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 -- This Duke football team is what you would call “a work in progress."
Since the arrival of David Cutcliffe in Durham, the Duke football program has been going through a transformation.
That change has not only been in facilities, but in a recruiting culture and a performance culture on the field.
You can see the change very clearly in the outstanding practice facilities, in the number of wins, in a trip to a bowl game and in the attitude of the team.
Whereas, Duke fans once hoped their team would win games, the emphasis now is on the fact that Duke football itself expects to win games.
Case in point -- Saturday’s Duke-Georgia Tech game. The Yellow Jackets have a very good football team and football program. They captured the ACC title in 2009, won the Coastal Division of the ACC this past year (despite what our friends in Chapel Hill think and hand out rings for) and then played Florida State in the championship game.
Yet, Duke fans and team members felt they could defeat the Yellow Jackets and go to 3-0 for the first time since 1994.
What actually took place in the game is something this Duke football team cannot overcome – mistakes -mistakes on defense, poor execution on offense. While this team is good, they are not talented enough to overcome mistakes against a solid team like Georgia Tech.
“It’s disappointing because we know that we’re better than what we played on the field,” explained starting quarterback Brandon Connette. “It’s not as much disappointing – it’s just frustrating because you know that you’re more capable than what we showed out there and how we played.”
Cutcliffe and his players were ready the minute the game was over to go to work and make the necessary corrections to get ready for another ACC game.
“You don’t have a choice; that’s what you call life” said Cutcliffe. “There’re things that we have to technically fix. Why are we having so much trouble with wheel routes with them on defense? Why are third downs not being as crisp as they could be on offense? Why is our running game hitting and missing and hitting and missing? I mean it was good at times, real good at times. Then it just seems to disappear.”
Cutcliffe went into spring football practice with three very fine quarterbacks, veterans Anthony Boone and Connette along with newcomer Thomas Sirk. Sirk ruptured his Achilles tendon in an early morning practice in April and by the second game of the season Boone was on the sideline with a collarbone injury.
The offense would and will have to adjust with Connette at quarterback. A specialty quarterback, who was a magician at running miss direction plays, even though the defense knew exactly what play he was going to run when he entered the game, and scoring touchdowns, now is the starter and things will have to change with the Blue Devil offense.
“Football teams have to be consistent,” explained Cutcliffe. “You have to find what you do well and we’re kind of erratic right now through the first three games in my opinion. What that means is that there are a lot of weapons here and we have to put it all together, and better things are going to happen as we move forward.”
Adjustments are the name of the game in football. It’s basically a chess match where you have to either match or improve on your opponents each and every move. Most adjustments in football take place at halftime of the game. For the Blue Devils, those adjustments must take place during the week prior to the next game as they try to handle their quarterback situation.
Along with the quarterback situation the Blue Devils have to improve on their execution in the total game as well. When you sit down and talk with Cutcliffe he can point directly at issues he has with this team and game.
“The first half, a couple of things bothered me,” said Cutcliffe. “One, I thought they kind of took the fight to us when things didn’t go well. I thought we didn’t play as hard as what I expected us to play. And I told them at halftime, ‘Third downs … play a clean game. We had five penalties at halftime, 52 yards. We have to correct all of that.’ It shouldn’t have been a 24-7 game at that point. And we really were no better in the second half. We probably dropped off offensively. We fought defensively, but we weren’t opportunistic enough. We had some good down and distances defensively, but we couldn’t convert. What I mean by that is that we have got to maintain those down and distances better to force punts. That’s how you beat that team and we just didn’t play a clean enough game. We’ll learn from it and move forward.”
And even though it was just the second start of his career, Connette recognized very clearly the areas where he and the offensive side of the football must improve.
“I’d say the biggest thing that deterred us from moving the ball on a more consistent basis was third-down production, and a lot of that was just me being inaccurate on third down,” Connette explained. “I was missing guys that were open and just throwing a little bit behind or a little bit low. I’ve got to be more accurate, more consistent on third downs in order to keep our offense on the field longer.”
Adjustments must be made this week then executed on Saturday. As Cutcliffe said earlier, this Duke football team has a number of weapons – a veteran offensive line, solid running backs, talented receivers, and an improving defense.
Most people believe that the biggest improvement in play by a football team happens from the first game to the second game. For Duke, that improvement in execution and overall play must take place between the third and fourth games of the season. With a strong Pittsburgh team coming to town the Devils can ill-afford mistakes if they hope to capture their first ACC win of the year.
NEXT UP – PITTSBURGH
In the world of Duke football, games against Pittsburgh are some of the most historic games ever played by the school.
The first game played in Duke Stadium (named Wallace Wade Stadium in 1967) was October 5, 1929 against Pittsburgh with Pitt capturing the win 52-7.
The Panthers were the first No.1 ranked team the Devils played, losing 10-0 to Pittsburgh in Duke Stadium in 1937 then defeating them, 7-0, in 1938 in the snow in the same stadium to complete an undefeated, unscored upon regular season and trip to the 1939 Rose Bowl.
In 1951, Duke and Pittsburgh played in Pittsburgh in the first nationally televised football game on NBC with the Blue Devils capturing the win 19-14 with the winning touchdown being scored by Wilmington native and long time Durham resident Charlie Smith. In 1976, Tony Dorsett and head coach Johnny Majors brought No. 2 ranked Pittsburgh to town and handed Duke a 44-31 loss on the way to capturing the national championship. That 1976 game was the last time Duke and Pitt played.
Remember if you have any questions or comments about this column to email me at email@example.com. Thanks for taking the time to read these ramblings and have a safe and wonderful week.