Cutcliffe Era off to a rousing start

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When Coach Cutcliffe was announced as the new football coach at Duke University, he wasted little time in an attempt to change the culture surrounding Duke Football. If last nights 31-7 victory over James Madison is any indication he has succeeded to do so on the field.

There were more areas to improve upon besides on the field performance, namely the game day atmosphere. Folks, some people actually complained about the traffic despite getting to Wallace Wade three to five hours before kickoff. What a pleasant departure that was from days gone by when gripes were related to the lack of atmosphere.

There was no shortage of activities to participate in. Everywhere you looked, tailgates were hopping. While some enjoyed the company of familiar friends, others chose to mingle about campus where the buzz went from the Chapel to the stadium.

The smell of freshly cooked food permeated the air on this humid August day, but new found hope has it’s own uniques smell. Hope is what Blue Devil faithful have lived have had going into many seasons only to have that optimism dashed shortly after kickoff.

I was amazed at how many fans were wearing Duke Blue. While a few students dressed in various entertaining outfits, the rest adhered to Cut’s wishes. Those who didn’t got free t-shirts as they walked in and they too were a part of many hits on this day.

The biggest hit besides the eventual on field performance was by far the Blue Devils Walk which started at the Chapel and ended at Wallace Wade. If you missed this inaugural walk, you missed a lot, but not to worry, you have a chance to be there for next weeks Northwestern game.

Kids were playing on various inflatable and students munching out and socializing. New Duke Athletic Director Kevin White was there with the Chapel as a backdrop. The new Blue Devil Mascot was posing on the steps just behind him and former players and fans were all gathered to greet the 2008-09 Duke Football team. You could look in all directions and see smiles throughout the courtyard which was filled to the hilt with music and activities.

All of a sudden sirens blared through the air. Two motor cycle policemen came rolling up with two buses in tow, one carrying the offense and one the defense. Fans all started to gather as Coach Cutcliffe was first off the bus.

Coach then gathered his team for a brief talk and then a moment of silence. He wasted no time in turning and then led his team to the sidewalk where fans had gathered in a thick manner on both sides and were screaming adoration in a way that was normally saved for the basketball team. Speaking of the basketball team, Kyle Singler, Olek Czyz, Nolan Smith and many others were their with various frats, sororities and classmates. It didn’t take the average observer long to realize that Coach Cutcliife had sold his team and the fact that it was indeed the dawn of a new day

As the team walked through, they were greeted in a most genuine way. The smiles were wide and the emotion and joy was almost shocking compared to events of the past. The march went all the way through the quad, but it was far from over. The team was then led across the street by their Coach where another bevy of fans awaited them.

This time the band started their up and the cheerleaders who flanked them led cheers as Coach was escorted by the Blue Devil mascot past Cameron and into Wallace Wade Stadium. Many coaches would stop to hug their families and players like Thaddues Lewis would reach out to catch many high and side fives. In short, it was an amazing scene of support two and a half hours before the supposed kickoff.

I did say supposed kickoff for the game was delayed by storms and lightening just fifteen minutes before kickoff. The delay ended up being one hour and fifteen minutes, but on this night not even rain could dampen the newfound spirit.

There was indeed a sea of blue on the home side and the return of the students to the home side was both natural and exciting. The new unified base impressed more than a few as chatter was overheard.

I worried when the rain came in as some scrambled for cover. I worried even more as students headed back to campus in droves. The wait was difficult and don’t think Coach Cutcliffe didn’t know it. He took the time to come out from the tunnel to talk to the students after the delay was announced. I then thought to myself, well this will keep the core together and it did.

Soon thereafter, music blared and the team rolled out of the tunnel in a cloud of smoke and the start of the season was finally at hand. Players exhorted the fans and the fans res poned in kind. And the students, to their credit came rolling back through the gates.

The student body is to be commended with major props. It was the best student atmosphere in recent memory for some of us and the best ever for anyone under thirty years of age. Quite simply, the students added to the experience and more importantly enjoyed themselves.

The joy was shared by the hardcore fans and those who decided to give Duke another shot. Some fans worried that the new car smell would rub off quickly with a loss, but this is the kind of attitude which needs to change.

Duke started the game a bit slow and it was obvious they were getting use to playing another team and shaking off some rust during actual game activity. A nice drive sent the Devils to a 7-0 lead, but JMU responded with a score of their own in just five plays riding the legs of QB Rodney Landers.

Duke would score again as time ran out in the first half on a Lewis to Riley pass. The momentum was huge going into the locker room and Riley and Lewis would hook up again in the second half. It seemed as if Duke had started to gain their confidence as the half was ending, but with recent history, wait and see was a must.

JMU had a big run back on the opening kickoff opening the 2nd half. All of a sudden it looked as if it would be a game that would go to the wire. Duke not only survived that with the help of an Marshall interception, they went on to shut out the Dukes outscoring them 17-0. The great thing about this was the fact that Coach Cutcliffe showed the ability to make halftime adjustments and those moves locked up the Dukes passing game.

How long has it been since Duke made positive adjustments? The answer is that most cannot remember! Then there is the fact that Duke looked fresh – real fresh. Duke dominated the second half and the 31-7 final could have been worse.

As the game wound down, Cutcliffe made his way over to the students and once again thanked them for their support. He also made it clear that he was changing the culture and that the pulling down of any goal post would come at a later time in the season.

So, Duke Football shined on this rainy night as many walked away happy as fireworks lit up the night sky. It had been a long time since fans had been the part of a decisive win.

On this same day UNC beat McNeese State in a close game and Maryland slipped past Delaware as well. Both McNeese State and Delaware were ranked in the FCS top ten, but neither of them was considered to be as good as JMU, a team Duke handled easily.

Add disappointing losses by Virginia Tech and Clemson and one could make a case that Duke has the most impressive win during the opening weekend.

In ending I would like to give props to all. Coach Cutcliffe’s work paid off handsomely, the fans were great and the promotions were on target. The best thing is that we get to do it all next Saturday evening against Northwestern. So, come on out to Wallace Wade early and wear your Duke Blue.

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Are you ready for some football?

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I’m ready for some football? Trust me, there will be a lot of newness tomorrow. New Coach, new hope, new attitude, new uniforms, new cheerleaders in new uniforms, new Devil (you’ll see), new entrance, new traditions born, new closed end scoreboard, new sounds, new promotions, new student section, new programs … you get the picture yet? Folks, this is the dawn of a new era, so be there early to greet the team during the Blue Devil Walk and soak in the new traditions. As always the Blue Devil Nation is on the scene and here are a few pictures that may just get you riled up. That said, be loud, be proud and wear DUKE BLUE!

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Game Day – James Madison @ Duke – A dozen things to watch for on Saturday evening

[private]1- Wear Blue! -The word is out and the word is blue! Coach Cutcliffe spent the summer doing all he could to promote Duke Football. The latest, if you haven’t already hear is to show up for the game wearing your Duke Blue. “I expect to see a sea of blue,” said Coach Cutcliffe during his most recent press conference. What to watch for- The students have been moved back to the home side and will be behind the players for the first time in years. It will be interesting to see if the cheers are coordinated in the sea of blue.

2- Get there early! Duke is expecting a big crowd and more traffic than usual. Duke will have a team walk from the Chapel to Wallace Wade, where fans are invited to get involved. Duke will also have kid activities and music. It’s always fun to walk about the multiple tailgates too. It’s a new season and a new tradition and it starts with you, the Duke fan! What to watch for- Coach Cutcliffe has promised a new game day experience. This includes a secretive new way of the team entering the stadium. Stay late for fireworks and at halftime Coach K and Duke Olympians will be honored. Also, the students are notoriously late in years past. Will this change?

3- Concessions- Sounds odd? Well, Duke has not been prepared for large crowds in the past and this year studies have been made to keep this from happening. What to watch for – Will they run out of H20 before halftime in what might prove to be a humid evening?

4 – Atmosphere and Emotion- It’s clear that Duke wants the typical game day atmosphere you get at some other schools. Much work has gone into the planning and you can bet there will be changes, perhaps even a little noise to elicit cheers. This is not an opera folks! So, don’t worry about the polite claps and feel free to let out a scream or two. Bring your yahoo in and leave your worries of what others might think at the gate. Crowd emotion drives the players, player emotion drives the crowd. Let’s get emotional! What to watch for – When it’s third and one on offense or defense, will the crowd be passive or a little amped up?

5 – James Madison- JMU has been known to hit a team square in the mouth from the outset. They possess quickness and confidence and desperately want this win. The Dukes are ranked no lower than 3rd in the country in any Division I-A poll and 1st in two. Last years edition was one of the youngest under Coach Mickey Matthews and they all return. This team lost by one point to Appalachian State in last seasons Championships and had it won if not for a late turnover. What to watch for- Will JMU come into the game with a swagger? More importantly, will they leave with one?

6 – James Madison on offense- Expect to see an offense that spreads the ball around a lot. Their backfield runs a lot of motion and fakes and is as hard to prepare for as the option. Quarterback Rodeny Landers will run and run and run. He’s big and hard to tackle and will be the center of attention at all times. JMU has several players capable of making big plays with their speed. What to watch for -If Duke shows the ability to contain the run, how accurate can Landers be in the air? He completed 63% of his passes last season and threw for 12 scores. Will Eugene TB Holloman run roughshod over the Duke defense?

7- James Madison on defense -These guys like to stack the box and try and shut down the run. In last seasons loss to UNC, JMU effectively shut down the run, ultimately losing the game to turnovers. This team will play a lot more physical than many expect. What to watch for -JMU feels their secondary is a strength. Can they shut down a Duke team that will likely pass more this season?

8 – Duke on offense -There is a new sheriff in town and he his own deputies in tow. Duke will spread the ball around tmore this season and go to Eron Riley often. Thaddeus Lewis has shown the ability to be a leader and the offensive line has improved. Al eyes will be on the running game where there are depth issues and freshman or newcomers slated to get reps. What to watch for -Coach Cutcliffe wants to see a crisp offense ran to precision. Can Duke run the ball enough to take pressure off Thaddeus Lewis in the pocket and will the offensive line hold up?

9- Duke on defense- Duke has a pretty good starting lineup, but will be breaking in a new safety which is a critical position. Depth as always is an issue. Tackling has been better than I remember in the pre season and a slimmed down unit should be quicker to the ball. During the pre season, Coach told the players to treat the ground like a hot stove. “You can’t make a play if you are on your back,” said Cutcliffe. The defense will be the most interesting said that it was not the attention of the media in the pre season. What to watch for -Coach Cutcliffe knows there is little depth on the front and in the linebacker positions. Will this unit hold up for an entire game?

10 – Special Teams -It got to the point last season where I would close my eyes on field goals and extra points. Nick Maggio has proved to be consistent in practice and will get the call. Punting has been a pleasant surprise in the pre season. As for coverage, it will make or break a team in close contests. What to watch for – Will Coach call upon Maggio in short yardage situations or elect to go for it. This is one area that needs consistency for the teams confidence and to win close games. How improved will this unit be under Coach Middleton? A good kickoff or punt return could prove to be a huge spark. As important, will they allow JMU good field position or the big play on the other end.

11- The fourth quarter - Much has been made about off season conditioning and Coach has alluded to having enough in the tank to be able to win a game in the fourth quarter and or finish. What to watch for -A score. Fourth quarter points were as scarce as sell outs for the past several seasons. Can Duke take a game from beginning to end?

12- Intangibles -This category is perhaps the most important. (A) Turnovers - This might decide the game on Saturday evening. Duke must protect and value the ball. (B) Clock Management – This always applies, but the NCAA has a new rule and Duke must get up to the ball in a timely manner (C) Penalties - Face it, Duke has not been disciplined in the past and shot themselves in the foot on many occasions. Precision and attention will be important all season long. (D) The sidelines - All too often in the past, the Duke sideline looked emotionless with many players hanging around talking about classes and after game affairs. (E) Resilience – This is a key to being a winner. Can Duke bounce back after being down? Can they drive the nail into the coffin when they are up? What to watch for – All of the above![/private]

Game Week – Vince Oghobasse Interview

[private]Game Week!

Yes sir! Real pumped up and ready to get out there and go play some football. We’re tired of going up against each other in practice.

Have you been watching a lot of film on James Madison?

I mean they’ve got a real good quarterback coming back from last year, very physical tough runner. But as long as we execute our game plan, we’ll be fine.

I know everybody wants to mention weight loss all the time, but can you tell me how has it effected you? Has your game improved and what ways has it improved?

I think from one standpoint, I’ll be able to play more snaps and catch my breath between the plays. It’s really helped me out in that area. As far as my speed and my quickness on my feet, that’s way, way better than what it was during the spring. We’ll keep at it real hard in the weight room and working on on our conditioning.

So, you feel like you guys are going to be ready to go in the fourth quarter?

Oh yeah! Most definitely. The fourth quarter conditioning is not even a question this year. Even when we get tired, we can push through that fatigue.

Do you consider yourself to be the leader on the defensive line?

Definitely. I’m a third year starter and I’ve got to take those guys under my wing. We’ve got Wes Oglesby and Akinbiyi on the front and I’ve got to make sure those guys are ready to go.

You’ve been going up against the offensive line all pre season. Last year they had a hard time and didn’t quite come together. What do you think of them this year?

They’re a lot better. Coach Luke has them working hard and we are making them better. This is alll about having heart. If you have a great technique and a will to block a big lineman you can do it.

Vince, a lot has been said about the support around campus, can you just tell me a little about that?

The reason there is a lot is because what Coach Cutcliffe has done with going out and getting the community involved, speaking to students and getting them involved. Coach Cutcliffe has really made the students and the staff (Administration) buy into the program. He;s all over Durham in an effort to put Duke Football back on the map.

Talk of building a new culture …

Winning is not easy. If winning was easy, everybody would be doing it. Coach Cutcliffe has really go this home opner set for that to happen. With all the people coming to the ball game, it’s going to be a record crowd for a home opener.

Coach Cutcliffe says he wants you to go in and enjoy the game. Despite that, is there pressure to win this opener against a tough team?

You have to want to win and have the will to win. It’s been so long since we’ve had a win. It goes back to the win over Northwestern last year. I think our guys want to have that feeling again. I know I do.[/private]

Josh Hairston talks recruiting and an upcoming unofficial visit to … find out by joining BDN Premium

Hi Josh! This is Mark Watson with Sports Nation Network and I was wondering if I could chat with you about the recruiting process and where you stand?

Yes sir! No problem.
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Let’s start with your list! Is it the same or have other teams been added?

It’s Georgetown, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Duke, Memphis and Clemson.

Clemson? They’ve kind of come in a little late … I guess Oliver Purnell made a pretty good impression?

Yes sir. He went to a couple of my games in Vegas. They’ve always had somebody at the games of late which is impressive.

I’m going to go down your list so you can give me some comments on each one …
We’ll start with the Virginia schools. Virginia. What are your thoughts on the Wahoos?

Virginia was one of those schools that recruited me early. I’m very close to Coach Leito and Coach Courtney. I’ve been down there for three or four game so far. I’m comfortable there.

Now, Virginia Tech. Correct me I’m wrong. Isn’t your Mom an alum?

Yes. They were one of those schools who came in after UVA. When they came in they made a huge impression. We went down there for a football game. You know the campus is beautiful. The fans are crazy and Coach Greenberg is a unique coach who I talk to all the time. He’s a great guy … his staff is great and I had a good time down there.

Okay! We’ll stay in the ACC. Tell me about Duke.

Aw Man, um. Duke, was um. Duke is just Duke. They came in when I went down there and I fell in love. They’ve got a beautiful campus and some top notch guys. I know some guys … I know Andre Dawkins who is going there. I talk to him all the time. Duke is … when I went down to Duke I definitely felt at home. I’ve got family who are close to Duke. My grandparents live a couple of hours away in Martinsville, Virginia.

Martinsville is pretty close to all of the ACC schools … or Virginia, Virginia Teach and Duke. You seem to like Duke. What do you think about Coach K and what he did in the Olympics recently?

I actually talked to him yesterday. I get out of school at 2:20 and he called at 2:21. Coach K is probably one of the best there has ever been. He’s very professional. He takes everything very seriously but not to where he is yelling and stuff all the time. He’s a great guy when he laughs and jokes with everybody. What he did with the Olympic team … that was phenomenal with Jason Kidd and LeBron. What he did making them play together was amazing.

What about Georgetown?

Georgetown was the first to recruit me. I’m very close to Coach Thompson and Coach Burke. You know they are 45 minutes away from my house, very close to home, but um, I’ve been there several, several times with my AAU team or just making visits up there. I like it.

How about Memphis?

Memphis was one of those schools who didn’t show up until recently. I’ve got an offer but I really don’t know too much about them. We were going to try to make a trip out there but I’m not sure if that is going to happen. There a new school.

Do you have any unofficial visits planned to these schools?

Um, right now I’m looking at the September 13th to head down to Duke. I talked to Coach K about it and my family, we are going to work things out. I don’t have anything else right now, but I’m going to get there. Did I mention Ohio State?

No, you didn’t.

They’re definitely one of my top schools. Sorry about that.

That’s okay. Tell me about the Buckeyes?

I went up there when they played Michigan State in football and it was crazy up there. They love Ohio State. I got a chance to sit down with Coach Matta and Coach Miller. I really do like Ohio State and I’m very close to Jared Sullinger. You know, we talk almost every other day. They’re definitely in my top.<

What is the timeline for your decision?

I definitely want to have it done at the beginning of basketball season or no later than the end because I don’t want to go into my senior year thinking about where I want to go. I definitely want to get it out of the way this year and just be happy with my decision and just relax and play basketball.

You said you talked with Coach K. Have you talked to any other coaches of late?

Yes. I talked to Coach Greenberg and Coach Matta.

Will you stay with your same AAU team or will you cross that before summer starts?

Yes sir! I will stay with DC Assault. I’ve grown so close to them … I call them all my brothers and we all talk. During high school season we separate. Some as far as Maine … during AAU season we are definitely close because we win so many tournaments.

Have you thought about what you might take in school?

I really haven’t thought about it yet.

Let me make I got this … you have no other officials set up?

Not at this time but we’re still looking at September 13th down at Duke.

You mentioned friends … do they try to sway you to go to there school?

Yes sir! I’m friends with Nolan Smith who actually goes to Duke. We talk. Every time I seem him he tries to get me to come to Duke. A lot of my teammates are being recruited by the same schools. I do think about that because these are guys who I know how they play.

Is it important for your parents that you play somewhere they can pretty much get to in a short time?

Oh! Yes sir. Definitely, my parents are my biggest fans. I don’t want to go somewhere like UCLA all the way on the west coast where they could never see me play. I definitely want my parents to be able to come to the games. I so use to looking on the sidelines and seeing them?

Does Mom ever give you a nudge and say so you have to go to Virginia Tech?

She does real good. My mom is very open. The coaches… she tells them what they’ve got to do to get me. But in the end, it’s my decision. She will sometimes push if a school is too far. She is very open.

I’ve heard your Dad grow up a UNC fan? What would he do if you went to Duke or Virginia?

Oh man, we’ve had that talk before (laughing). I told him he was just going to have to change. We grew up watching UNC basketball, but I don’t think he’ll be too involved in that rivalry if I go to Duke.

What are the most important factors that will go into your collegiate decision? Is there like one, two, four things?

Yes sir, definitely academics. I don’t play around with my grades. I take them very seriously. I look for family because I’m a big family kid. I love my parents, I love my little sister. And I just want to see who the colleges are trying to bring in. You know, I’m not trying to be that top notch guy that has to do everything. I want to out on the floor with four other good players. If I have their back, I want them to have my back. I would take a national championship over a player of the year award any day.

Suppose somebody had never seen you play. Describe your game in your own words …
I like to get out an run on the fast break. Those who evaluate me say I’m a very good kid who runs the floor well. I like to rebound. I can shoot the twelve to eighteen footer …I can do most anything.

Well, I certainly got what I needed and enjoyed talking with you. Good luck with school and your coming basketball season.

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Game Week – Coach Cutcliffe talks of a new beginning and more

[private]The Blue Devil Nation was once again on hand after this mornings practice and we chatted briefly with Coach Cutcliffe. This was the last time the media could talk to him during opening game week. All of the question were asked by Brian Strickland of the Herald Sun and myself.

It’s just over fifty hours before kickoff on Saturday. What are your feelings at this time?

I feel like we’re prepared. Today’s practice looked that way. I thought defensively, offensively and the kicking game had people where they were supposed to be and knew what to do and were pretty crisp and focused. This is your dress rehearsal every week on Thursday and you find out a lot about your team. It’s the first time they’ve seen the way we do things, so I was pleased with it for the most part.

Do you get nervous before the games?

Not really. I get butterflies like anybody does on occasion from the excitement. I wouldn’t call it nervousness. There’s too many things to do to be nervous with last minute things going on. I enjoy game day and try to enjoy that experience and I want the players to enjoy it. We’re pretty intense as you guys know that are around here during the week. On game day, I am going to be intense, but if they’re not ready after this, it’s not their fault, it’s mine.

Coach, you’ve been doing a lot of promotion in the off season. Do you think that’s been a success?

Absolutely! I think we’ll see that Saturday night. I think we’ll see more than a full house. I don’t say that to keep people from coming, but to encourage them to come for I think it’s going to be mpore fun than they’ve had in Wallace Wade Stadium in a long time.

Coach K had some nice things to say about the program during his press conference yesterday. Can you give me a brief comment about that?

Certainly! I appreciate his support from the start, the very beginning. Here’s a guy bringing home the Gold and he sets his press conference on Wednesday. I know he’s still tired and just to make the comment that he want’s the press conference out of the way and everything to be focused on the football team is just unbelievable. It doesn’t surprise because of who he is. I sat and kind of measured him up during the press conference … here’s a guy who is a graduate of West Point who played for the winningest coach of all time. He’s won over 800 games himself, three national titles and now Olympic Gold. I’m just kind of looking at him saying, “whats next?”

Can you talk about OL Kyle Hill and what he’s done?

He’s done a really nice job to come out and start in his first game as an offensive lineman. He takes a lot of pride and he is athletic. I think it gives us one of the most athletic sides of the line with him and Cameron Goldberg. I like athletes, you guys know that. Neither one of them have an ounce on them. I look forward to seeing Kyle compete. I’m sure he’ll make some mistakes, but if you are going to make them, do it is full speed which is one of my motto’s.

You will be back on the field as a head coach this weekend which is something you wanted to get back to …

I’m not going to be arrogant, but I will tell you that I feel very natural doing that. It’s what I prefer. When I have coached as an offensive coordinator, I’m the head coach of that offensive team and I’m focused. From a competing (as an OC) standpoint, we had a plan from the get go. I mean no disrespect to the coaches I’ve coached for, but (being in charge) is my nature and I’m very, very comfortable around this staff. I look forward to really going out and competing with them.

We’ve had quite a bit of rain of late. How might that paly into field conditions?

The field will drain. It’s a sand based field and I think it’ll be fine. I’m not sure what’s coming up, but we might have a couple of thunder busters between now and the game. We all surfed in here yesterday. It was the largest amount of water I’ve ever dealt with in a practice situation. I really don’t care what the fields like. If we play well and take care of the football and do the things we’ve got to do I will like watching our team compete.

An aside, the field was being painted as I left and the North Carolina sunshine started to burst between the clouds. The field looked to be in good shape. It’s been a crazy week of coverage where this site has been burning the candle at both ends. Next week should allow us to get back to more writing, instead of the interview formats we’ve adopted for times sake. Lastly, wear blue and turnout foe the game on Saturday evening. I’ve been tipped off about some new experiences that should please Duke fans. You will want to get into the stadium early to catch the full effect.[/private]