DURHAM, N.C. – Consecutive wins have Duke looking for its first 3-0 start since 2014 and the second under head coach David Cutcliffe. The Blue Devils now shift their focus to Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. Homecoming game against Baylor. The program will celebrate Cheer Day and Former Player Day versus the Bears with live television coverage provided by RSN.
HURRICANE DONATION UPDATE
With the Hurricane Harvey donation drive completed, Duke and Marrins Moving sent two truckloads with more than 5,000 items to Houston. All of Duke Athletics thanks everyone who donated.
“I can’t start this without making a comment and continuing to pray for all those affected by storms this fall, whether it is in Texas or Florida,” Cutcliffe began his Tuesday press conference saying. “We know a lot of people were affected and we don’t want to move on without a thought, comment or prayer.”
BAYLOR’S QUARTERBACK SWITCH
After two games with University of Arizona graduate transfer Anu Solomon starting at quarterback, Baylor will switch to Zach Smith under center Saturday.
“I went back yesterday and looked at Zach Smith in the games he’s started,” Cutcliffe said. “He has a big arm and they have a lot of people consistently open. He is a guy who is accurate, a pro-style type quarterback.”
The bigger focus for Cutcliffe is not who is playing quarterback, but the style of offense Baylor will be running.
“We prepare for their offense,” Cutcliffe said. “They’re not going to run different sets of plays, so you have to prepare for their offense regardless of who is playing quarterback.”
Senior safety Alonzo Saxton II knows Smith will try and get the ball to Duke’s secondary and his group will be tested on Saturday.
“Knowing Smith is a bigger guy, he’ll probably stay in the pocket and will probably try the secondary more so we have to be on our best behavior back there,” Saxton II said.
EXPLOSIVE OPTIONS FOR BAYLOR
Despite an 0-2 record, Baylor will present a number of challenges for the Blue Devils on Saturday as the Bears possess a great deal of team speed.
“I’ve seen that they have some weapons on the perimeter,” sophomore defensive end Tre Hornbuckle said. “They have a lot of explosive weapons. We have to play relentless and hard because we know Baylor’s hungry.”
Saxton II knows the Bears’ weapons will try and test Duke’s secondary this week.
“The main focus is that Baylor has a lot of good talent,” Saxton II said. “We think that they’re going to try to expose us in the secondary with all their speed and their perimeter game. It is really on us as a secondary to come correct with every play.”
“Their football team is playing a lot of young players, a lot of athletic players and they are going to come together because they’re doing every little thing right,” Cutcliffe said. “I believe Baylor, of the teams we have played so far, will be the fastest and most talented team.”
THE ALBERT IMPACT
Through two games, Duke’s defense had held its own against the run, ranking fourth nationally in fewest rushing yards allowed per game with 43.00.
Associate defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Ben Albert has been the key man behind stopping the running game. Albert’s line features one true freshman starter as well as one true sophomore starter and five underclassmen as the top reserves. The group has experienced tremendous growth under Albert’s influence.
“Coach Albert is a great coach,” Hornbuckle said. “I felt I learned so much from him in my freshman year. I was learning how to read slides and protection and learning so much more technique. It was crazy how much I could learn in one year and I still have three more years with him. It’s great.”
Opposite Hornbuckle at defensive end is true freshman Victor Dimukeje, who agrees with Hornbuckle in praising Albert.
“He’s a great man to be around,” Dimukeje said. “He’s just trying to make me the best player I can be. He pushes me every day. I’m getting better each and every day. Coach Albert tells us to play relentless and go hard each play. I give all the credit to Coach Albert because he’s making us better players.”
“I thought our defense led the way in both games so far,” Cutcliffe said. “Certainly this past Saturday, they were the most consistent part of all three phases.”
ALBERT’S PUPIL EXCELS
Dimukeje has made a powerful impact during his first two games, starting both and ranking second among ACC freshmen with 1.5 sacks. Dimukeje also tops the league with 2.5 total TFL.
“Victor on the D line has been great for us,” redshirt sophomore linebacker Joe Giles-Harris said. “He just keeps coming out and producing. We as linebackers tell the D line all the time, the better they do, the easier the rest of our jobs is. Coach Albert has done a great job with them.”
With 41 points last Saturday against Northwestern and 60 versus N.C. Central in the season opener, Duke has tallied 101 points through the first two games of the year. The 101 points are the most for the Blue Devils in two consecutive games as a member of the ACC.
“I think we can still do better at some things,” redshirt junior tight end Davis Koppenhaver said. “You’ve seen that we have put up a lot of points and been really explosive. Hopefully that trend continues.”
Spreading the ball around has helped the Blue Devils on offense as 13 receivers have caught passes. Balance provided by redshirt sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones has certainly helped the offense, and wide receivers and tight ends remain engaged throughout the contest.
“He [Jones] just kept us up and kept us positive by saying ‘I’m going to come back to you’ and ‘we’re going to keep fighting and keep going,’” Koppenhaver said. “It’s nice to have a guy who is behind you and keeping it positive.”
LISLE NAMED ACC OFFENSIVE LINEMAN OF THE WEEK
Redshirt senior right tackle Evan Lisle was named the ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week following the Northwestern contest. The award was Duke’s first weekly ACC accolade of the season and the first career for Lisle, a graduate transfer from Ohio State.
“All credit to Lisle,” redshirt senior center Austin Davis said. “Evan played, after watching the film, a heck of a game. We all gave him praise even before he was awarded ACC Lineman of the Week. It is a big credit to all of us by putting up 41 points, but he deserves that honor all himself. He’s been a really great addition and I’m looking forward to see how he continues to do the rest of the year.”
IMPROVEMENTS FROM 2017
Duke has bounced back from a 4-8 campaign with a 2-0 start to 2017. There have been improvements across the board, but Hornbuckle has noticed the defensive pass rush.
“I think we really improved on our pass rush,” Hornbuckle said. “We’re starting to get more sacks as a defensive line unit. As a unit we’ve bought into Coach Albert’s philosophy. We’re just playing relentless and trying to create havoc as a defense.”
Koppenhaver credits part of the offense’s improvement to Jones.
“I really noticed this last game that he has really taken the next step as a competitor and a leader,” Koppenhaver said of Jones. “I think he’s been a good leader this year.”
Davis believes the improvement is due to the team’s mentality as a whole.
“I definitely agree that we’re ahead of last year because of the mentality,” Davis said. “None of us want to sit home ever again in December and watch all the bowl games. We’re taking that hunger each and every day, especially in practices and walkthroughs, no matter what it is. We’re attacking the day and making sure we can be the best we can be that day, because you’re either going to get better or worse and we want to get better each and every day.”