Flash back to the preseason and most felt Duke and Note Dame would come into the game with no less than 2-1 records. In the case for the Irish, some felt they would likely be 3-0 as they were ranked in every top ten prognostication that could be found. What we will have in reality in South Bend this Saturday where the game kicks off at 3;30 on NBC are two 1-2 teams reeling from rocky starts.
The Irish have lost to two good teams while Duke has lost to two average teams at best. A critical conference loss at home to Wake Forest signaled that Duke would experience some serious growing pains for the first time in years. Last weeks loss to Northwestern was another error plagued effort leaving the Blue Devils in desperate need of something positive.
The one thing Duke can do to better it's chances of getting back in the win column is to cut down on turnovers. Most of those have come from freshman playing key roles. That means, it may be hard to expect different results with ''Touchdown Jesus,'' staring over young men not even twenty years of age,
What Duke can hope for is to find some positives and somehow play loose. Duke is in no way considered a good bet to win in this game as they were in previous outings. Perhaps that will allow them to play with less pressure on their backs.
Duke can compete if their defense can force turnovers and the offense has to find the end zone. The Irish has been vulnerable against the pass early on but against solid competition, The real key though, will simply be not to beat yourself. Duke has done that early on as one of the nation's leaders in turnovers.
With a shaky kicking game and a young man barely 19 years old in Daniel Jones at quarterback, asking for a win is a tall order. What Duke can hope for is to iron out some of the kinks to develop much needed momentum.
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, obviously back on the road against an extremely talented team, as I look at their roster. So many guys we're very aware of from the recruiting process, and guys from all over the country. The common thread is incredible ability. Brian Kelly is an incredible offensive mind. They've got an outstanding kicking game, an outstanding defense. They've played a tough, tough schedule. We have our hands full in South Bend.
I'll take questions.
Q. To kind of go off what you were saying about Brian Kelly, giving him credit for the offensive mind he has, just to go a little further with that on what you can say about him as a coach and how he's led Notre Dame.
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, he's a positive energy force, just a great program. Every aspect of what they do, they do extremely well. Recruiting, as I mentioned, all three phases, I think he's very creative. Offensively they use formations well. They use their people well. They remain physical all while using the entire field. I think he does as good a job as anybody in the business offensively.
Q. And then as far as your team offensively, just what you've been able to take away from these last few weeks where obviously you've been able to put some things together offensively that don't always turn into points, just what you're taking away at this point.
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, we're consistently inconsistent. We have some weapons. We've got some people that at times are playing extremely well. There's two things we're hunting, consistency and taking better care of the ball. If we can accomplish those two things, we have a chance of having a really good offensive football team. We've got some ability.
Q. Did you expect the offense to be better than it is, or did you kind of figure, okay, with the quarterback change, it's going to take a while to get everybody in sync?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, there's a lot of change, and offensively we have a new offensive line coach, a new tight end coach, a new coordinator, that brings you to a new quarterback coach. That we knew, and then you lose your starting quarterback in camp, and so we're playing obviously a very young quarterback. But we're young in some other places.
So you knew that you needed to perform at an extremely high level to be successful, and at times we've done that. We're encouraged. We're far from discouraged. We're encouraged. But obviously we're not playing well enough to win games. We believe we can do that.
Now, the opponent we're playing this week is very difficult for a veteran offense to play against, a very multiple defensive team, a very experienced defensive coordinator. So he's going to try to cause a lot of problems for Daniel. We've got to manage him, manage the people around him, and put our players in position to hopefully be successful a larger percentage of the time than what we've been.
It's a great challenge this week and a chance for us to grow. If we go play well, we always have a chance.
Q. I wanted to ask you about DeVon Edwards, not as a kick returner as he's famous for, or even a defensive back, but the fact that as a 5'9", 180 guy as he's listed, he's fifth in the ACC in sacks and he's very close to ranking in the all-time top 10 in sacks in Duke history. Can you talk about the unusual circumstances of a player like that playing safety and how he's that effective as a pass rusher?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, I went and watched DeVon practice basketball when he was in high school, and the thing that impressed me most, he was a 5'9", 180-pound scoring machine, great shooter, but you know what he was, he was their leading rebounder. He had a way to get the ball. He had a fierceness about getting to a ball that went up on the basket. He has the same fierceness when he comes after a quarterback. Jim Knowles uses him in unique ways because of this tenacity, this fierce ability. I think he's one of the best football players in the country, and it doesn't get said near enough.
With all of the things that he does for his team, I don't know if there's a bigger MVP anywhere. You know how big a fan I am of DeVon's. He slices, he ducks, he fakes, he cuts. He's strong, pound for pound, unbelievably strong. So when he does get his hands on the quarterback, they're going down, although this one this week is really big. But he is a fierce competitor.
Q. It seems very odd to look at the ACC stats and see that Duke is leading the league in sacks. It's obviously been a weakness, and it's obviously something you've had to generate with blitzes and other things rather than straight-up pass rush, but can you talk about the pass rush and how you've created that this year?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, it's a combination of Jim Knowles and certainly Ben Albert. I think Coach Albert has made a big difference with our defensive front. I think actually that's going to continue to get better. We've got some young talent there. We're trying like crazy to recruit more young talent. Ben is a great teacher of pass rush. We work very hard at good against good in that regard, and I just have seen it coming. We even did some scrimmages in August where our quarterbacks were live as much as anything just to see what kind of pass rush we could generate.
Between scheme, between a willingness to take risk to some degree, and then the technique and energy that Ben puts into the defensive linemen rushing the passer, I think we've reaped some of the benefits.
Now, the biggest challenge will be this week. Nobody hardly gets near this young man unless you're just a beast because their offensive front at Notre Dame is outstanding, I mean outstanding. They all look like they could be NFL football players to me.
Q. Dave, there's a lot of tough places to play just within the ACC, and you've played some other tough places, too, but do you say anything about one of those kind of legendary atmospheres like Notre Dame, the Golden Dome and so on, et cetera, or do you just let the guys experience it when they walk in there?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: I'm going to talk with them a little bit about it, just the uniqueness of coming down the tunnel with two teams in one tunnel and the history there. I mean, they know enough about it, but they need to hear from me a little bit more about what to expect.
Once the game is being played, obviously crowd noise is an issue when you go on the road in big stadiums, but once the game is being played, I think once you are over that novelty, you just play in football.
Hopefully we're mature enough to handle that. We're working on it. You know, maturity of a team is one of the important aspects of it, and that's something certainly we're having to work with with this particular team.
At some point, you knew it had to happen. What I'm talking here is growing pains. It's the Blue Devils turn to experience them after going to four consecutive bowl games,
When the final gun sounded, Duke had not left their best effort on the field. There were too many turnovers, including a fumble which gave Wake Forest all the momentum and an early second half touchdown and a 14 to 7 lead.
Duke would answer on a drive of their own where Daniel Jones ran for his second touchdown of the game, but that would be it for scoring. Wake would tack on ten more points to make the final 24-14.
The Blue Devils line play was less than stellar. In fact, Wake's offensive front pushed Duke around as their backs rushed for 239 yards. Duke was solid on defense in the first half, but they seemed to tire as the game went on.
Wake only connected on 6 of 17 third downs, but the Duke coverage broke down when the game was on the line. The Blue Devils failed to get a stop that led to a Wake field goal that put the game out of reach. Had just one mistake been avoided, Duke could have possibly sent the game into overtime.
If you read my article in the pre season on important games, you saw where I mentioned this one was the most important. You do not want to get off to an 0-1 start in the ACC at home and you need to win the games you are favored in to keep bowl hopes a viable option.
In all honesty. Duke placed itself in an early hole by losing to Wake Forest for the schedule ahead is brutal. Most people felt Duke would have to steal a game to make it to another bowl this season. Now, they will have to steal at least two and have perfect success in winnable games.
There is a lot of football left to be played but Duke will more than likely end up playing for the future. In order to prevent that from happening they will need to win at Northwestern next week to rekindle any hope for a bowl game.
Duke blew a lot of chances in the first half to take a solid lead. They allowed Wake to hang around, they turned the ball over and allowed big plays. And then there were some very untimely penalties near the red zone and two deflating missed field goals. Off the field, they struggled to put fannies in the stands and student turnout was paltry as well.
While I am painting a bleak picture, all is not as bad as it may seem to the fanbase. The program has a lot of players who will grow in the system and get better. It is worth watching them develop the skills they will need to help Duke have future success.
Recruiting is going very well and the stadium renovations are top notch. But Duke now has to fill the seats and well, nothing was quite as it should be today, or as it will be one day.
Every aspect of the program needs to get better after today's loss. That may not happen this year, but that time is coming. The reason I say this is that there is a solid foundation being built, it just needs some TLC to get things on the proper track.
Duke has talent, but they are very young in key areas of the team. Much like the renovations to facilities and game day processes, there needs to be some tweaking.
It will take some time and patience, but David Cutliffe has earned that. Nobody is more upset with this loss than is he and hopefully, the team will play with a sense of urgency moving forward.
Duke will try to defeat a Northwestern team next week who is coming off two upset losses. The Wildcats will still be the favorite in this game and likely have their ears pinned back. For Duke, it is still one of the easier games they have left. If for no other reason than that, the Blue Devils desperately need to come out of this game with a win.
A rivalry was established between Duke and Wake Forest several years ago when the ACC made sure they would meet every season. At the time, Wake Forest had seen a resurgence in their program that would in time lead them to an ACC Championship under Jim Grobe.
Since that time, Duke has used their own blueprint to success. While there is no ACC Championship to boast about, there are four consecutive bowl games. That, along with some sweet changes to facilities taking place on Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium have made for a momentum swing of late in the Blue Devils favor.
It tickles me how so many people judge teams off a single game. Take last weeks Wake win over Tulane by a 7-3 score. Many are saying, this means Wake cannot score ignoring the fact that the Green Wave had an all new staff which makes it hard to prepare. Yes, the Demon Deacons struggled on offense but not on defense and that is their bread and butter.
Remember how good Clemson was a year ago? Well, Wake held their offense down, not to mention a heart breaking one point loss to Louisville and the list goes on. Well, folks -- they have the same defense minus one player. In their last three games a season ago, they held good offensive teams in Clemson to 33, Notre Dame to 28 and Louisville to 20.
On the other side of the ball, Duke will see if barely 19-year-old quarterback in actually Daniel Jones is ready for prime time. A week ago in the easy win over NCCU he looked the part, but this time he must play a whole game and not a half.
The Deacs are tough up front and that will test the Duke running game which is a key ingredient to team success. The Blue Devils offensive front faces their first true test against a team that just doesn't allow many opportunities for scores.
Duke may actually fare better with their own defense in this game, and that means special teams could play a role as well. The muffed ball on a kick last week was one too many according to Duke Coach David Cutcliffe. He also bristled when he spoke to the muffed punt return by Ryan Smith. Those kind of turnovers will not float in this game if Duke is to come out on top.
One thing to look for are play makers making the big play in this game. In talking to DeVon Edwards this week, he admitted to Jonesing a bit when he does not break for a nice return or haul in an interception in a game. Duke needs something to happen in their favor and not turn the ball over more than their opponent in a game that could be low scoring.
What we are likely to see is a defensive game where field position plays a big role. Duke will hope to score touchdowns instead of settling for field goals in the red zone with an untested freshman kicker.
It will also be quite important to score early in a game like this and not play from behind. It'll be interesting as well to truly gauge both the Duke offense and defense against and ACC rival.
Duke is favored by 5 points in Vegas and while I in no way advocate gambling, we, like others, use this as a gauge for entertainment purposes. One of the supposed ESPN experts picks Wake Forest to cover and win outright. Some fans, seem to think that number is low.
On Saturday, we;ll know for sure how things play out. Duke still has plenty of questions that need answering. Can the passing game step up when needed or the running game continue to be a large factor comes to mind. We'll also look to see how the Duke defense fares against better competition and a team with vastly more physical talent than the opening week opponent.
I suppose it is time to make my prediction and I do think Duke will win. The question is which way the ball will bounce for a single turnover could alter this game mightily as would missing a key field goal. One thing I am certain of is that four touchdowns would win this game for either side.
Duke Blue Devil's football Coach David Cutcliffe addressed the media today -
Q. Coach, I was listening to your press conference from yesterday, and you talked about how both teams are really learning each other early in the season. I was wondering how much that's complicated in your instance with a turnover in your staff? Because if I'm not mistaken, you've had pretty good staff stability there, David?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Yeah, this is probably the most change. I've called it the year of new. We've got a new defensive line coach, a new tight end coach, a new offensive coordinator, a new special teams coordinator, a new offensive line coach, a red-shirt freshman new quarterback, et cetera. So it's an interesting time for us. We've had a lot of stability here. Change is good when you have guys like Scottie Montgomery getting head jobs. These guys have been awesome, the additions.
But it's a process, and it's a daily process. And our football team, to be honest with you right now, is a day-to-day process. We're just trying to get better.
Q. Coach, assessing Daniel Jones in that first week at quarterback for you, just what you can say coming off of that?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: He's a physically gifted young man. I thought he threw the ball really well. He ran the ball well. He ran our team well. He was -- we didn't ask him to do a lot. He was very-well prepared by Zac Roper, our quarterback coach, offensive coordinator. And I think it's going to continue in that mode. I think he'll play well, but he's going to have some growing pains. Red-shirt freshman always do.
But very pleased with his work ethic and his attention to detail is really, really good. And if he will continue that, he's got a chance of being a really good player.
Q. As far as, obviously, Parker Boehme got some time out there as well. Do you envision finding places for Parker as you go forward as well?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Yeah, we've always kind of had packages for guys in situation football. And Parker really does fit that mode. He's done some of that anyway for us in the past. So he's a good player.
We have a starter and we've got a back-up. It's not like we're still trying to figure that out. But I can promise you Parker is a guy that I trust in the game, and particularly in somewhat would be critical situations.
Q. Given your defense, playing North Carolina Central the first game, what did it tell you?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: I thought we played much better, more aggressive on defense, a defensive front, we played a lot of people. Our linebackers were decisive, which is something you can tell. Then our secondary, which is very experienced not surprisingly did play well. Are we going to be tested each week more? Absolutely, and we realize that.
I thought they practiced well yesterday and this morning. We're a morning practice team, but I thought it was spirited, and they understand there's a lot of getting better to do. We're playing a much more talented offensive team, particularly when you just look at all the returning starters that Wake has. Their entire offensive line, I think it's like 10 of 11 starters in all.
Q. You just mentioned that you played a lot of people on the defensive front. Is that something you think we'll continue to see throughout the season?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Absolutely. I believe that. It's something that Coach Albert and I have talked extensively about. If guys earn playing time, they're going to be on the field. The key for them is to earn it. Keeping the defensive linemen fresh and rotating is really a good advantage, not just early in the year, but even later in the year. So I think you'll see a lot of people out there for us again this week.
Q. Do you feel more confident about your inner guys because they have a little more experience? Obviously A.J. Wolf is an outstanding player, then the young guys you have at the ends, even the older guys at the ends have not played a whole lot.
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Yeah, we're much more experienced inside. You've got guys, as you mentioned, like Dom McDonald that he hasn't played that much football at this point. He's a fourth year player. Marquies Price is probably the most experienced who started last year as a true freshman. You've got to remember, he's still just a sophomore. So it's an interesting dynamic.
I think we're going to get better as the year goes on, and we'll have to get better as it goes. I think we're a work in progress to some degree in the defensive front.
Q. Your two back-ups have ten or 11 career starts between them. These guys come in with no career starts. Can you talk about why you're going with the younger, less-experienced guys at linebacker?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, Ben started some at the end of last year, Ben Humphreys. He's a little more experienced than Joe. Joe red-shirted a year ago. It's a competitive situation. They're going to continue to have people competing with them. But they won the jobs in camp, just out and out performance, production, and that's what you're looking for particularly in a position like linebacker. They can't just know what to do. They've got to show us they can produce numbers and Ben and Joe certainly can do that.
Q. It seems as if or feels as if the quarterback play in the ACC might be the best, if not among the best in the entire country, especially among the top-level talent. I'm wondering whether you notice that and why you think it might be that the quarterbacks are better this year maybe than over the last couple of years.
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, we've got some people back with experience, obviously. Some of the more highly rated guys in the country and certainly at Clemson, Miami, et cetera, and the youngster at Florida State had a terrific ballgame. And you know the quality and talent of Jackson up at Louisville. I watched a lot of his tape through the summer, and good, gosh, is he talented. So just a little bit everywhere.
I think the league is better than people think. I think you've got a bunch of really good recruiting coaches in this league, and you're seeing ACC football being played at a higher level than people give it credit for. Everybody always wants to just point it at these pre-season matches. But if you look at our non-conference record over the last few years, it's far better than people think. So I think part of the quarterback thing is just a product of better football players.
I think we've got better defensive linemen than we had when we came into the league, and et cetera, et cetera, and I think it's just an upswing in ACC football.
Q. Do you think that impacts kids during recruiting who now see a better product on the field and say, okay, I can pick an ACC school and I can be in a place where we can play in big games and win big games?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Absolutely. I mean, you go back to Jameis Winston, that guy got a little attention as an ACC quarterback. Deshaun Watson is the most talked about college player returning. It's just a good time to be in the ACC if you like to compete. I like where I see the league and where the league's going.
DURHAM - Duke QB Daniel Jones led the Blue Devils to a 49-6 victory in his first career start on Saturday evening at Wallace Wade Stadium. He discussed his performance with the media after the game.
Senior RB Jela Duncan led the way with over 100 first half rushing yards, including two touchdowns. His physical running set the tone for the Blue Devil offense, who totaled over 300 yards on the ground.
Senior AJ Wolf finished with three sacks in the season opener, but was quick to give credit to his teammates, who held NCCU to just 4 first downs and 6 points for the game.