DURHAM, N.C. – With the Duke football team hitting game six of its 12-contest regular season, the Blue Devils are making adjustments to finish the second half of the campaign in strong fashion. Duke returns home this Saturday for a 12 noon kickoff against Florida State. Live television coverage will be provided by ESPN2.
PLAYING FLORIDA STATE
The Blue Devils welcome Florida State to Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium for the first meeting between the two programs since the 2013 Dr Pepper ACC Championship game.
Despite the Seminoles starting the season 1-3, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe knows the challenge that awaits the Blue Devils this weekend.
“Florida State is talented,” he said. “They play a lot of people on defense and they can run. They can consume a field.”
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Joe Giles-Harris is not looking at the 1-3 record as an indication of the level of talent on Florida State’s squad.
“You get the opportunity to play Florida State and no matter if they’re 0-40 or 12-0, it’s an exciting time,” the Nyack, N.Y., native said. “They have talent and they’re a very good team. It’s going to be fun.”
Giles-Harris’ roommate and fellow linebacker Ben Humphreys agreed.
“It’s Florida State,” he said. “They’re talented, probably one of the most talented groups in the country. They are all high-level recruits. They are all guys who can go win a game by themselves. With that, you have to be consistent in your technique and be ready to play on Saturday. We’re preparing as well as we can possibly prepare. We’re going to be ready.”
CONTAINING JAMES BLACKMAN
When Florida State redshirt sophomore quarterback Deondre Francois suffered a season-ending knee injury during the season opener against Alabama, the Seminoles turned over the offense to true freshman James Blackman.
Blackman’s confidence is growing week by week and Duke is well aware of all the offensive weapons Florida State possesses.
“Their young quarterback is playing much better and he has a lot of weapons,” Cutcliffe said. “You can see the quarterback is gaining confidence as things go. They have a freshman running back who is terrific. All their backs are running the ball well. Their receivers and tight ends are playmakers. Their offensive line has continued to improve.”
“He has improved week to week,” Humphreys said of Blackman. “He’s going to be really good against us after he looked really good last week. He’s come into his own, which is good for them, pretty scary. At the same time, we can’t worry about whether it’s a freshman or a senior back there. We’ve got to play the way we play.”
“[Blackman presents] the same challenge you’re going to get from any dual-threat quarterback,” Giles-Harris said. “You have to be able to rally up and make a tackle on him. He’s an athletic kid and he’s fast. He can make plays. He’s getting better every game. You just have to be aware of him and know when he wants to scramble and when he wants to throw the ball.”
WORKING ON THE PASSING GAME
After throwing for a season-low 124 yards and tossing a year-high two interceptions at Virginia, Duke’s passing game is going under evaluation from Cutcliffe.
“When the passing game is not what you want it to be it’s a combination of accuracy, drops and protections,” Cutcliffe said. “You have to change your approach. I thought we took a good approach today. I thought our players and coaches responded. If you don’t like what you’re getting, then you change what you’re doing. We didn’t drastically change formats, but we looked at the actions we were doing in practice and balanced them with the results we have been getting.”
Redshirt junior tight end Daniel Helm agreed that it is not a one-person problem.
“We have to find a way to revitalize the passing game,” he said. “It goes from protection to running routes to catching balls and delivering better balls. Everyone has a part in it.”
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones looks at his own fundamentals, balance and consistent accuracy as areas he is seeking improvement in to help the offense flow better.
“We spent a whole lot of time Sunday looking at what we did do wrong,” Jones said of Sunday’s film evaluation of the Virginia game. “That was valuable time for us all, particularly in the passing game. I feel like we made a lot of progress on Sunday in that regard. At this point, we’re certainly keeping in mind what we did and didn’t do well, and we’re still correcting it every day. We’re focused on a new opportunity and are excited about it.”
DEFENSIVE ADJUSTMENTS AS WELL
Coming out of the second half of the Virginia contest last Saturday, a focus for the defense in the early part of the week of preparation has been tackling.
“Defensively, there were a lot of items that occurred in the second half over the weekend that we have to address,” Cutcliffe said. “One of them is tackling. When you play a team as talented as Florida State, you better tackle well.”
Giles-Harris noted tackling and coverage as an area that needed addressing after facing the Cavaliers.
“You have to run to the ball,” he said. “You have to swarm tackle and get everyone on to the ball. You cannot leave it to one person because that leads to explosive plays.”
Humphreys agreed with Giles-Harris, saying “we didn’t tackle well in the second half, which is a huge emphasis for the way we’re playing defense. We have to tackle well and we didn’t do that. If we tackle a little bit better, the result would have been a little different.”
PUNCHING THE BELL
The Blue Devils have suffered consecutive losses, but Cutcliffe is not panicking.
“I’ve been through a lot as a coach,” he said during Tuesday’s press conference. “I’ve had struggles where things just don’t click during periods of time. I don’t think you ever punch a bell. That’s called an alarm. I think you study, not just the results, but what’s leading to the results. I’m about work. You just work. That’s as truthful as I can be.”
Humphreys agrees that focus is key to coming back strong.
“A good week of preparation can shake off anything,” the Newport Beach, Calif., product said. “It’s a different team, different looks, a different offense coming in this week. You have to shake off the last week by Sunday because you have to prepare for another week.”
“Christian stepped up and played well on Saturday,” Jones said. “I certainly have a lot of trust and comfort in Christian and in his ability and I think the rest of the team does as well. How hard he plays, and his passion and fire, are things everyone really respects about him.”
GILES-HARRIS NAMED ACC LINEBACKER OF THE WEEK
After Giles-Harris recorded 15 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.0 quarterback sack, two quarterback pressures, one caused fumble and one pass breakup at Virginia, he was awarded ACC Linebacker of the Week accolades.
Giles-Harris is the fourth Blue Devils to receive weekly recognition from the league office, joining Evan Lisle (September 11 Offensive Lineman of the Week), Mike Ramsay (September 18 Defensive Lineman of the Week) and Bryon Fields Jr. (September 25 Defensive Back of the Week).
“I’m proud of him,” Humphreys said of Giles-Harris. “He played unbelievable. We prepare together every week. To see someone go out and do that is pretty special. He’s having a special year. It hasn’t just been this week. It’s every game. It’s nice to play alongside someone like that. Hopefully one of us wins that every week. That’s our goal.”
DISCUSSING DUKE TRADITION
As Cutcliffe continues to evaluate and Duke prepares to play for its eighth straight week, he is reminding the Blue Devils of who came before them.
“All of them are wearing jerseys that represent someone who played on other teams we’ve had,” Cutcliffe said. “You play like a Duke Football player. If you’re wearing No. 9, it does not matter if you’re on defense like our No. 9 is right now. I know what Thaddeus Lewis did around here. I’m proud that we have a program where that matters.”