been hot some times, we’ve been cold some times.”
Good opportunity coming up to be hot more and cold less.
About that Victory Bell. David Cutcliffe was asked about it earlier this week.
“I didn’t have to bring it up,” he said. “They’ve already brought it up. They’re well aware. We’ve got older guys in our program who have that have rung it and it’s a big difference.”
Bobo is one of those older guys.
“There is a spot right outside the training room, right outside the locker room where it sits when we do have it. You know it’s there. When it’s not there, you definitely know it. That spot is vacant. It’s been over there a little bit too long, in my opinion. We’ve got a spot waiting on it. Can’t wait to bring it back.”