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Courtesy: Roshan Yadama
Monday Mornings: A Winning Start
Wednesday 09/01/2014  -  Johnny Moore, GoDuke.com
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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.”

A WINNING START

DURHAM -- For college football coaches, the first game of the season may be the most important game of the year.

You get to see a lot about your team in that first game. All the work and preparation of the past eight months shows up on that first night and you can get a real feel for your team.

“I think we learned a lot about a lot of football players tonight,” said seventh-year Blue Devil head coach David Cutcliffe, following the game sitting in the Yoh Center. “We played a lot of people, more importantly than that it was obvious we have some playmakers that we hadn’t had --a little different level. But at the same time, what they’re going to see, all of us, starting on offense is how much better we can play as a team, the cohesiveness of it is another level.

“Flip over to defense is the same thing,” he continued. “We weren’t as aggressive early as you might want to be and it kind of got us on our heels a little bit. I think it’s very obvious when you play first games you never tackle quite as well as you want to.  You just don’t play a lot of live football anymore. So we’ll have to tackle better.” 

When you start looking at the play of individual players, Cutcliffe was very happy with the play of his two-time captain and leader of this team, quarterback Anthony Bonne. 

“Anthony was exceptional almost all night,” said Cutcliffe, who watched his senior pass for 247 yards, hitting on 22 of 33 passes for four touchdowns and no interceptions.  "I had a lot of time with him on the sideline, which was great. He saw a couple of things. A fifth-year senior quarterback that’s as smart as Anthony, as talented as Anthony is…he grasps a lot of things and I think it’s a great opportunity for him to grow.”

The Blue Devils also got a chance to see Thomas Sirk at quarterback after being beset with an injury last year. Ironically, Sirk didn’t get much of a chance to ease into his first play as a quarterback as he came into the game on a fourth-and-one play.

“It was definitely exciting, it gave me a lot of confidence, coming in, getting the first down and seeing our team score,” he explained after finishing the evening with 40 yards passing, 54 yards rushing and scoring two touchdowns. “Our offensive linemen do a great job. They want to score just as bad as I do, even though they’re not carrying the ball. I give a lot of credit to those guys, helping to pull me in and pushing people off me down in the red zone.”

One of the more interesting areas to watch on this Duke football team this season will be the defensive secondary made up of basically ten players – ten young players, with red-shirt junior Jeremy Cash being the old man of the group made up of five sophomores, two redshirt freshmen and two true freshmen.

“They were throwing balls in seams and if you weren’t good in the secondary they were going to complete passes,” explained Cutcliffe. “We did a better job as the game went on, but we got a lot of looks at true freshmen. There were three true freshmen that were in there a lot together with Zavier Carmichael, Alonzo Saxton II and Zach Muñiz and that’s great to see. We can build off of that. I think we’ve got really good safeties. Jeremy Cash didn’t have to play a lot tonight because Corbin McCarthy can step in and play. We got Deondre Singleton, Evrett Edwards, DeVon Edwards, Dwayne Norman. Good gosh, that’s good depth back there. We can grow that thing in the secondary and I think we have a lot of little packages that we didn’t use that I think will help us moving forward.”

“Tonight was a lot of good work out there,” said Singleton. “The younger guys got a chance to play a lot of the second half, learning and getting their first experience in college football. We’re going to need them. Anyone can get hurt at any time, and we’ll need someone to come in and fill that position.”

One of the players Cutcliffe was most impressed with in the Elon game, and in the preseason has been senior wide receiver Issac Blakeney. The Monroe, N.C., native had four catches for 45 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday night. 

“He may be the surprise in the league,” said Cutcliffe. “He’s extremely talented. Issac’s got to draw all the things in the right direction. If he gets every part of that big body and mind moving in the right direction he has a chance at being an exceptional and special player.”

Blakeney knows that at 6-6 he has a definite height advantage over smaller defensive backs.

“I think it’s something different that I can bring to the team,” Blakeney explained. “Anthony Boone likes it a lot, just throwing the ball up. Getting up to the goal line, instead of having the linemen trying to push and shove, we just make it easy, throw the ball up in the air, and I can go up and get it over a smaller cornerback.”

Blakeney knows that with an All-America receiver on the other side of the formation in Jamison Crowder he will have an opportunity this year to make some big plays.

“Jamison is like my brother, so I want to help him out anyway I can,” explained Blakeney, a fifth-year senior. “I feel like the more plays I can make, it’ll make it easier for him, so the safety has to respect the whole field, and not just shade over to Jamison. If teams have their game plan to keep going over to Jamison, I’ll just keep making plays, so they’ll have to pick and choose.”

The Elon coaching staff found out exactly how effective the receiver combo can work.

“They’re a good team,” said Elon head coach Rick Skrosky. "Their quarterback Boone is a good player. The receivers, Blakeney and Nash size-wise, and Crowder we knew about coming in. You kind of knew those matchups were going to be tough on us.”

But even with a 39-point win in the opener there are still areas of concern for Cutcliffe.

“I didn’t like the results of our four-man pass rush, I think we were okay, but we can be better,” he explained. “The kicking game was the area I was disappointed the most. We got outplayed in kickoff coverage and kickoff returns which doesn’t happen to us very often. We got whipped and outhit. We looked at a number of combinations on the kickoff team during the game and we will come up with the right combination.”

Now it’s time to get ready for a trip to southern Alabama and a meeting with Troy who lost their opener, 48-10 to Alabama-Birmingham.

In the coaching world, Trojans head coach Larry Blakeney is one of the most respected coaches in the business having won 175 games in a 24 year career at Troy where the Blue Devil will be playing on Larry Blakeney Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium on Saturday night.

And Cutcliffe knows that his team had better be ready to face a Troy team that he felt hit them as hard any team last year in the Blue Devils hard-fought 38-31 win.

“That old first game to second game is a cliché I don’t really believe in,” explained Cutcliffe. “I think you learn a lot. You have to correct a lot of things from game one to game two. You’re not necessarily going to play better unless you play better.” 

Remember to let me know how you feel about these ramblings....you can reach me with questions or comments at johnny.moore@img.com.


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