David Cutcliffe addressed a number of topics in his Sunday post-game teleconference, including his team’s big come from behind victory against Virginia, as well as the challenges his team faces ahead.
Probably the most intersting comment came in response to a question regarding what, if any, milestones he’d like to see his team make, as well as where his current Duke squad (5-2) is compared to his team from a year ago since both teams headed into Blacksburg with similar records.
“We’ kind of did a here’s where we’ve been and here’s where we are looking to go. I don’t know if we have a specific thing right now other than finish a season strong. Now we are over half way through and now the tests really start,”Cutcliffe said.
“I know and they know its not going to be easy. It never has been or never will be. But we can’t hang our heads in defeat or if we win go running around with our chest stuck out like we’ve done something great. We just got to take this thing one step at a time.”
That next step starts in Blacksburg and like last year’s team, they head into the game with Virginia Tech with a chance to become bowl eligible. Unlike last year’s team, Cutcliffe feels that his team is healthier and even better than the team that made it to the Belk Bowl.
“We are a better team. There’s no if, ands, or buts about it. We are a better football team right now than we were this time a year ago. No offense to last year’s team, last year’s team was a good team, but this is a better team.”
How good will certainly be put to the test against Virginia Tech, who is 6-1 and sitting atop of the ACC Coastal Division.
“It’s exciting to me how we are taking these challenges on,” Cutcliffe said. “I think we are getting ready to play the best defense in the country. That should be an exciting challenge for our entire team. It won’t be easy but it should excite you.”
The most recent challenge was Duke’s come from behind victory against another school from the Commonwealth. Cutcliffe attributed his team’s second half effort and heart as a key to coming from 22 points down to win the Blue Devils’ third straight game.
“Our second half effort was really good. What we did in the second half so much better is a lot of players making key plays. We made key plays all over the place. We didn’t play near as clean as we did against Navy. But we really were more aggressive in so many areas.”
Cutcliffe addressed the growing trend that his team is playing significantly better in the second half of games than in the first. Against Virginia, Duke again found themselves in a first half hole down 22 to 7, but manged to come back to win 34-22. Cutcliffe said he feels that it is a combination of things, including adjustments made by the coaching staff, as well as the conditioning of his team.
“I thought we made some nice adjustments and a nice job changing up some things. We certainly believe our conditioning level helps us every week,” Cutcliffe said. “The key is that we are mentally tougher. You are going to give up plays, you just can’t go in the tank. You still got to go out there and play happy so to speak and be energized.”
Duke certainly didn’t go in the tank and pulled off one of the biggest comebacks in his tenure.
“They believe they think they should win. I believe they went to Virginia believing they should win. You know that kind of confidence is not false.”
Moving forward Duke is hoping they can get some guys back heading into Blacksburg as Cutcliffe said the Blue Devils have a lot of people that are banged up and that they would be praying for some fast healing in certain areas.
Duke lost Dwayne Norman to an MCL sprain and Cutcliffe said he wouldn’t practice Sunday. Bryon Fields was also injured with a head injury and is day-to-day. Cutcliffe added that a number of other players are also hurt but the extent of their injuries and duration of time they will miss won’t be known until Tuesday at the earliest.
One of the players who is still working back from injury is quarterback Anthony Boone, who started his second game from coming off his broken collarbone. Boone struggled early on but managed to put it together and help Duke complete the comeback.
“He didn’t look like he was comfortable throwing the ball. I don’t think he knows, still don’t know exactly what was going on with him in that regard,” Cutcliffe said. “Once he loosened up and was getting a lot of physical therapy work on the sideline, he was really really good. He made some tough runs and some tough plays.”
“I’m very pleased with his poise. Everybody plays good when it was easy. When you are down 22 to nothing and you have to fight your way back, that’s when you start believing that you’ve got a guy that can week in and week out play.”