Q & A with Duke Coach David Cutcliffe

Wednesday September 5, 2018

David Cutcliffe


DAVID CUTCLIFFE: It's always challenging after the first game, it may not sound it, but challenging to jump right back into a game week. You've got to grind it out Tuesday and get back after it Wednesday. I think our team has adapted to that. It's really been hot, but we obviously are playing a very good Northwestern team, very good Northwestern team. They've won nine games in a row. They're playing as well as a team as anybody I've seen on film. I think our squad is well aware of that, a huge challenge, but when you go on the road, it's a huge opportunity to say something about your own program. So I think they're looking forward to the challenge, but they do know it is a big one.


Q. How closely would you say your team in the opener mirrored what you expected them to look like, and how did that match up during your career with how well do teams kind of meet your expectation that first time out?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: I think that's a great question. I think people probably were aware that we did have a little greater expectation of this team with returning players. I think one of the things that probably I was hoping for is that this is a much more physical team. We are the fastest team we've had, but I think probably the biggest thing that we found in the first game is that we were definitively the most physical team on the field against a physical football team. Army West Point has developed a physical mentality. They play the game that way. But I thought our team responded to that really well, and that was something we were certainly hoping we would see in week 1. Now we've just got to grow it. We're going to play a bigger, faster, stronger team in week 2, and we'll learn a little bit more about ourselves.

Q. We hear often, and I've been asking the guys, but the idea that teams make their biggest jump from week 1 to week 2; do you subscribe to that theory, and what do you think about that?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: I think it depends on the quality of your team. As I just mentioned coming in, you have camp, and then all of a sudden in this environment, you're overloaded with schoolwork already, you've got to turn around and re-key and re-focus on a new opponent. So if you do that, playing the game, there is nothing like playing the game, but we don't get to scrimmage much anymore in college football, hardly at all really in a year compared to what it used to be. So it should be one of the biggest jumps you have during the season. But all of that is dependent upon, again, how you come work out of that first game.

Q. You obviously beat Northwestern pretty decisively last year, but how much better do they look to you on film this time when you're preparing for them?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Yeah, I think there's a couple things. It was an early game a year ago. They didn't play as well as they would have liked. That team was obviously better than people thought. That particular team was a very good football team, Northwestern. They went on and won 10 games for the season. But this team to me looks better. This team is more athletic. They look very committed. You can tell they've had a great spring and summer. So yeah, I think this is one of the better Northwestern teams we've seen since we've been here. We saw them our first year here, but we've played them four times. So I definitely think this team is one of the best if not the best we've seen.

Q. I know you played three true freshmen in the game. What was your assessment of how they did? And secondly, I know you had more true freshmen than that that pushed for playing time in camp and didn't play. How have they responded to that, and is there still a chance that may get into some games in September?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Yeah, I think the three that did play did all right. We didn't play them enough probably. Certainly Jake Bobo is going to continue to get in the mix. It's a very competitive environment at receiver. We've got two young receivers, Jarett Garner and Dennis Smith, that are doing awfully well. But you get into the D-line, Tahj Rice, he's just a big, strong, powerful youngster, and we want to continue to get him in better shape, but we feel like he's going to impact us before the year is over. He did well when he was in there, played hard. Casey Holman, an offensive tackle, is a very talented young man. He certainly can impact our team. You can't ever have enough depth in the offensive line.

And then I think, too, that we thought might would play would be Maurice McIntyre and Mataeo Durant, but Mataeo had a great day yesterday and today in some live work, and he's ready. But again, it's a very competitive environment. There's only one football, and there's some backs that are playing well. But he's going to help us this year. No doubt in my mind, he is a terrific prospect, as are others in that class.

I'll give you an example. I thought one of the best performances of the practice today was done by Gunnar Holmberg who's a true freshman quarterback that was being Northwestern's quarterback. I thought he was terrific today. Even what people don't see in games I think may surprise -- this class may surprise people just how talented the overall group is.

Q. Aaron Young had a big game for you last week; do you feel like he's capable of having a breakout season for you guys?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: He is. He is a very big -- people that walk up to him, I don't think they realize initially how big he is. I don't know what we list him at, but he's tall, he's very strong -- had an incredible summer. It's important to him, and I think he probably is going into his junior year realizing maybe he hasn't reached his expectations. He and I sat down and had a conversation about that. But you know, he's been flashy in the past. Now, let's see if he can put one week after another. He's definitely capable of being a guy that burst on the scene, and I know Daniel Jones has a lot of confidence in Aaron. Hopefully it heads in that direction.

Q. What do you think it's going to take for him to play more consistently and string big games together instead of just having one here or there?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Yeah, that's a great question, and I think he would answer it better than I, but I will tell you we'd have the same answer. He'd got to become focused in practice and at every little thing that he does. Just consistent focus, practice habits. It's been something that -- all young people fight it, but he's had to battle that a little bit. So whether it's alignment, just getting up off the ground and being ready to play the next play, those are things that he's working on, and I think with that will come a consistent performance that people will look to -- he's capable of being an All-Star player, and hopefully that happens for him.

Q. Touching on Aaron again, obviously with the big game he had on Saturday, have you kind of maybe allowed yourself to think of an exciting wrinkle that would be if he did have a great season kind of paired with your other wide receivers that really have some talent?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Yeah, I think when you -- and we feel like we've got a chance to be this, and Gerad Parker has done a really good job with our receiving corps this year and trying to build depth and confidence, and you've got the seniors -- we actually have four seniors in the receiving corps, including Trevon Lee, with our other three that are basically starters, and I think when you get Aaron playing at that level and we get others, Scott Bracey, Jake Bobo, we're one -- one of the wrinkles, as you call it, is just the size we can put on the field at receiver. T.J. may be the quickest we've ever had here, but we've got some big guys right now that can play, and I think we can use that to our advantage.

Q. Talk about the running back from Northwestern, Larkin. He played against you guys last year, but he wasn't a factor. But this past week he ran a lot through Purdue. What do you see on film to try to stop him?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, he's extremely quick, and his change of direction -- he's really just a really good back. We were very aware of him in high school, recruited him out of high school. He makes people miss. He's strong enough to break tackles. He's very athletic. He's got great family DNA. He's elusive.

I thought he was one of the bigger factors in that Purdue game. He gave them some explosive plays in the running game that -- that's how you win games. He took care of the football, so he's a complete player, no question.

Q. What did you like about Daniel's performance last week?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: He was just consistently efficient. You know, he threw the ball very accurately. He knew where and why and what he was doing at every second out there, total control, I thought. 13 of 17, and it could have even been higher. We didn't throw the football a whole lot. We didn't get a whole lot of possessions. But basically of the eight real possessions in the game, he led us to six scores, so that's pretty stout efficiency.