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 has become a legend of warriors, fighters.
And Saturday’s win over Troy was a perfect example of the dig-in-the-dirt, get-it-done somehow attitude of this Duke football team.
Leading at halftime, 28-21, the Blue Devils knew they were in for a dogfight. This Troy team was not about to go away.
“We just made a decision, especially in the fourth quarter, that we needed to stop them,” explained junior linebacker David Helton, who ended the game with a game-high 15 tackles. “That was it. We made a decision that we needed to get a rush on the quarterback and stop them.”
And that’s exactly what Duke did as defensive ends Justin Foxx, Kenny Anunike, Jonathan Woodruff and Dezmond Johnson put the pressure on Troy quarterbacks Corey Robinson and Deon Anthony. The results were three sacks and five tackles for a loss for the foursome.
“We talked a lot going into the game about every man on both lines of scrimmage winning your personal battle,” explained Duke head coach David Cutcliffe. “When you’re out there at end and you’re rushing a passer, it’s usually you and an offensive tackle and vice versa when our offensive line is out there. We felt like those matchups were in our favor. We didn’t get as much out of that in the first half and those guys challenged themselves and it was much better.”
The game still looked to be a shootout in the third quarter as both Troy and Duke scored in the first six minutes of the second half.
“We won the shootout because our defense was opportunistic in some down-and-distance circumstances and got it done,” explained Cutcliffe. “And forced eight punts – that’s a big deal in a game like this.”
What was really big was the third-down stops for the Blue Devils as they held Troy to just five-of-16 third down conversions in the game, two-of seven in the second half.
“We had some big plays on defense and didn’t give up near as many explosive plays,” said Cutcliffe. “We gave up a few but you’re going to do that in this day and time. The thing is they just had too many easy completions as the day wore down. But I’m real proud of our guys playing 60 minutes. We got better today. We got better in every area today and that’s going to prove to be helpful to us as we continue to put this season together.”
The offense did a nice job of not shooting themselves in the foot, turning the ball over just once and as a team committing just four penalties for 35 yards.
The true warrior on the offensive side of the ball is quarterback Brandon Connette. Once again Jamison Crowder with seven catches for 149 yards and one touchdown and Josh Snead with 11 carries for 108 yards were the stars of the game, but Connette just keeps relentlessly making things happen for this team.
He has become such a symbol of this team. Not the greatest quarterback you will ever see, but a true gritty fighter, who just can’t be kept down, while leading his team to a 3-2 record heading into this week’s open date.
“A lot of that comes from just how my parents raised me,” said Connette, a native of Corona, Calif. “Growing up, I had five younger brothers and an older sister, so it was just a war every day in my house. It was a real physical household, roughhousing and stuff. If you got hurt roughhousing, my mom and dad would just say, ‘It’s your fault, you were playing the game.’ So I think that’s just my mentality. My parents did a great job with all my brothers and sister as well. That’s what I credit the toughness to.”
He threw for a career-high 324 yards, completing 20-of-28 passes, and rushed for 55 yards on Saturday. He scored two touchdowns on the ground while throwing for three.
“We came out on offense the first two series and went 3-and-out trying to find a rhythm, but once we found our rhythm we just got on a roll,” explained Connette, who is responsible for 17 (11 passing, 6 rushing) touchdowns this season. “It was four straight drives with touchdowns, and you can’t really ask for much more than that on offense. Troy came out and put more people in the box and did a good job against the run, so a lot of credit to Troy for making those adjustments.”
“We put together some explosive plays,” added Cutcliffe. “When you have 20 completions and 324 passing yards, that’s being pretty effective with your completions. He missed a couple just by a hair to Jamison, and he’s got those capabilities. He can run the football and he can manage the game, and he’s going to continue to get better. We’re nursing two sore quarterbacks and riding that horse No. 18 pretty hard. There’s a lot of pressure on that young man … He’s a gutsy performer. He’s not always going to be perfect, but he is a very gutsy performer.”
“Brandon Connette was a make-them-miss kind of guy and they have a couple of backs that creased us there pretty good, early,” said Troy head coach Larry Blakeney following the game. “Receivers caught the ball and made runs. It was like a circus for a while. They’re a well-oiled machine, well-coached with a lot of character.”
And while Connette seems most at home running the ball, he loves to air it out and stretch the defense.
“You have to take shots,” he explained. “If you don’t take shots during the game, whether they’re complete or incomplete, the defense is never going to be afraid of it. They’re just going to sit on the sticks and sit on the routes. So you have to take shots; you have to hope that more of them go for you than against you, and if they go against you hopefully they’re just incompletions.”
Following the victory over Troy, Cutcliffe was very straight-forward with his team.
“I told them, ‘Guys, I want you to understand that there haven’t been a lot of Homecomings won around here in recent years. It’s a big deal in itself.’”
In fact, it was the third consecutive Homecoming victory for the Blue Devils, but prior to capturing those three wins, Duke was 3-17 in Homecoming games. In their last 23 Homecoming tilts at Wallace Wade Stadium, Duke has only six wins with four of those wins coming with Cutcliffe as head coach.
“We’re playing with essentially our third quarterback and still playing and gaining 514 yards,” Cutcliffe said when asked about his overall feel for Saturday’s game. “I don’t know when we’ve been able to do that. There are a lot of great things going on with this football program and this particular team. This team is 3-2 the hard way. Nothing’s going to ever be easy but we’re going to be exciting.”
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.