DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Coach David Cutcliffe and the Duke football team turn the page on the softer part of their schedule this week. The 1-1 record isn’t ideal. Most were optimistic the Blue Devils could start the season 2-0 before heading into the teeth of their schedule.
Charlotte ruined that week one and North Carolina A&T had them on the ropes before Duke got their act together.
“Maybe it was good that it wasn’t as easy and we had to fight harder, forced by them (N.C. A&T), and thank goodness we did respond,” Cutcliffe said. “Defensively, we got better as it went along. We tackled better, so a lot of positives that we learned from that game that we can build on now the key is building on it.”
This week will be Duke’s first of 10 straight games against Power Five opponents. At times in the last two weeks, the Blue Devils offense and defense ran like a top. They hit their blocks, made their cuts, and functioned like the well-oiled machine fans love to see.
The problem is they didn’t do that every down. They could get away with this against their first two opponents and still have a chance to win. Starting this week, that needs to be eliminated if the Blue Devils want to see a winning season.
“They know that if you’re going have a really good football team, you’re going to need to be a consistent football team,” Cutcliffe said. “You’ve got to compete at a high level every down when you talk about Northwestern.”
The Blue Devils showed flashes of what they could do in a short amount of time last week. After a slow start, Gunnar Holmberg and the Duke hurry-up offense started clicking. They put up 21 points in the second quarter, capped by a flawless 2-minute drill just before the half. Duke used 10 plays to cover 74 yards and capped the drive with a 2-yard Mataeo Durant touchdown run to take the lead for good.
“I can see in every player’s eyes what they wanted to do and I told them we were going to be aggressive, so basically I said go get the job done,” Cutcliffe said. “They were begging for it, so that old saying ‘be careful what you wish for,’ well I’m glad they wished for it and they came through.”
Aggressive doesn’t mean Duke will go for it on fourth down every time or try an onside kick every chance it gets. It does mean the Blue Devils will roll the dice more than they have in the past. They face a Northwestern team that is 1-1 and coming off a 24-6 win over Indiana State.
Last year, Northwestern was 7-2, but lost quite a bit of the team that went on to beat Auburn in the Citrus Bowl. The Wildcats have lots of new faces, including a new guy under center, but the overall scheme, especially on defense, won’t be a surprise, according to Cutcliffe.
“They do a good job of taking their talent. Everything changes a little bit in college through graduation, and then they adjust to it,” Cutcliffesaid. “They are a little different, but they’re a little different based on who they’re playing, but the same system is still in place.”
The Duke Blue Devils and Northwestern Wildcats will kick it off Saturday at 4 p.m. at Wallace-Wade Stadium.