The Blue Devils are a good football team.
The reason they are a good football team is the most important thing David Cutcliffe has taught this team is how to win football games. Not just outplay your opponent, but how to win games. It may not be always be pretty, but it’s a win.
In the past, the Blue Devils would come close; losing games they should have won because of a turnover, missed field goal or other miscue that cost them a victory - never being able to turn the corner to become a winning football program.
What Cutcliffe has done is preach to this team everyday about execution. No turnovers, no penalties. That execution is why the Blue Devils have six wins and just two losses. Only one loss this year, the 58-55 loss to Pittsburgh was caused by Blue Devil mistakes. Georgia Tech, their other loss, was a better football team than the Blue Devils on that day and is 6-3 overall and 5-2 in ACC play this season.
But in order to take that next step and become a truly significant college football program the Blue Devils have to start winning games in the month of November.
In October, the Blue Devils went undefeated, with a great second half shut out against Navy, a come-from-behind win at Virginia and a resilient victory over nationally-ranked Virginia Tech. You could actually call it Wintober for the Blue Devils.
The last time the Blue Devils went through an entire month undefeated was September of 1994 when they defeated Maryland, East Carolina, Navy and Georgia Tech.
You will see the year 1994 referenced quite a bit when you look back at the last time Duke really did anything in the world of college football. The 1994 season was the last year the Blue Devils were ranked, reaching a high ranking of 16th prior to their October 29th game with ninth-ranked Florida State. The Blue Devils started off that season 7-0 before losing to the Seminoles 59-10. Head coach Fred Goldsmith, who was named National Coach of the Year in 1994, pulled the team back together for a big win over No. 23 Virginia in Wallace Wade Stadium the next week. Robert Baldwin’s strong running game was the catalyst for the Blue Devils success that season. He ground out a school record 238 yards against Maryland had a total of five games with over 100 yards rushing while totalling 1,187 yards that season, being crowned as ACC Player of the Year.
But even in a magical season like ‘94, the month of November jumped up and grabbed the Blue Devils, as it has done so many times before. One point losses to N.C. State (24-23) and North Carolina (41-40) cost the Blue Devils a possible trip to the Cotton Bowl and left them 1-2 in the month of November and an overall 8-3 record and a trip to the Hall of Fame Bowl (now the Outback Bowl) in Tampa, Fla., where they fell to Wisconsin, 34-20.
Remember 2009, the Blue Devils, behind the play of two future NFL players Thaddeus Lewis and Vinnie Rey, rolled out a 5-3 record heading to Chapel Hill the first of November. Losses to North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Miami and Wake Forest during that month dropped the record to 5-7.
A 55-48 win over Virginia on November 6, 2010 is the only victory Cutcliffe has experienced as a Duke head coach in the month of November. You have to go all the way back to Ted Roof’s 2004 season to find another win in November for Duke, this one coming against Clemson at home, 16-13.
The most remarkable stat is the fact that in the 13 seasons played in this millennium Duke has just four wins during the month of November.
The month of November may well be the toughest month opponent-wise the Blue Devils each season as they face the likes of Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and of course, North Carolina.
What the Blue Devils face this season is an opportunity to show just how good a football team they are. They have their in-state rivals N.C. State, Wake Forest and North Carolina along with a date against nationally ranked Miami.
Cutcliffe is quick to point out that he is not interested in dwelling on the next four games on what has happened in the past to Duke in the month of November.
“The only thing we control is how much better we can get,” he explained. “We want to be one of those teams that you look at this time of the year and you see them getting better.”
Wins over the Big Four schools would send out a major statement about how this football program has grown. Cutcliffe always talks about playing for conference championships, but you have to take this growth of a program in steps and being the best team in your state would be a very attractive goal for this football team.
The games against N.C. State, Wake Forest and UNC are very important to the players from a personal standpoint as well. With 27 players from the state of North Carolina on the team they will be facing a lot of guys they have played against in the past and know very well.
“We all go to the same restaurants, the movies, we know each other and it’s a big deal for us to win games against those guys,” said senior Kenny Anunike about playing Triangle rivals State and Carolina.
Let’s hope the Blue Devils make it a real big deal and turn November into Winovember.
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.