For Duke, Every Game Is A Must-Win
After Thursday’s walk-through, Duke (2-1) head coach David Cutcliffe pulled aside some of his seniors and reminded them that how well Duke plays on Saturday when Memphis (0-3) comes to town is on them.
Cutcliffe said that Duke has had its best week of preparation for the Tigers, but he’s had plenty of weeks last that since he’s been at Duke, only to see everything fall apart on game day. “It should display itself in how well we play on Saturday, but you’ve got to carry it to the game field,” Cutcliffe said. “And there have been times where that doesn’t happen, for whatever reasons. I’ve asked our seniors to understand that a big part of that is them.”
Duke has always had a good roster, but never able to build depth like a lot of programs can. This year is different, and it’s shown – a rash of injuries in the secondary has been overcome by true freshmen and guys switching positions stepping up.
And Duke has plenty of experience, something they’re not necessarily used to, on both sides of the ball. Thirteen of Duke’s 22 starters have at least 11 starts, and eight have 20 or more.
“We’ve got a lot of people on this team that have played a lot of football, started a lot of games,” Cutcliffe said. “Unfortunately, it’s because of injuries over the last few years. But at some point in time, there’s a return on that investment. That’s what I would like to see this team do.”
There are quite a few talented upperclassmen starters, like senior Kenny Anunike at defensive end and junior linebacker Kelby Brown. But injuries have limited both of them in the off-seasons, and in a lot of ways, they’re not as experienced as other guys their age would be because of that.
As Cutcliffe detailed those situations, he didn’t use it as an excuse. He never has. He’s continued to insist his team can make a bowl game, and it would appear it’s talented enough to do that, despite the difficult schedule.
“I’m just explaining the world as you would see Duke football, but we’re equipped for it. That’s not an excuse. I’m not whining,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s just reality of what we’re dealing with. I’m very proud of this team and this staff and their ability to handle it physically, emotionally, both. They’ve managed that pretty darned well at this point.”
That’s where the seniors come in. Duke won its season opener against FIU handily and went into the Stanford game with a lot of confidence. But a combination of self-inflicted wounds and the physical superiority at some spots of Stanford led to a 50-13 blowout loss.
The Blue Devils rebounded well with a 54-17 win over NC Central last week, but they know there are still a lot of concerns. They haven’t run the ball well, even against Central, and they have converted just 21% of their third downs. The defense has still let up big plays. But the main lesson it can take going into the Memphis game is that despite being a huge favorite over Memphis, they can’t let that get into their heads. They still have to go out and execute.
“We had a lot of mistakes in that game against Stanford. I guess you could say that we weren’t as focused,” running back Josh Snead said. “We had a great first game, (we were) a little hype. We’ve got to win a game. That game is behind us. on to the next game. We came out a little unfocused but we’re back on track and we’re ready to go from here on out.”
The Duke injury report is still littered with important names: two starters on the defensive line are out, as are two defensive backs and two linebackers. Safety Jordon Byas will be back, as will Walt Canty, who injured his shoulder against Central. Wide receiver Jamison Crowder is banged up, but a lot of players on the roster are a bit banged up.
Duke doesn’t have a bye week until November, and they have to press on. They need their best players on the field as much as possible, and though the line between “hurt” and “injured” is a thin one, the ones who can play through it have to try.
“We play ten games in a row. Every player here needs to understand that. We’re not going to have time on Sunday, okay, we’re going to take the week off and heal,” Cutcliffe said. “No. We’re going to close ranks and continue to march, and that’s got to be the mentality of our program.”
Mascot facts: Memphis has been known as the Tigers officially since 1939,but they purchased their first live Bengal tiger mascot in 1972. They’re one of three schools to have a live Bengal tiger mascot. Their second one, TOM II, died in 2008 and as you might imagine, PETA was not thrilled with Memphis’ decision to purchase a new one. But TOM III lives.
Prediction: Duke, 52-29. As much as Cutcliffe tried to dress up Memphis this week, the Tigers are terrible. Memphis is 83rd in both pass offense (212 yards per game) and rush offense (138.33 yards per game). Balance! But ultimately, Duke has to worry about Duke and the rest will take care of itself.