DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – The Duke football team takes the field Friday night trying to knock out two goals with one win.
A victory would serve the dual purpose of starting 2021 on a positive note and putting the disaster of their 2-9 record from 2020 behind them.
“We had a big opener on the road a year ago (against 10th ranked Notre Dame). I thought our guys did everything they could do,” said Duke head coach David Cutcliffe. “I think this team has focused on their conditioning a lot more. It brings more confidence in that regard because, quite frankly, we’re far more conditioned than we were able to get to a year ago.”
Gunnar Holmberg separated himself from the pack to earn the job of starting quarterback.
After sitting behind numerous other players and coming back from a severe leg injury coach Cutcliffe feels he’s ready.
His teammates also believe in #12 as he was voted one of the three team captains along with Jake Bobo and DeWayne Carter.
“I found it a comforting thing as I was looking at the votes, that when you’ve got the guy that’s helping make the decisions is your starting quarterback for the first time and that his teammates have that much confidence in him,” said Cutcliffe. “That vote of confidence, I think personally, will help him.”
Last season, the Blue Devils used their game against Charlotte to get their team back on track.
Duke hammered Charlotte 53-19 Halloween night victory in Durham a season ago.
Deon Jackson and Mataeo Durant led the way rushing for a combed 205 yards and four touchdowns. Each found the end zone twice and each broke the 100-yard rushing mark.
The Blue Devils don’t expect it to be that easy Friday night.
“I think they’ve added seven to 10 transfers that could be starters. New punter, new snapper, in the kicking game. It’s truly an opener and you have to adjust well as it goes on,” said Cutcliffe. “They will be a good football team and opening up on the road is always a challenge, a focus. The biggest thing we’ve got to do is focus on Duke and how well and clean we can play.”
It’s that last remark most would look beyond but will be key for the Duke coaching staff.
Sure they’re trying to win games but they’re also evaluating players with each snap especially in the opener. You find out just how much of that coaching in practice has sunk in.
Can players put the lessons learned during the week to use on game day? Can they maintain focus for the 60 minutes needed to win a game?
“A lot of games are lost, not won, in openers,” said Cutcliffe. “I think the biggest thing you find out are have you done all the little things as a coach to be disciplined and take care of the ball and be penalty free and all of those little things that are a real test in an opener.”
The Blue Devils plan to unload the bench on Friday night to get a look at a lot of the players on their roster regardless of the score.
Kickoff slated for Friday at 7 p.m. in Jerry Richardson Stadium.