Category Archives: Duke Football

Duke at North Carolina Preview

Bragging rights are on the line as Duke travels to North Carolina in the ACC opener for both teams this season.  A season ago, Duke claimed the Victory Bell with a 28-27 win over the then 16th ranked Tar Heels.  Revenge plays a role in the series and by conventional wisdom North Carolina should be ready for some payback in Chapel Hill.

I have no doubt the Tar Heels will be ready to give Duke their best effort.  But lets not forget that the Blue Devils sought revenge with their last upset win over a Tar Heel team that hung 66 points on their defense the last time the teams met in Chapel Hill.  North Carolina flat-out ran up the score that day for the most points scored by any team in the series.

What does this all mean?  Well, for one you can throw the records out in this game for both teams are 0-0 heading into conference play.  In fact, the last time Duke went to Chapel Hill as the favorite was in 1999 and they lost that game 38-0.  Mercy is rarely shown in this game if a team gets the upper hand.

In fairness, Duke (-2.5) is the slight favorite this weekend, meaning this game is basically considered a toss up in objective circles.  While crazy things have happened when these two teams play, there are very few not expecting a close and high scoring game in that the over/under is 66 points.  And yes, that is how many total points the Tar Heels scored alone the last time in Chapel Hill.

About the Heels

The Tar Heels opened the season with an upset loss to California, but the Bears are now 3-0 and are much better than was anticipated.  They could not control Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson losing to Louisville but they scored a ton of points.  They righted the ship with an impressive win over a decent Old Dominion team last weekend while not being a heavy favorite.

North Carolina has suffered from the injury bug early in the season and their offensive line has been one of the main units which have taken a hit.  The defense is coming together after a coaching change as well.  But nobody is feeling sorry for this bunch in that on paper they have recruited well and have plenty of weapons.

The bottom line is that the Tar Heels can score points and Larry Fedora is known for good reason as a solid offensive coach.  They have now established some momentum and seen things go right against an Old Dominion team on the road.  That makes for a more dangerous bunch and the fact Duke is coming in will have their players as pumped as they can get.

About the Blue Devils

Lets start with the fact that Duke is 3-0.  Few had projected the Blue Devils would be undefeated at this stage to begin the season.  Duke coach David Cutcliffe and his staff has the team in a good place thus far but it is early and people are still wondering how good Duke might be.  The team did show signs of not putting Baylor away a week ago before actually doing so and they cannot leave points on the field to a more solid Tar Heel team this week.

Thankfully the talk on pushing Daniel Jones to the NFL via media hype stopped last week.  Jones showed that he still has a lot to learn but at the same time he has shown himself to be a big time quarterback in the quick Duke start.

The story for Duke has been their defense which is highly ranked after three games.  The team has a much better front but there are still questions in the secondary which could be answered this week. The defensive backs will be tested by a Tar Heel offense that likes to get to the ball and run plays quickly.

Duke has also had success running the ball and we can expect a balanced attack in this game.  The Blue Devils have some guys making plays, namely Shaun Wilson, but they need better route running from their wideouts who need to get into their break.

The Dire Importance of the Game

There will be some haymakers thrown for sure in the game for both teams want to start the ACC Coastal Division season 1-0.  The loser of the game will likely have a hard time recovering.  North Carolina would see their bowl hopes take a hit if they fall to 1-3.  The road gets no easier for Duke with a short turnaround for a Friday game with Miami.  Going into that game 0-1 in the league could dig an early hole in conference play.  The Tar Heels need a win the the biggest of ways to keep momentum going.  The Blue Devils could equal their win total from a season ago with a win and be a step closer to a bowl game.  The biggest thing though, is that his is a key Coastal Division game and both teams still have their eye on the prize to make it to Charlotte in the title game.

What Will Happen

Who is to know?  Cutcliffe worked with his kicking game this week and it could come down to special teams.  A turnover could be disastrous for either team and multiple ones could be sure doom and gloom.

On one hand, we may see a resurgent Heels team roll on offense to a big easy win.  They will continue their momentum after rolling past Old Dominion and reestablish themselves as a team to be reckoned with.

We could see a game so close overtime comes into play. It may come down to a kick or a turnover.

Duke might come out and control the game as they have in previous games and let the nation know they are for real.

I waver back and forth on whether this will actually be as high scoring a game as many think.  Part of me feels it could be a more defensive battle than some think.  On the other hand, everything points to points being scored.

It would be silly to think this game is not very competitive in that both programs are hungry.  If Duke can establish their run game it could bode well provided they do not turn the ball  over a lot.  It will be important for Duke to not let the Tar Heels get a big lead for the Blue Devils historically play better with quick starts under Cutcliffe.

I am picking Duke in this one.  I think they have just enough in the tank to earn Cutcliffe his 100th victory as a coach and continue a resurgent season.  But I think they will sweat this one out as well.

Duke - 34  North Carolina  - 31


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Cutcliffe Talks Duke at UNC

The stakes are high for this weekends Duke at UNC match up in that it's a Coastal Division game and the ACC opener for both teams. David Cutcliffe certainly knows of the challenge ahead for his 3-0 Blue Devils.  The last time Duke played in Kenan Stadium the Tar Heels hung 66 point on his team.  But this years Blue Devils are a different bunch and are currently a slight favorite heading into the game.

"Early in the year we focus on our self, " said Cutcliffe to open today's press conference.  What he means by that is performing well is just as important as being prepared.  And Duke needs to show well on the field for all the preparation in the world will not help if you do not perform well.

Cutcliffe stated, "Let's face it.  It's Duke-North Carolina.  That carries weight. That is going to carry weight for a year. There is a bell that says it does."  He knows this is a big game and is not shying away from that fact despite the game being played earlier than any time in history.

What the media did not ask today is how good it would feel for Cutcliffe to win his 100th game this week.  Well, perhaps it is for the best that fact is being overlooked.  But you can bet his team is well aware that the outcome would give their head man a milestone win.

Cutcliffe also spoke to the fact that he heard a lot about the rivalry when he arrived.  But it was later he learned that he could actually be razzed by opposing fans.  'I get it.  I call it the grocery store rivalry.  When I am in the grocery store I am going to see a lot of Carolina folks.  Some times they are nice which is most of the time and some times they are not.  As I said, the game lasts a year."

Duke will be facing a Tar Heel team that runs quick offensive sets. "With North Carolina, you are defending some outstanding weapons.  They have the ability to run the ball or throw it, their RPO game is as good as it is in the country." said Cutcliffe.

The Blue Devils had their scout team run quick plays against the defense and they also get reps against the first team this week.  While you cannot simulate the speed in which the Tar Heels run plays, Duke will at least somewhat know what to expect.

Cutcliffe did not elaborate on injuries but did say some players were playing with issues which may be the case the entire season.  Duke has been fortunate to date not to suffer too many injuries.

The Duke at North Carolina games will kickoff at 3:30 this Saturday in Kenan Stadium.  The game will be televised on ESPNU.

How Duke Beat Baylor to go 3-0

Duke defeated Baylor to go 3-0 on the season.

Here are some notes from the Blue Devils victory over Baylor and a look ahead.

The Passing Game Failed to Find Wideouts

The Duke offense struggled a bit with the passing game where the top two running backs on the depth chart in Shaun Wilson and Brittain Brown led the team in both receptions and yardage.  While this is not ideal there are reasons.

Duke was forced to take what the defense gave them as Baylor was constantly shifting and having their defensive backs drop back just before snaps.  This in turn will prove to be a valuable lesson for Daniel Jones with concern to his game management and staying within the system despite multiple or unexpected looks.

The Run Game Filled the Void

The beauty of the win for Duke is how well they ran the ball.  Shaun Wilson had two explosive TD runs of 65 and 50 yards.  He rushed for 176 yards on the day which is the best of any Blue Devil back this season.  Duke was also aided by the physical running style of Brittain Brown.  The redshirt freshman tallied 86 yards on the ground which included a 34 yard scamper for a score where he shook off two defenders.  Keep in mind that the Blue Devils total of 246  net rushing yards included minus 56 yards on sacks.

Big Play Blue Devils

On a day when Duke left some points on the field, they were aided by star players who would rise to the occasion.  The linebacking tandem of Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys were sensational. The two Duke roommates each made plenty of big tackles and plays. Giles-Harris led the team with 6 tackles and 6 assists and had a drive stopping interception.

Humprehys sealed the win for the Blue Devils with his interception and 22 yard return for a touchdown which put the Blue Devils up 31-20 early in the 4th quarter.  The defense then held Baylor on downs and tacked on a field goal from Austin Parker which was his second on the day.  In fact, Duke now has as many made field goals as it had all of last season.

David Cutcliffe Pleased With Defense

Going unnoticed to a degree is the fact that Duke held Baylor to just 57 net rushing yards.  This, of course, was helped by the teams 3 sacks.  Duke was right there on a lot of plays with quarterback pressure which forced Zach Smith to rush his passes.  Cutcliffe thought his defense played well past the explosive plays.

Cutcliffe's Message to Daniel Jones and the Team

One thing you have to like about this years team is their ability to look forward to the task at hand.  Per Cutcliffe, he told Daniel Jones that they stakes have gone up as they move forward into their ACC schedule.   Duke will look to play their system this weekend against arch rival North Carolina in what is sure to be a physical and emotional game.  The long time Duke coach can notch his 100th career win with a victory at Chapel Hill.  Cutcliffe briefly commented on UNC today, saying they were a talented team and program.  He is still implementing some changes from the film study he does each Sunday and will likely start to develop his game plan for the Tar Heels tonight.

Closing Words

There were times when Duke was not as crisp as they were in their first two wins, but wins are the key.  Being 3-0 to start the season paints a beautiful picture and the team gave Cutcliffe a birthday present by fighting past some adversity versus the Bears.

The Blue Devils are 35th and 39th in voting for this weeks polls and that is a testament to solid coaching.  But the Blue Devils staff knows that they must still shore some things up and remain consistent for their surge to continue.

The Blue Devils have been fortunate on the injury front so far this season.  No major injuries were recorded in the teams 34-20 win over Baylor.

Duke will face an unusually early ACC road game with North Carolina in Chapel Hill this week.  The game will be a good measuring stick for where the team will be heading into the conference season.

The Victory Bell is at stake, as is pride and going 1-0 or 0-1 in the conference this week.  It should be a fun time in Kenan Stadium and I urge Duke fans to try to make it over for the affair and to turn out for a Friday night game with nationally ranked Miami in two weeks.

Baylor at Duke Preview

Baylor at Duke Preview

Baylor (0-2) at Duke (2-0) (Homecoming) 

September 16th, 12:30 p.m. kickoff, Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, N.C.

2017 Homecoming, TV - Raycom Sports Network

First Take

One team is hot and one team is not.  Duke is off to a 2-0 start with impressive wins over NCCU and Northwestern.  Meanwhile, Baylor has yet to find itself after two upset losses under new head coach Matt Rhule.  Duke has been labeled a 14 point favorite which seems a bit high to some.  Baylor was picked in the top 40 by three pre season publications and Phil Steele had their team units ranked quite high in his magazine in the Big 12 conference.   The bottom line is that this is a bit of a trap game against a team that has talent but has yet to put it together.

About Baylor

Many are quick to discount the Bears due to their early season struggles.  But a closer look shows that talent is still there.  Like Duke, Baylor is playing a lot of true freshman this season.  The numbers are similar with the Blue Devils playing 11 to the Bears 13.

The Bears will switch quarterbacks this week to a more pro style passer.  Zach Smith takes over and he has had success leading the Bears to a bowl win over Boise State a season ago.

Baylor has been a victim of mistakes.  Turnovers and penalties to be exact.  The thought is if they can reverse that trend they will be able to show off their talent which lurks below the surface in the results.

“We improved on defense,” Baylor coach Matt Rhule said after the loss to UTSA. “We played well enough to win on offense two weeks ago. We didn’t play well enough on defense. We played well enough to win on defense this week and not on offense. Now we have to put it all together.”  Rhule, of course, turned things around at Temple before coming to Baylor.

According to the Waco Tribune, Rhule plans to let the offense loose this week against Duke after playing a conservative game plan in weeks one and two.

About Duke

Duke is off to a great start and the fan base and team are looking forward to each week with great anticipation.  Duke has already won half as many games as last season and they seek to keep the momentum going against Baylor.

The Blue Devils are getting great effort on both sides of the ball.  On offense, Daniel Jones is blossoming into a bright young star at his quarterback position.  His ability run and throw has been an early season key.

Duke is also getting better play on the offensive line and from its wideouts.  In short, the offense has been consistent to date while not allowing opposing defenses to key on any one area of the game.

The Blue Devils have been better on defense as well.  They totally handled the Northwestern run game a week ago by allowing one of the Big 10's best back his career low.  The youth in the secondary has yet to be exploited and the kicking game, while not perfect is better as well.

Duke has also benefited from better coaching where the staff has shown more continuity.  The Blue Devils are hell-bent on returning to a bowl game this season and seem focussed on the job at hand.

The Bottom Line

Baylor is a dangerous team.  All they are hearing is how disappointing they've been to date, so there is a gathering behind the wagons feel to their team this week.  If they see some early success, they could be, pardon the pun, a Bear to handle.

Duke will look to take advantage of a banged up Baylor secondary. The defense must pressure the quarterback while not allowing speedy skilled players to make big plays.

Baylor will give their best effort of the season and will be pumped up playing an ACC team which is considered the favorite.  Duke will have to be aggressive on the offensive end and score some points to win.

I have been all over the place with how I think this game will go. Baylor has a lot more speed than Northwestern and are the underdog in a most dangerous way,  Duke on the other hand has been very efficient but how will they respond if there is adversity?

If the Bears cut down on mistakes and Duke makes some, this could be a close game.  If Duke plays mistake free football, they should come away from the game 3-0.    There is a part of me that thinks Duke will win easy and another part that thinks this is the trap game of the season.  I am going with the good Blue Devils with few turnovers, but the game could be much, much closer than my pick.

The Pick is - Duke 38 Baylor 22

Cutlciffe Talks Duke Football

David Cutcliffe

The Duke Blue Devils are coming off a solid 41-17 win over Northwestern.  With the win, the team now stands 2-0 on the young season as they prepare for Baylor.  Here is a general recap of what we heard from David Cutcliffe today.

Stay Aggressive and Consistent

If there is one message Cutcliffe and staff are trying to hammer home to the team it is to remain aggressive and consistent.  Earlier in the day center Austin Davis said that a season ago the team was not as strong up front and that the goal in the off-season was to be better in that area from the start.  So far, this season, the teams offense has been much better by being more aggressive.  The same goes for the defensive front which is getting better pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Cutcliffe is Expecting Temple

With so little film to go on from Baylor, Cutcliffe said he had watched what Temple did a season ago.  He is also well aware that the Bears are changing quarterbacks in Zach Smith.  Their starter Anu Solomon is on concussion protocol but a change seemed to be in the works despite that.   Smith had success starting the last four games a season ago which included a 31-12 win over Boise State in the Cactus Bowl.  Cutcliffe also said that defensive backs look forward to the challenge when they face a good passer and Smith is a pro style back.    It is clear though, that the Duke coach has respect for Baylor despite their rocky start even going as far as to say their athletes have track like speed.

1's vs 1's

The Duke coach also state that the team was practicing with the 1st team units going against each other.  This is being done in an effort to protect the ball,  Cutcliffe said his ball handlers were getting hit quickly after getting the ball in practice in an effort to teach them what to expect.  Duke has flirted with turnovers in both of their early season wins.

Special Teams Work

Duke also worked on individual player assignments in the punting game and on special teams.  They broke down the process on film and expect Austin Parker to have a better effort his week after a sub par experience in the win over Northwestern.

The Focus is on Duke

Duke is also focusing on what they can control, meaning their play.  Cutcliffe and his players say the team is always striving for consistency and building on that aspect each week.  "We still see some things we can do better," said Cutcliffe.

Duke Rocks Northwestern 41-17

Lance King, Getty Images

The Duke Blue Devils came away with an impressive 41-17 win over Northwestern to go 2-0 on the season.  Daniel Jones was the first player in history to throw for over 300 yards and rush for over 100 to gain a victory.

Jones ended the game with 305 yards and two touchdowns through the air to go with 108 yards and 2 scores on the ground.  His main target on the day was junior wideout T.J. Rahming who pulled in 12 catches for 127 yards.

Duke out gained the favored Wildcats by a wide margin of 538-191 yards.  Many of the yards for Northwestern came on the last series in which they had the ball.

The Duke defense also held all american candidate Justin Jackson to 18 yards rushing and the Wildcats team to 22 net yards.  Duke was clearly the more dominant team on both sides of the ball in the trenches.

Big plays also helped Duke to victory.  Four timely sacks thwarted Wildcat drives.  Alonzo Saxton has one of those as well as a forced and recovered fumble.  He also led the team with 7 solo tackles.

Sophomore cornerback Mark Gilbert also contributed to a stellar defensive effort by pulling down two interceptions.  That helped keep veteran quarterback Clayton Thorson in check where he managed just 120 yards through the air.

With the win, Duke Coach David Cutcliffe notched his 98th win.  He remains the third winningest coach in program history..

"We were working on all cylinders.  Going into the game, we knew what we wanted to do," stated Alonzo Saxton.  With the win Duke snapped a three game losing streak to Northwestern.

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said, "We got outcoached, out executed and out played and that starts and ends with me."   He went on the credit the Blue Devils for their win.

Duke will next take on the Baylor Bears in Wallace Wade Stadium next Saturday.  Kickoff is at 12:30 for the contest and tickets are available at the Duke Ticket Office.

THE LAST WORD - Duke played with a lot of swag today and the difference in their early play is night and day from a season ago.  The team continues to play fast and physical and better special teams play has been a plus.  Make no mistake, this was a good win over a Big 10 team picked 2nd in their division for Cut and company. Duke is averaging 50.5 ppg after two contests and that is a good thing, for next week they face one of the best offenses on their schedule in Baylor.