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, N.C. -- This entire football season has been based on the process of taking steps to improve as a football program.
A change in culture for Duke football.
Win games you are supposed to win, win close games, win away games, win a game against a ranked team on the road, win a game against a ranked team at home, get back to a bowl game, win important games, win a divisional championship, and play for the conference title.
“We are reaching a lot of our goals, we are executing our plan,” said a disappointed Duke head football coach David Cutcliffe following the Blue Devils 45-7 loss to No. 1 ranked Florida State in the ACC Championship game. “We really need to be hyped about winning a bowl game and the only way we will do that is through preparation and getting healthy.”
Typical Cutcliffe, it was just moments after a crushing loss and he was already getting his team mentally prepared to play their next game.
“The importance of playing in this game to me is not about recruiting,” he explained. “It's about wanting to get back to it and wanting to win it. There's a process involved in all of this, and there's no atmosphere like a conference championship atmosphere, and I'm glad they have experienced it. I hate the fact that it was experienced in such a manner where the loss hurt, but maybe that hurt propels you forward is what you have to hope.”
In the ACC Championship game the Blue Devils came up against college football’s top football team for the 2013 season and most-likely this season’s Heisman Trophy winner. It was a new goal for the Blue Devils – defeat a No. 1 ranked team. Duke has never won a game against a top-ranked team, holding a 0-11 record coming into the game. Their best efforts came with two wins against No. 4 ranked teams in 1938 vs. Pittsburgh and in 1961 vs. Navy.
But this season has been full of firsts. They are the first Duke team to win 10 games, the first Duke team to play in the ACC Championship game, and the first Duke team to go to back-to-back bowl games.
“Every team we have played this season we have been able to exploit a weakness but today we weren’t able to find that weakness,” said senior defensive back Ross Cockrell.
Even though Florida State ran up 45 points on the Blue Devils, the first quarter was scoreless, a first for the Seminoles since the first quarter of their game with Florida in 2012.
Most people will look at the 21 points scored by the Seminoles in the third quarter as the reason the Blue Devils lost the game, but Cutcliffe thought the game may have been lost much earlier.
“We came out and played physical, actually playing physical on both sides of the ball,” he explained when asked about the first quarter of the game. “They are a very physical team. We knew we had to try to match that physical play, and for a while we took the edge and we just couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity. I think if we had scored when we attempted the field goal, if we had punched one in there for a touchdown, anything where we could score and get a lead, it changes a little bit of the mentality of the game.”
The establishment of the running game was one of the areas where Cutcliffe felt the Devils had to be successful and were not. Just 2-of-10 third down conversions in the first half while rushing for just 30 yards.
Even in the loss there were stars on the Duke side of the ball. Jamison Crowder’s 40 yard punt return, one that with a move to the right instead of the left could have resulted in a touchdown, was the second longest in ACC Championship game history. Freshman Breon Borders set an ACC Championship game record with two interceptions. Borders now has four interceptions on the year, which is a Duke freshman record.
The Blue Devils now head to Atlanta, Ga., on New Year’s Eve night to face Texas A&M and the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Ranked No. 22 by AP and No. 24 in the BCS rankings, the Blue Devils have the task in front of them of capturing a bowl game for the first time since winning the 1961 Cotton Bowl and ending the season ranked among the elite in college football.
Each one of these is a big time program builder.
“We still have a bad taste in our mouth from last year’s bowl game,” said senior offensive guard Dave Harding. “We have worked all year to get back to a bowl game and we will definitely be ready.”
The Blue Devils need to take that next step with a bowl win, placing a cherry on top of one of the sweetest Duke football seasons ever.
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.