“This” meaning a clean game – no turnovers, zero interceptions, zero fumbles lost (thanks to a great recovery of a fumble by Blue Devil center Matt Skura) and just three penalties for 35 yards. Against one of the most disciplined teams in college football, the Blue Devils had to play this style of game. No mistakes.
“No question it was clean football,” added Cutcliffe, who saw his offense commit no penalties with two of the calls coming on kick returns and one defensive penalty. “Those things and also what I talk deeply to our squad about was winning the battle on third downs. I believe we were 10-of-16 and they were 5-of-12. We converted a fourth down on a field goal fake and missed one early that could have been costly. It was our cleanest game and the best game we’ve played since I’ve been here in my opinion.”
A surprise addition to the clean game was the return of quarterback Anthony Boone. A freak injury to Brandon Connette at the end of practice on Thursday forced Boone into action on Saturday.
“The beauty of Anthony is that he had no idea that he was going to start nor did we until Brandon Connette, who had been hurt at the end of the week in a bizarre accident, just said he couldn’t go,” explained Cutcliffe. “We thought after Brandon practiced yesterday he would be able to play and then it was worse today, and he just said, ‘I can’t go’. I’m proud of Brandon for being honest with us. And then Anthony just slipped in like he hadn’t missed a beat … I mean 31-of-38, that’s just ridiculous.”
Yep, 31-of-38 passing for 295 yards and three touchdowns, quite an afternoon for Boone, coming off a fractured collarbone in the Memphis game just over a month ago. And quite an afternoon for junior wide receiver Issac Blakeney, who caught five passes for 57 yards and two touchdowns.
And while the offense played a well-executed game, the defense played their best game so far this season.
Coming into this contest Navy was ranked No. 8 in the country in rushing offense, averaging 294 yards per game. The Blue Devil defense put a harness on the Midshipman running attack and held Navy to just 230 yards rushing and one touchdown.
“We kind of had an advantage because we played Georgia Tech first which ran a really similar offense,” explained linebacker Kelby Brown. “So coming out here, it was a lot like that game.”
And while the Blue Devils were playing a clean game, a fumble by the Midshipmen late in the second quarter with Duke up 14-7 may well have been a key moment.
“Stopping them on that final drive of the first half was key for us on defense,” explained Brown, who recovered the fumble following a Kenny Anunike sack of Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds.
The Blue Devils also put together an incredible second half defensively as they not only shut out Navy, but allowed just five first downs and only 75 total yards.
And once again the stalwart on the defensive side of the ball for the Blue Devils was safety Jeremy Cash. Cash is just all over the field making tackles and causing trouble for opponents.
In the Troy game two weeks ago he earned ACC Player of the Week honors with 14 tackles and the win-clinching interception. Saturday against Navy, the Miami, Fla., native made seven tackles, one for a loss and picked off an interception while causing all sorts of havoc for the Navy option game.
“We had a chance to look at a lot of film of Navy the past two weeks, so we felt we knew how to defend them, “said Cash, immediately following the game as he was hugging his teammates.
The Blue Devils now have six straight ACC games in front of them. They are already in the hole, 0-2, in ACC games, but all year long Cutcliffe has talked about how well this team has come together and how well they have practiced.
His years as a football coach give him a keen insight into the fact he has a talented football team this season.
“Absolutely,” he said very emphatically. “You don’t come back like we did against Pitt constantly without that kind of skill level. You hit the things, you don’t turn it over. We don’t turn it over four times against Pitt, we win by three touchdowns. You can’t be that hard-headed. You’ve got to play clean football and we’re capable of doing that. If we don’t do it next week, we’ll struggle again. So the key is consistency, and I’ve said that all along. And that’s what we’re hunting and the only way I know to get that is to continue to practice every week at an extremely higher level. I didn’t say a high level. Nothing stays the same. You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse and we’ve got to understand that as a program. And that’s hard when you have a little bit of success. Everybody wants to get excited and happy. I’m happy too, but I’m also realistic enough to know we better go back to work.”
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.