Saturday, October 13, 2012
Coach David Cutcliffe turning Blue Devils around
Duke's head coach has the team one win away from bowl eligibility for the first time since 1994.
Photos by Associated Press
Duke's Conner Vernon caught two touchdown passes in a 42-17 blowout win over Virginia last week.
Under head coach David Cutcliffe, Duke has a 20-34 overall record, compared with the 19-117 record the 12 years before.
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Hokies' keys to the game
DON'T TURN IT OVER
Duke has a ball-hawking secondary that is second in the ACC with seven interceptions. Cornerback Ross Cockrell has an ACC-best four picks, one of which he returned for a touchdown. Logan Thomas has to be careful with the ball.
ESTABLISH THE RUN
It sounds simple, but the Hokies haven’t done it much this year. They had 40 rushing yards last week and a 1.6-yard average. They’ve yet to have a 100-yard rusher this season, which is an indictment of the backs and the o-line. They need some consistency here.
LIMIT BIG PLAYS
Things went south against North Carolina when Virginia Tech started missing tackles, leading to multiple big plays. The Hokies will have to cut that down, especially against a Duke team that has 28 plays this year that have gone for 20 or more yards.
BLACKSBURG - David Cutcliffe has seen college football played at the highest levels, having coached at Tennessee, Ole Miss and Notre Dame during his career, so he knows what a successful program looks like.
When he got to Duke in 2008, he knew the Blue Devils weren't anywhere close.
"My roots are if you're going to play football, you're going to play it one way," he said. "That's just a way of life where I come from, and it just didn't exist."
Fast forward 41/2 years and Cutcliffe has once-woeful Duke (5-1, 2-0 ACC), which travels to play Virginia Tech (3-3, 1-1 ACC) at 12:30 p.m. today, off to its best start in nearly two decades, one win away from bowl eligibility for the first time since 1994.
"I think they're a good football team, a solid football team, extremely well-coached football team," said Hokies head coach Frank Beamer, who hasn't lost to Duke in eight tries. "They're good. Their records are good and they're good."
While Virginia Tech might be the biggest disappointment in the ACC midway through the season, Duke is hands-down the biggest surprise. The Blue Devils have five wins already, only the second time in the last 18 years that they've reached that mark.
One more win and they'll be bowl eligible for the first time since Fred Goldsmith coached the team to a 8-4 mark and a Hall of Fame Bowl appearance in 1994. The 17-year bowl drought is the longest active streak in the country.
Much of the credit for the turnaround goes to the 58-year-old Cutcliffe, who has taken the fledgling program from irrelevancy to competitiveness in the ACC.
When he came to Duke after his second stint as Tennessee's offensive coordinator, the Blue Devils were a mess. Ted Roof's teams had won four games the previous four seasons, with an 0-12 season in 2006 the low point. The athletes simply weren't there, and the ones that were weren't in shape.
"I thought we were the softest, fattest football team I'd ever seen," Cutcliffe said bluntly.
Cutcliffe, who coached Peyton Manning at Tennessee and Eli Manning at Ole Miss, drew from his past to change the culture. He went 44-29 at Ole Miss before being fired after his only losing season. His predecessor, Tommy Tuberville, was 25-20. The Rebels have gone 37-54 post-Cutcliffe.
The Duke results are just as telling. Cutcliffe's 20-34 record doesn't sound impressive, but in the 12 years before he arrived, the Blue Devils were 19-117.
"Football wasn't important enough to us," he said. "If you're a major college football player, you're going to make some sacrifices. And I think we're there now, because these guys know no other way. These guys we have here now know our way."
The Blue Devils have been close before, though. The 2009 team started 5-3 before losing four straight to finish the season, coming up short of bowl eligibility.
While this year's 5-1 start has grabbed headlines, the schedule is backloaded. The four Football Bowl Subdivision teams the Blue Devils have beaten are 7-16 this year. Against their remaining six opponents - Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Miami - Duke is only 1-39 since ACC expansion in 2004.
"What I did tell the players yesterday is that right now is not a great time to be listening to your friends, especially the new ones," Cutcliffe said. "You better listen more to what your enemies have to say about you, because you're going to probably find more reality in that and what you do than what your friends tell you."
The reality is that Duke hasn't beaten Virginia Tech since 1982, a streak of 11 games. But the Blue Devils have closed the gap.
From 2004-07, Virginia Tech won each game by an average of 33.5 points. In the last four matchups, its been 15 points. Last year's game, a 14-10 Tech win in Durham, wasn't decided until the final minutes and went the Hokies' way in part because Duke missed three field goals.
Cutcliffe knows what an uphill battle it has been against Tech, especially in Blacksburg.
"I'm glad we've got a few guys on our team that have been up there," he said. "They understand Virginia Tech football, and they understand the challenge it's going to be. I'm sure we're looking forward to it, but we're very realistic in knowing how big a challenge this is to match up with them physically."