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.”
EXECUTIONDURHAM -- Back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s Coach Wallace Wade would always come by and visit the opening day of football practice at Duke. Prior to the start of the first practice, the players would assemble in front of the “Old Man” and he would give them a very precise and to the point talk to begin the season. He would tell them that if you wanted to win football games there were two things you could not do – turn over the ball and commit penalties. Very simple, if you don’t fumble the ball, throw interceptions or stop yourself with penalties you will win games.
Saturday against Pittsburgh, Duke did exactly the opposite and it put them in a hole, that even with the heart of a lion, they could not dig out of.
Early interceptions and an opening 85 yard drive put the Devils quickly behind the 8-ball and down 20 points, 27 seconds into the second quarter.
But that did not deter this Duke team. They fought back, back to within two points with 3:08 left in the first half. They again fought back in the second half from a 23 point deficit to pull to within three points late in the fourth quarter only to lose 58-55 in one of the most bizarre games every played at Wallace Wade Stadium.
In the lockerroom after the game Duke coach David Cutcliffe was quick to praise his team for their incredible effort.
“The first thing that came out of my mouth was the incredible energy, effort and resiliency that the staff displayed, the players displayed,” he explained. “There was never a moment that you thought that the team was ready to shut down.”
In the end, even with the tremendous heart of this team, the turnovers and miscues caused the loss, not the fact that Pittsburgh was a better football team. The Panthers have a very fine team but Duke just beat themselves.
The lack of execution and miscues are as big of a mystery to Cutcliffe as it is to the fans in the stands.
“The parts that hurt and the parts that you can’t quite put your finger on is why we struggle in areas of execution that have kind of just crept in,” said Cutcliffe. “That’s my responsibility. We have to play clean. We can’t give up big plays. All we have to do is execute what we do and what we want.”
Even with all the mistakes you can see that this Duke football team has the talent to be a good team. They would not have been able to continue to come back on a team like Pittsburgh if they didn’t have quality players on the field.
“I am happy with the resiliency and I’m proud of the resiliency,” said Cutcliffe. “We’ve got people who can make plays on both sides of the ball and they’ve just got to find all the ways to do that on a consistent basis. The thing I want to see is the consistency. That’s a little bit of a mystery for me. That’s not how we practice. You saw our defense in the second half – stymied them pretty well. There’s something there and we’ll look at it and it will be something – not just rah rah energy – but something physical, something we’re doing better. We have a lot of opportunity in this season. That’s kind of the message in the locker room. We are going to move forward.”
“We have a ton of talent,” said senior cornerback Ross Cockrell. “One of the things that we preached during the summer was that we just have to finish. We have to finish games. That got us into some trouble last year. We’ve got talented players that came out and played hard, and we finished the game as well as we could.”
And while the lack of success by the Blue Devils the past two weeks is a mystery to the head coach, he feels it is something that can be corrected.
“I’m far from frustrated. I’m disappointed for our squad,” explained Cutcliffe. “I can promise you we’re not going away. This team is not about to go away. We have too many things to build on and unfortunately too many to correct, but they’re correctable. I can’t really tell you too many more particulars until I study this game. There are so many bizarre parts to it. Why they ran the ball better than we thought they would, why the big plays. We’ll look at that and what brought about some of the turnovers, etc. etc. This is a game we’ll need to remember, not only as a team, but as a program because we’re better than what we played and somewhere along the way it’ll be good for us to remember this one.”
If you are looking for a reason to attend a Duke football game I can give you that reason in two words – Jamison Crowder. He is well worth the price of admission.
On Saturday against Pittsburgh he scored three touchdowns, one rushing, one on an incredible over the shoulder catch and one on a punt return. He totaled 279 yards in all-purpose yardage and kept Duke in the game.
On the 62 yard touchdown pass from Brandon Connette, Crowder made an incredible adjustment on the ball while running down the field at full speed.
“When I have deep routes, I always want to just run,” he explained. “A lot of times, guys will look back for the ball maybe 10 yards down the field and the ball isn’t ready to be thrown yet. I just want to run as far as possible looking straight ahead and look up in the air and try to find the ball. I was able to do that even though I was a little bit late finding the ball. But I was able to do that, catch the ball, and score.”
An 82-yard punt return was made possible from Crowder’s ability to wait for his blocks to develop then hitting the hole with a burst of speed.
“I got a great block right there at the end from Josh Snead. He came to the sideline and he was like, ‘You saw my block? You set it up good.’ A lot of times you want an initial burst to get past the gunners and once the cover guys come at you, I want to see which way I want to go. Like I said, I got a great block from Josh Snead and I was able to hit the sideline and score.”
For the season the Monroe, North Carolina native has 30 catches for 381 yards and has scored a total of four touchdowns.
Don’t miss a chance to see this young man play; he is truly a very special talent.
Remember if you have any questions or comments about this column to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for taking the time to read these ramblings and have a safe and wonderful week.