DURHAM -- Duke will hit the road for the first time this season Saturday, traveling to Troy, Ala., for a 7 p.m. game against Troy.
The road was kind to the Blue Devils a year ago as the 2013 team swept the five games without a loss. A victory at Troy on Saturday would match the school’s longest road win streak since the 1954-55 Devils won six straight away from home.
The school record is nine straight road wins between 1936 and 1939.
“This is a road trip – it’s kind of a vacation, but it’s more of a business trip,” senior quarterback Anthony Boone said. “It’s just focus – taking away the distractions [such as] having to board a plane, a different city … those are things that can distract teams.”
Blue Devil coach David Cutcliffe suggested that the trip will be a test of this team’s senior leadership.
“I don’t know yet if it will carry over,” he said. “I can tell you exactly what made us a good road team [in 2013]. I said it at the end of last season – that team had the best peer leadership I have ever been around. Your team is controlled more by your teammates on the road – being around a hotel, moving from meeting to meeting. It’s just a different atmosphere – the mentality on the plane, the mentality on the day of the game.
“I thought our seniors last year was the best group I had been around, so I thought we had a maturity level. They understood what you have to do.”
The trip to Troy could also present a challenge due to the temperature and humidity in central Alabama. But Cutcliffe said that the Blue Devils got lucky for Tuesday morning’s practice, which was held in 90-plus degree heat and high humidity.
“Appropriately, it may have been our hottest day of practice,” the Duke coach said. “When you are going to play in Troy, Alabama, you are certainly going to play in a different climate. So I think that’s good for our squad.”
Cutcliffe believes his team is well trained for the climatic issues they may face in Troy.
“On our report day [the first week of August], we had a lengthy seminar done by our medical staff on all of the things about hydration,” he said. “So we really have a great awareness of it. The beauty of that is that I don’t want to panic them. We don’t have to do more. We just have to do what we do well.”
The official forecast for Saturday’s weather in Troy is a high of 92 degrees with a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms.
REEVES GOING HOME
Tight end David Reeves is the Duke player most looking forward to the trip to Troy.
Reeves is a native of Greensboro, Ala. – just over a two hour drive from Troy.
“It was kind of exciting when I saw them on the schedule,” Reeves said. “I’ll have a lot of family coming in. It will be exciting to see a lot of familiar faces.”
Reeves has assumed a major role this season with the loss of projected starter Braxton Deaver at tight end. The redshirt junior is now the starter at what Cutcliffe views as a key position in his offense.
“That position, if you look at that we do with them,” he said, “They essentially play fullback; they play tight end, which is almost like playing tackle; they go in motion, they block on the perimeter; they block inside.”
Reeves started at tight end when he was a redshirt freshman in 2012 and saw a good deal of action as Deaver’s backup in 2013. The veteran end believes he’s much better prepared to assume the starting role this season.
“Two more years in the system allows me to be more comfortable,” Reeves said. “I definitely feel more prepared.”
Cutcliffe shares that opinion. For one thing, he points out how much bigger and stronger the 2014 David Reeves is compared to the 2012 version of the same player.
“He is a much more physical player. There is no doubt of that. He is really sure of what he’s doing – not just what, but how to do it.”
Just one note – Reeves, who has been listed as David Reeves during his time at Duke, told reporters Tuesday that he actually prefers to be known as D. J. Reeves – the D.J. is a contraction of David, Jr.
SIRK FINALLY GETS HIS CHANCE
By all rights, Thomas Sirk should have made his collegiate debut against North Carolina Central a year ago in Duke’s 2013 opener.
But a ruptured Achilles tendon sidelined the young quarterback for his entire redshirt freshman season. As a result, Sirk made his first appearance for the Blue Devils in the second quarter against Elon last Saturday night, successfully executing the short-yardage package to pick up a first down in a fourth-and-one situation.
Later, Sirk guided the second team offense to two fourth quarter touchdowns – scoring both himself on runs of 15 and one yards.
“It was a great opportunity to go out there and play the way I play,” Sirk said. “The thing I did a good job of was coming out and relaxing.”
Sirk is listed at 6-4, 215 and before his injury, was clocked at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He believes he’s regained his full speed and strength since suffering the injury 17 months ago.
“I’m back to my original speed – maybe faster and a little more powerful,” he said.
Cutcliffe said he cringed a little bit to see just how powerful Sirk was against Elion – the sophomore quarterback rushed eight times for 54 yards – almost all of it coming right up the middle.
“I’d much prefer to see him run like a quarterback and not like a fullback,” Cutcliffe said. “Not soft … but behind his pads. He’s extremely tough.”
That hasn’t changed since the injury.
“During my rehab, they trained me well to go out and play with confidence,” Sirk said. “After talking to Dr. [Tee] Moorman, he said my Achilles will be stronger, better, after that surgery.”
Sirk only got to execute the short-yardage package once against Elon, but he said there are a lot of options in the package – he can run himself, hand off to a running back or throw it.
“[Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery] doesn’t want to limit the offense,” Sirk said. “We still have the ability to run or pass.”
A year ago, McCaffrey usually lined up wide with Blakeney in the slot. Going into this season, it’s reversed – and both receivers responded with among the best games of their careers.
McCaffrey, a junior from Castle Rock, Colo., caught five passes for 65 yards against the Phoenix – career highs in receptions and yards. And that production came in little over a half.
“I was told at the beginning of the summer that I would be playing inside,” he said. “It’s been awesome so far. I feel like I really got the hang of it over the summer, practicing with the guys, getting that chemistry down.”
Lining up in the slot places different demands on McCaffrey than his past experience, lining up outside.
“There’s a lot more coming over the middle,” he said. “Blocking is definitely a crucial role on the inside. You’re blocking the middle linebackers … sometimes the outside linebacker. At [wide receiver] you’re normally blocking corners and safeties.”
Blakeney was equally effective in his new role, catching four passes for 45 yards and two touchdowns.
THE KIDS IN THE BACKFIELD
Before last season, Duke rarely allowed a true freshman to see significant action in the secondary – especially at cornerback. Even a future star such as Ross Cockrell redshirted and took some time to emerge as a superior player.
But Bryon Fields and Breon Borders broke that mold a year ago and now true freshmen Zach Muniz and Alonzo Saxton II are pushing for immediate playing time on this year’s team. Fields and Borders started at corner against Elon, but the two rookie backups saw significant action, combining for seven tackles, two passes broken up and one QB hurry.
The two second-year corners are now “veterans’ watching the kids display their skills.
“Myself and Breon, we were in their shoes less than a year ago,” Field said. “We used our experience and what we were taught by Ross and Garret [Patterson] last year and we just translate that directly to them. We just try to give them confidence.”
Nobody understands how tough it is for a freshman corner better than Fields and Borders.
“Last year, we had our ups and downs – in practice as well as games,” Fields aid. “They have great ability. That’s the main thing, keeping them up.”
That’s what he learned from last year’s leaders, especially Cockrell.
“The beauty of it is that Bryon and Breon got to see Ross,” Cutcliffe said. “They came in here in the summer [before their freshman year] and Ross trained them – he literally coached them. It’s funny, but I see Bryon out there, coaching those two just like Ross. I hear Breon say all the right things. That just makes me smile from ear to ear.”
The Duke coach said this year’s two freshman corners are very similar to last year’s two freshman corners.
“First, they have the same thing Breon and Bryon have – great feet,” he said. “If you are a young corner, you’d better have good enough feet to get yourself out of trouble because you’re going to get yourself into trouble. So from a physically gifted standpoint, all four of them have that MO.
“They’re also all four bright, easy to coach. Coach [Derek] Jones has done a great job of training them, which allows you to put them out there with more confidence than what you’d think.”
Despite his success as a true freshman cornerback last season, Fields believes he’s a much better player this season.
“It’s a lot different,” he said. “Just having that game experience – the game has definitely slowed down for me. It needs to slow down even more. I’m seeing more things and anticipating more things that I didn’t know where coming last year. I’m definitely more comfortable.”