Monday’s are stuck with being one the most maligned days of the week. Back to school, back to work, staff meetings, projects, the beginning of another tough work week - no one looks forward to Monday. But this year during the college football season we will give you at least one reason to look forward to Monday with a reprise of Saturday’s Duke football game and a early week look at the next opponent in an offering titled “Monday Mornings.”
DURHAM -- Confidence is a very strong attribute that is necessary to compete in any sporting endeavor.
Confidence is one of the attributes that David Cutcliffe is trying to instill in this Duke football team and program.
Blue Devil junior receiver Jamison Crowder displayed that attribute on Saturday in the game against North Carolina Central.
Late in the first quarter, Crowder bounced off the bench to head for his punt return position. As he headed for the field he glanced back at his offensive teammates giving them a look and a little smile that they need not get up. They would not be needed; he’d be right back with a touchdown.
Sure enough he gathered in the punt, and scampered down the field 76 yards for a touchdown.
“On my first punt return I saw that if I hit the seam strong and fast I could break through and return one,” said Crowder, who also led the Blue Devils with six catches for 62 yards.
That type confidence is something that Cutcliffe is working to bring to this team. In Saturday’s win over the Eagles, he saw that confident style of play, which usually brings about wins.
“It’s a cultural change,” said Cutcliffe, who is now 4-2 in season openers at Duke. “It’s a process we are working on with this program. We have gone from working to win games, to now knowing how to win games, go into them with the confidence that if each young man does his job at his position we will have a strong opportunity to win the game.”
“It’s a growing process,” explained senior left guard Dave Harding. “When we watch film we see guys making plays that we haven’t seen them make in the past. It’s not that we are just older or more experienced we have learned to make plays to help us win.”
Cutcliffe was very pleased with the fact that he was able to play nearly 70 players against N.C. Central.
“The really positive part is that we were able to play most of those guys in the first half, when we could truly evaluate their performances,” said Cutcliffe, who saw 49 players play in the first half. “That was critical. It is harder in a mop up role to actually judge how a player plays. It is better to see him in the heat of the real action.”
One of the areas where Cutcliffe feels this team has truly developed is in having more players competing for playing time. At five different positions there were players listed as “or” meaning either player could be a starter.
“There are more ors on the depth chart because there is more competition this year for playing time,” said Cutcliffe. “That is the best thing that can happen because you have players working hard every day in practice, which makes them better players in the game.”
Speaking of practice, the outstanding performance in the Central game did not surprise Cutcliffe, who said that since the start of winter conditioning, any practice this team has had has been a solid practice session.
“This team likes playing together; they enjoy competing. This is one of the first teams I have had that I can honestly say that after every practice in the spring and fall camp, when it was over I never felt we had a bad practice.”
The shutout by the defense was very impressive by the Blue Devils. It had been since 1989 against Mack Brown’s North Carolina Tar Heels that the Devils last held an opponent scoreless; it had been since 1978 that Duke shutout a team in Wallace Wade Stadium as Mike McGee’s Blue Devils crushed Wake Forest 3-0.
“The defense made fewer mistakes than they made in games last year,” said Cutcliffe. “After watching the film on Sunday I saw that our people on defense were where they needed to be on each play.”
THE VICTORY BELL
In case you were in Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday and missed the victory bell, I have tracked down its whereabouts and why it wasn’t paraded around on Saturday.
The bell is safe and sound, sitting right next to the football lockeroom in the Yoh Center. I talked with Coach Cutcliffe about why the bell did not make an appearance on Saturday and he said it would be brought out this year for ACC games only.
“The victory over North Carolina last year that earned us the bell was against an ACC opponent and I want our players and fans to realize how important ACC games are,” he explained. “We will bring it out for the conference games and as a point of emphasis that ACC games are very special games.”
Once again a cultural change for the Blue Devils, who now feel they can compete in the Coastal Division of the ACC for the divisional title.
UP NEXT – MEMPHIS
The Blue Devils travel to the home of Elvis Pressley to face the Memphis Tigers on Saturday.
A little historical side note, the 1960 Duke football team, that went on to capture Duke’s last bowl victory a 7-6 win in the Cotton Bowl over Arkansas, met Pressley on a trip during the season to Los Angeles to face the UCLA Bruins, where he posed for pictures with several of the Blue Devils.
This Memphis Tiger team is led by second year coach Justin Fuente and managed a 4-8 record last year. This will be their season-opener.
From an offensive standpoint, Memphis will be looking for junior wide receiver Keiwone Malone to step up and improve upon last year’s 44 receptions for 476 yards.
Last season, Memphis had one of the top defenses in Conference USA, and all of the defensive line returns. Much will be expected of linebackers Charles Harris and Anthony Brown who led the team with 79 and 71 tackles, respectively.
If you have any questions or comments about this column, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for taking the time to read these ramblings and have a safe and wonderful week.