DURHAM, N.C. - Duke faced a tough Santa Clara squad today, so what's new with the Blue Devils schedule, huh? The Broncos' knocked Duke back a bit early in the contest as the Blue Devils struggled from the free throw stripe and guarding Kevin Foster who went off in the first half for 18 points and finishing with 29 in the game.
As usual Duke adjusted at the half and rode the hot hand of Seth Curry who scored a Duke career high of 31 points. His career high of 23 points came while playing for Liberty versus VMI. Going 12 of 18 from the field, Curry squelched any comeback attempts by the Broncos as the second half.
Mason Plumlee was one again a beast, garnering a bevy of dunks and adding to his all time dunks leader at Duke total. Plumlee finished the game with yet another double-double of 22 points and 13 rebounds and after missing a few free throws early in the game, he nailed them down the stretch as Duke pulled away for a 90-77 win pushing their season record to 12-0.
Ryan Kelly also contributed with 10 points and 11 rebounds and his work on the glass was a big factor in another Duke victory over a quality opponent in Santa Clara who falls to 11-3 on the season.
The Blue Devils won the battle of the boards by out rebounding their opponent 40-28 and they scored 23 points off turnovers including 15 second chance points and 11 points on fast breaks.
For awhile it seemed as if Santa Clara was poised to push the game to the wire but a flagrant foul call on Yannick Antanga who had a cheap shot against Mason Plumlee seemed to fire the Blue Devils up and they never looked back after it happened.
"At the beginning they really knocked us back, but once we got strong we got really good shots. That was the biggest thing - just taking on their physically and playing our game," said Cook.
It was obvious early on that the refs were letting the teams play today but it took the Blue Devils until half time to fully adjust to the way the game was called.
"It was a pretty good night for us all, They're a good team - a really good team," said Curry. Cook continued saying, "We were tested tonight and the whole team did a good job."
Duke will travel to Charlotte to face Davidson on January 2nd before returning to Cameron for the opening game of the season against Wake Forest on January the 5th.
Game Notes - Quinn Cook had a career high 14 FG attempts and has at least one three pointer in five straight games. Curry had his first 30 point plus game at Duke, a career high 31 and he has scored in double figures in nine of eleven games this season. Kelly had five offensive rebounds and added a team leading 23rd block of the season. Mason Plumlee became the 61st player to reach 1000 points at Duke and has 20 or more points in five games this season.
Post game videos and highlights are on the way from Blue Devil Nation and Ball is Life, so check back in.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Duke was poised to have their first winning season since 1994 and had the Bearcats right where they wanted them, backed up on the five yard line on the verge of scoring, a long drive in place with a little over a minute left in the game. But the unimaginable happened. A fourth Blue Devils turnover turned a team on the cusp of jubilation to one that saw the longest pass play in Belk Bowl history create immense heartbreak just seconds later.
It was a painful way for the seniors who helped lead their team to a bowl game to go out. It was a tough way for the under classmen as well and it was tough on the fan base and a solid turnout of Blue Devil fans. Some people will point back to the fumble from Josh Snead who rushed for over 100 yards in the game. But in reality, one could point to many things if you are looking for blame and no one play lost this game.
When one takes a look at the stat sheet and you see a Duke win until you get to the turnovers. The Blue Devils had 36 first downs to the Bearcats 18 and they outgained them in yardage. Duke won the time of possession, were solid on third down while the Bearcats struggled in that area, but that season long bugaboo, known as the big play doomed the Blue Devils.
When the game first ended it was hard to see what Duke had done well from the glare of a few mistakes. Some say football is a game of inches, others point to the Football Gods wrath but whatever analogy is being used at the water cooler today, it was a team loss where no individual should shoulder the blame.
"We played well enough to win," said David Cutcliffe in the post game press conference and they did, save a play or two. Cutcliffe would later say, "We were that close," and they were. But to put the loss into perspective, one has to take into consideration where it all started. Redshirt Senior Lee Butler who started the season but was injured said it best mentioning that when he came to Duke, they were coming off an 0-12 season and he leaves knowing he helped his team to a bowl game.
It wasn't that long ago that Duke was simply seeking wins. Heck, they were seeking a win! And a bowl game? That was as they say, a pipe dream. So, yes, Duke lost the game and the team which could taste victory saw it snatched away in a most cruel manner. But a foundation is in place and no matter where you look be it the future on paper or the continued improvements of facilities and the dedication the the program, Duke Football is headed in the right direction.
To put the loss into perspective, they almost won. They were close to a win and close to a winning season. And you know what? The same was true about the North Carolina game going into the season or the Wake Forest one as well and Duke pushed through that wall this season with victories where they had failed misserably close before. Early in the Cutcliffe era, Duke just wanted a win, now people are expecting them and what a change that is.
So the point is Duke has lost heartbreaking games in the recent past but as the seasons go along in the Cutcliffe Era, they've steadily broken through barriers for big wins. That said, mark it down for the day is coming when they have more success. And while rebuilding is still in the works, they will return to a bowl if they continue to work hard and maybe this time they'll come away with a trophy to put beside the Victory Bell.
The Duke Blue Devils will face Cincinnati for the first time in the two schools' history tomorrow evening in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina. Duke comes into the contest 6-6 while the Bearcats sport a 9-3 record, so the Blue Devils need a victory to secure their first winning season since 1994.
Cutcliffe has Bowl Experience
While bowling may be new to many around the Duke program, not so for Head Football Coach David Cutcliffe. Coach Cut carries a 4-1 bowl record into this game, and he's 11-6 as an assistant coach. He knows what it takes to focus in on big games, and this should help a young Blue Devils squad.
Blue Devils are the Underdog
Had this game been played in the regular season, the Blue Devils would have been double digit underdogs, but the Bearcats lost not only their Head Coach but their coordinators as well. That has dropped the line to just 7 in the Bearcats' favor. Before any of you go betting the bank on Duke, figuring that Cincy is reeling, think back to a Richmond game where the Spiders had lost their Head Coach weeks before the season started, and yet they still handled Duke. The bottom line is for Duke to win, it'll take a maximum effort. Cincinnati is solid on both sides of the ball, and they match up well with Duke. They have played well defensively in particular, having permitted more than 30 points in but a single game this season.
The Here and Now and the Future
Bowl games reward teams' success over the course of the entire season. Let's be honest: before the season started, not many picked Duke to get to a bowl game. It's a terrific accomplishment, one that rightfully earned Coach David Cutcliffe ACC Coach of the Year honors. But it was a contingent of focused seniors that really put the Devils over the hump. This will be the last opportunity for fans to see the Sean Renfree-to-Conner Vernon connection, and the success of that duo will be a major key to the game.
But the other reward stemming from a bowl bid is the opportunity for the team to benefit from all the extra practices in preparation for the game. The Blue Devils have gotten a jump-start on next season by changing some player positions and grooming future starters. Being in a bowl also shows that the program is moving upwards, and that is the key to recruiting better players and getting their signatures on the dotted line. Duke will lose 13 seniors this season, with approximately 10 of them having played key roles over the years. There will be a lot of holes to fill for the 2013 Blue Devils.
Duke needs three TD's
The Blue Devils have scored 46 touchdowns thus far this year, and therefore need three more against a stingy Cincinnati defense to set a new all-time record of 49. The 1989 team coached by Steve Spurrier holds the Duke record with 48 touchdown scored.
The keys to a win for Duke
I was asked by a radio station what the keys to a win were for Duke. The first thing is simply to get off to a good start. Duke has not played well from behind this season, and needs to set the tone early. A quick start would also bode well against a Cincinnati team that has been wracked by coaching defections.
Another key is to slow down Cincinnati's running QB and two solid running backs -- and that's an area Duke has struggled in this season. The third item on the to-do list is to protect QB Sean Renfree and allow him time to pass, as Duke must find a way to get into the end zone against a stout Bearcat defense. Duke has not fared well when Renfree has not had time to throw. The fourth key is to establish the run, for balance is a must against a Bearcats defense that will pin their ears back and go after the passer if the opponent struggles rushing the ball.
If I had to pick one crucial item, though, it would be get off to a good start and therefore not have to play from behind early on.
When I first learned, a week or so ahead of the official announcement, that Duke would face Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl, I thought it would be a difficult matchup for the Blue Devils. On paper, the Bearcats are the better team, with solid personnel at every position. Their defense has been physical and hard to score on for most of the year, and they can run two quarterbacks at you. Since that time, the Bearcats have lost some coaches, but it remains to be seen if this will rally their troops or cause some disruption. Personally, I think it is unlikely that the Bearcats will simply roll over, as adversity tends to bring teams together more often than not.
But the Blue Devils more than anything else needed some time off. They've gotten it. That has enabled them to regain their health and to add some new wrinkles to the game plan. I feel it will come down to turnovers and ball control. Duke needs to keep its defense off the field as much as possible, and they need to find a way to get to the quarterback, something that has been difficult for Bearcats opponents. I am expecting a solid and spirited performance from Duke, and hope for a victory. If they get it, it would provide tremendous momentum going into an important off-season. See you at the game.
Duke vs. Cincinnati
6:30 PM ET
Thursday, December 27
Bank of America Stadium
Charlotte, North Carolina
Radio: Blue Devil IMG Sports Network
Duke: 6-6 (3-5 ACC)
Cincinnati: 9-3 (5-2 Big East)
DUKE PLAYERS TO WATCH
QB Sean Renfree - 250.9 passing yards per game, 18 touchdowns, 8 interceptions
WR Conner Vernon - 79.6 receiving yards per game, 7 touchdowns
WR Jamison Crowder - 85.8 receiving yards per game, 8 touchdowns
RB Jela Duncan - 5.2 yards per carry, 4 touchdowns
QB/FB/TE Brandon Connette - 7 rushing touchdowns, 2 passing touchdowns, 1 receiving touchdown
CB Ross Cockrell - 63 tackles, 12 pass break-ups, 5 interceptions
DE Kenny Anunike - 42 tackles, 5 sacks
S Walt Canty - 102 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery
S Jordon Byas - 80 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions
P Will Monday - 44.1 yards/punt, 18 punts inside 20
K Ross Martin - 18/20 field goals, long 50 yards, 44/44 PATs
CINCINNATI PLAYERS TO WATCH
RB George Wynn - 5.3 yards per carry, 100.3 rushing yards per game, 12 touchdowns
QB Brendon Kay - 96.6 passing yards per game, 6 touchdowns, 2 interceptions
TE Travis Kelce - 15.0 yards per reception, 49.9 receiving yards per game, 7 touchdowns
WR Kenbrell Thompkins - 16.3 yards per reception, 43.6 receiving yards per game, 2 touchdowns
LB Greg Blair - 123 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions
DE Dan Giordano - 51 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries
DB Cameron Cheatham - 47 tackles, 5 pass break-ups, 3 interceptions
P Pat O'Donnell - 42 yards/punt, 23 punts inside 20
K Tony Miliano - 15/20 field goals, long 47 yards, 45/47 PATs
HOW DUKE CAN WIN
The Blue Devils will be hungry for their first bowl game, and they will have to come out with intensity and be the aggressor in this game. The Bearcats have relied on a stingy defense and a strong running game to earn themselves a share of the Big East title this year. The keys to a Blue Devil victory will be a balanced offensive attack with efficient red zone execution. Few Big East offenses have the weapons that Sean Renfree possesses, and the Bearcats do give up their share of yards through the air. Look for senior receivers Conner Vernon and Desmond Scott to have big games in their first bowl action as they cap off tremendous Blue Devil careers. Their effectiveness should open things up for Jamison Crowder to make big plays down the field. The Blue Devils' offensive line will be the healthiest it has been all season, and their play will go a long way in determining the outcome of this game. Duke has to control the line of scrimmage and keep Sean Renfree on his feet. Led by star freshman Jela Duncan, the Blue Devil ground game has to be effective enough to keep the Bearcat defense honest, but don't expect any huge days for Duke running backs against a tough Cincinnati front seven. Defensively, it all starts and ends with George Wynn. In losses against Toledo, Louisville, and Rutgers, Wynn was kept out of the end zone, and the Blue Devils will have to do the same on Thursday night if they hope to pull off the upset victory.
HOW CINCINNATI CAN WIN
With all of the changes surrounding their program since their last game, the most important keys for a Cincinnati victory will be focus and intensity. The Bearcats' defense will look to make the Blue Devils' high scoring offense one-dimensional by eliminating the ground game. Giordano and Blair will look to pressure Sean Renfree before his dangerous receivers can find space downfield. We've all seen this Duke team fall flat when the offensive line struggles, and if Cincinnati is able to dominate the line of scrimmage, it will be a long night in Charlotte for the Blue Devils. The Bearcats will look to win the field position battle, take an early lead, and grind it out behind their strong offensive line and star senior running back and tight end.
WHY DUKE WILL WIN
The last time Duke played in a bowl game? 1995. The last time the Blue Devils won a bowl game? 1961. This team should be hungry for a bowl victory, and they will have to come out and play like it. An early lead would be a big boost for a team that has dropped four games in a row after a 6-2 start. Similarly, an early lead may take the fight out of a fragile Cincinnati team abandoned by their head coach. The Blue Devils are a one touchdown underdog in this matchup, and they'll have to play good football to win: win the turnover battle, execute on 3rd down, and minimize explosive plays, which has haunted them all year. Led by their freshmen All-Americans Will Monday and Ross Martin, Duke's special teams has to make big plays to keep the momentum away from the Bearcats. In the end, this game means too much to an outstanding group of Blue Devil seniors to let this opportunity pass them by. Duke puts together an inspired performance to cap off an inspiring season and become 2012 Belk Bowl Champions. Duke 24, Cincinnati 20