BELIEVING WE SHOULD WIN
DURHAM -- A miracle occurred on Saturday afternoon in Charlottesville, Virginia. Not one of biblical proportions, but one of football proportions.
A listless, lifeless football team rose from the depths of lacklustre football to win a football game.
Down 22-0 with 5:49 left in the first half, the Duke football team looked like a mere shadow of the team that had fought their way to a 4-2 record to start this season.
Then suddenly in the waning moments of the first half, the Blue Devils, behind the arm of Anthony Boone, the same player that had been throwing balls short and missing receivers for most of the first half, put a drive together. Eight plays, 62 yards and four completions later, Duke was on the board, still trailing 22-7, but suddenly you saw a flicker of desire within this team.
“We had to make something happen,” said Boone. “This just wasn’t the way we play football.”
In the lockerroom at halftime, there was some audible and visible frustration from the players, but veteran head coach David Cutcliffe, did no finger pointing or blaming for the lack of success in the first half.
He simply reminded the team that they could win this game. They had prepared well and with execution on every play, on each side of the ball, carrying through on your assignment, whether you are carrying the ball, catching the ball, blocking or tackling -- every man taking responsibility -- this game was still Duke’s to win.
"At half time, our coaches did a great job of keeping a cool head and making good judgment,” explained Cutcliffe. “I went to our team and said that the best part of this is that we have practiced so well. If we weren’t prepared, we would have had no chance to come back.”
That touchdown at the end of the first half gave the Blue Devils a mental opportunity to stay in this football game. It was up to them to get back in it physically.
So Cutcliffe got the Blue Devils right back in the game physically by leaning on the running game and not hesitating to go for it on three crucial fourth down and short situations.
"I liked the response of the staff and the players, so I made my mind up that we would do everything we could to win this game,” said Cutcliffe, who now has a 5-1 record against Virginia as the Duke head coach. “I felt like anything on the plus side, fourth-and-nine and less, we were going for it. Anything within fourth-and-two, we were going for it. I just made my mind up to do it, and thankfully it paid off. You could be saying, ‘why did you do that.’ It doesn’t always work out. Fortunately, the players and the coaches executed."
And if you ask the players, going for it on fourth down is one of the truest signs that a coach believes in you as a team.
“It shows that he has confidence in us,” said senior safety Ross Cockrell. “That’s what you want. You want a coach that is going to be confident, that is going to take risks, and Coach Cutcliffe has proved that time and time again.”
On the offensive side of the field, Boone along with Brandon Connette moved the team down the field. The running back committee of Josh Snead (53 yards), Jela Duncan (42 yards), Shaquille Powell (38 yards) and Juwan Thompson (17 yards) ran the ball down the Cavaliers throat, while a new speedster was found in tight end Braxton Deaver, who caught three passes for 96 yards, one of them a 47-yarder from Connette to give the Devils the lead.
“When the call came in, I said ‘hey don’t get smashed by somebody,’ to Brandon because they brought almost the house on the play,” he explained. “I was able to miss somebody and get out. I caught the ball and there was nobody out in front of me. I’m not the most vertically fast guy in the world, but I had a whole cavalry out in front of me blocking and they did an unbelievable job so I could get into the end zone.”
And for the second straight week the defensive side of the ball shutout an opponent in the second half.
"Defense today is so hard to play anyway and people adjust and do this or that,” Cutcliffe noted. “I think our coaches do a great job of adjusting and settling them down at half time. I think our guys are learning that they are going to make plays and you just need to make more. You need to understand, defensively and offensively, that it is a 60-minute game and you just keep playing. If you are playing is good and your preparation is good, you’re going to get a feel for an offense once you’ve seen them for a little while."
In the end Duke won the game, 35-22, and boosted their season record to 5-2, just one game away from a historic back-to-back bowl trip. But remember, miracles can only take place if you believe. To make a miracle take place on the football field, there has to be a combination of preparation, execution and belief.
"In our last 20 games, we have a winning record now over time,” explained Cutcliffe. “ It may not sound like much to some people, but that is when you start believing you should win. Not ‘can’. There is a big difference. When you start believing you should win, that’s when you start winning. This ‘can’ stuff is bull. I have never liked that. Of course you ‘can’ win, but I hope we believe that we ‘should’ win."
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.