David Cutcliffe was asked Tuesday if last weekend's victory over North Carolina was the finest moment in his four-plus year tenure at Duke.
"Since we've been here, there's no doubt -- absolutely," he answered without hesitation.
But the Blue Devil coach quickly added that when he eventually leaves Duke, the victory over UNC won't be the high point of his time in Durham.
"What it can't be is looking back on that as our finest hour," he said. "That's the part of it that remains to be seen. I don't doubt that we're going to have finer moments."
The Blue Devils have to be careful not to allow the euphoria of the dramatic UNC win to interfere with their preparations for this Saturday's game at Florida State.
"That's a realistic challenge," Cutcliffe said. "You can't ignore it. And I don't think you can squash that feeling either. That's part of what they've earned. Now show me you're mature enough to feel good about yourself and work hard. Because if we're ever going to have a real good program, that's what you have to do.
"Everybody says you learn from losing. You'd better learn from winning. Handling losing is not easy. Handling winning is much harder.'
Sophomore linebacker David Helton seemed pretty certain that the Duke players could handle their success.
"It was a great win and we celebrated Saturday night," he said. "Sunday, we came back to work. It was a great win, but that was last week ... this week we've got Florida State. We've created a routine all year round that's not hard to go back to. We look at [the UNC win] as a building block."
The Duke-Florida State game is a matchup between the ACC's two current division leaders. The Blue Devils (6-2, 3-1 ACC) lead Miami (3-2 ACC) by half a game in the Coastal Division. The Seminoles (7-1, 4-1 ACC) lead Maryland and N.C. State (both 2-1) in the Atlantic Division.
Could this weekend's matchup be a preview of the ACC championship game in Charlotte?
That's looking awfully far ahead, according to Cutcliffe.
"We all know we have four games left," he said. "We start with one of the more talented teams in the country. You're going to find out a lot about yourself on the road against a team that you literally wouldn't go in and say they have a weakness.
"You have to prepare well all year to play well in that environment. So it's a gut check. I'm anxious to see how we respond. We responded well at the start in Blacksburg to a similar test, but when the wheels came off, we could never get them back on. Somewhere in there, Florida State is going to make everybody's wheels come off. It's kind of like a pit crew -- how fast they change those tires has a lot to do with winning the race. If I have to be the pit crew to get the wheels back on ... by gosh, you've never seen a guy get around a car any quicker."
As long as the focus is on preparation, Cutcliffe doesn't want to stifle his players' dreams.
"Now, you gotta believe," he said. "I told them that. I said, 'You've got to believe in yourself or I promise you, you won't win.' I'm not talking about trying to talk yourself into it. People can't give you confidence. You earn your confidence. That's the message."
CHALLENGING THE 'NOLES
Duke has not had much luck with Florida State over the years.
The Blue Devils have lost all 17 matchups with FSU and have never come closer than 19 points in any of those defeats. A year ago, FSU came to Durham and beat the Blue Devils 41-16.
Duke will be a heavy underdog Saturday in Tallahassee against No. 11 Florida State.
"Their athletic ability is the scariest thing," junior cornerback Ross Cockrell said. "They've got the most athletic ability of any team we've played this year. They've got big-play ability from wide receiver, running back, tight end and quarterback.
"All we can do is continue to work hard and play hard. At the end of the day, athletic ability doesn't determine who is going to win the game."
Senior cornerback Tony Foster has seen the same thing on tape.
"If you look at them, that have probably the best athletes in the nation," he said. "They're big. They're fast. They're strong. The good thing about us is that this is the biggest, fastest, strongest team we've had. We just have to compete, be fundamentally sound and let everything fall out."
Cutcliffe won't pretend it's going to be easy.
"It's a challenge," he said. "I think most competitors want to measure themselves against the best. This is what you compete for."
So if FSU is that much better athletically, how can Duke win?
"It puts a premium on your teamwork," Cutcliffe said. "I think that's true in any sport -- we're all going to be matched up to superior people physically at times. The premium comes in on fundamentals and the teamwork, the execution, the will to prepare, the ability to focus for 60 minutes and the ability to play as hard as you can play for 60 minutes.
"Once you get past that, oftentimes you need a little luck, but luck's not going to help you if you don't do everything else right."
THE RUNNING GAME
Duke rushed for just 63 net yards against Florida State last season.
Of course, the Blue Devils rushed for just 46 net yards in a lopsided loss to UNC in 2011 and improved that to 246 net yards in Saturday's victory over the Tar Heels. That's the most a Duke team has gained against an ACC opponent under Coach Cutcliffe.
"It's been a long time and it was great," redshirt sophomore running back Josh Snead said. "Our offensive line proved they could get the job done in the trenches, and our backs got the job done, too."
Duke basically used a three tailback rotation to pound the Tar Heels. Snead led the way with 99 net yards on 15 carries. Freshman Jela Duncan added 74 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Junior Juwan Thompson gained 64 yards on 11 carries.
That's 237 yards on 48 carries for the three tailbacks -- a combined average of almost five yards a carry.
Snead loves the three-back rotation.
"It's great. We can keep fresh legs out there," he said. "We can keep pounding you with one and bring another one in and he's going to continue to pound you. If we keep the guys fresh, it's better for the offense with the speed tempo."
TAKING OUT VERNON
Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon was still feeling the effects of a bizarre shot he took from UNC freshman linebacker Shakeel Rashad in the second quarter of Saturday's game. Vernon was lined up, ready for the play to start when Rashad, coming off the UNC bench, plowed into him from behind, twisting his knee.
Coach Cutcliffe didn't see what had happened during the game. The next day, watching on tape, he was flabbergasted.
"I've never seen anything like that in my life," he said Sunday night. "I'm amazed. I'm speechless."
Cutcliffe was told by the officials that the UNC player was running on the field backwards, turned to listen to instructions from the bench, when he accidently collided with the Duke wide receiver. That's why no flag was thrown.
That's not what the tape showed -- which is probably why two game officials were suspended for a game, along with Rashad.
"It's done," Cutcliffe said Tuesday. "I don't think I need to comment on another conference institution's player and what the conference office did."
However, he is still dealing with the consequences of the play. Although Vernon was able to return to the game -- and did, in fact, make two huge third-down catches on Duke's winning touchdown drive -- the senior receiver was unable to practice Sunday.
"He's got a strained knee and was not able to practice at all Sunday and was limited [Tuesday]," the Duke coach said. "He came back in the game, thank goodness. When you're warm like that ... he was able to run. But on Sunday, he wasn't great. He worked hard in the rehab Sunday and Monday ... hopefully by [Wednesday] he's better."
Although UNC issued an apology from Rashad to the press, Cutcliffe said that neither Vernon nor himself had heard anything from UNC.
"No, we haven't heard from them," he said. "They're busy and we're busy. It hasn't been a topic of conversation."
STANDING THE NOISE
Duke has been plagued with frequent false starts on its offensive line in recent games -- often in red zone situations.
That's a problem that Cutcliffe does not want to see continue this week at Florida State.
"We started the week off addressing that," he said. "We've worked on that before -- not as well as we should have or could have. It is a serious topic that started Sunday among the staff and carried over to the players.
"We don't have a prayer if you don't go do those things. That's part of winning on the road."
Sophomore tackle Takoby Cofield vowed that Duke's line would be prepared Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium -- one of the loudest stadiums in the ACC.
"When we line up in environments like that, we've got to be a little more locked in to cadence and snap count," he said. "We'll work that out."
One of the ways Duke is trying to work it out is playing loud crowd noises and music during practice. With Duke practicing early in the morning -- and with the team's practice field not far from the University's President's residence, that could create a problem.
"When it started [Tuesday morning], I looked at my watch, hoping that Dr. [Richard] Brodhead and his wife were awake," Cutcliffe said. "We were pumping some serious noise."
GIVING TO THE COMMUNITY
Coach Cutcliffe has often spoken about the quality of young men who play football for Duke.
"We're surrounded by a lot of exceptional people on this campus," he said. "What I love most about our program? We've attracted some exceptional people who have contributed in great ways to Duke other than just football. There are some great people on our football team. I'm passionate about that. These guys are leaving this place better than they found it. I'm not talking about on the football field either. I'm talking about off the football field."
He offered one example of that contribution Tuesday.
"October is the awareness month for breast cancer," he said. "Our team decided this -- and I thought this was commendable -- rather than spend the money on so many different wrist bands or other pink items, our players are making a $1,000 contribution to cancer research.
"They collected it themselves. I thought that was pretty cool. I'm proud of them for that."