Duke coach David Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils didn’t start the season the way they had planned, but the team rebounded with a much-needed ACC win against Boston College this past weekend. I caught up with Cutcliffe earlier today for his take on where the team stands heading into Saturday’s game against Tulane:
How much did you guys need that win at BC in terms of confidence and morale and those intangibles?
David Cutcliffe: I think it was huge in the morale category. This is a team that expected to win. They expected to play well. I think we fault having the Richmond game beat us more than once. That was a little bit of a shock factor. Not that Richmond is not good. But we helped them. We didn’t cure all of our ills. They know that. We still have things we can do better with the talent available. I’m not going to blame anything that’s happened at this point on not having enough talent, or not having enough players. We just simply haven’t played well enough. We played in flashes against Richmond and Stanford. We played more consistently against Boston College. Boston College and Duke were both playing in that game with their backs to the wall. There was nobody soft or backing down in that ballgame. We were fortunate to win, yes, a guy misses a field goal, but we weren’t lucky to win. There’s a big difference. We did the things you had to do to win the game. We dominated play in the second second half in that game. ... It was a good growing up experience and a very joyous locker room where a lot was released in that locker room. It was good to see.
Is it fair to say Sean Renfree got off to a slow start?
DC: I think he would tell you he did. Yes, it’s fair to say that. Sean is such a dedicated football player, such a team player, I think he felt an enormous responsibility and was carrying the weight of the word on his shoulders. You can’t play the position that way. It makes you cautious. I think he got cautious to a fault. I thought Kurt Roper did a magnificent job of putting him in a position to be aggressive early. When a guy goes 41 of 53 and had three balls dropped -- I’m not talking about maybe they were dropped, I’m talking about dropped -- that’s an incredible day. That goes in the books as they say. He came out of it with a huge splash now. He’s playing with that same confidence level and same execution level, but everybody around him is better, too, that helps.
Can you guys continue to win as much as you want to win depending so heavily on the passing game?
DC: I think we can. The thing people don’t realize is the way we’re built depends on how you play us. On a lot of run calls, we’re going to throw the football. Passing yards are really a part of our run game. Our tailback, Juwan Thompson, averaged almost six yards per carry in that game. I’ve always said balance is being able to run the ball when you need to, not having to run the ball. I don’t like losing balance. If our tailback can average five yards per carry, we’re running the ball like we want to run it. We may think 115 yards is a big day.
Looking ahead to this weekend, what were some of the things you guys really focused on at practice this week for Tulane?
DC: In just looking at them, you have to take their balance away from them, offensively. Our defense has really got to do a great job of stopping the run. We’ve got to pressure a big tall quarterback who’s been very accurate, so we worked hard in that regard. Offensively, we got a little beat up up there. We’re nursing a few people, but at the same time to grow our ability to run it in different ways. We think we can do that. We’re still limited a little bit there with Desmond Scott and Josh Snead both still out. That’s part of the reason we’re not getting as many carries in a game, we don’t want to run Juwan Thompson into the ground. We had a lot of fundamental things at each position. Footwork for receivers, tight ends and running backs, sustaining our blocks in the run game, pad leverage just a lot of things along the way.
I know you were happy with the BC win, obviously, but was there a part of you after it that was like, ‘Man, we should be 2-1’?
DC: You always feel that as a coach, but that’s a bad way to live your life. I’d be lying, which I won’t do, if I didn’t say I don’t lay in bed sometimes and think like that. I really try to let go of those things. The highest form of sanity for anybody, but especially for a football coach, is to live in the present time. The future nor the past will do anything to drive you crazy.
Never saw the whole Snyderwine thing coming. I saw you said you might try and have him kick today?
DC: He kicked a little bit. We’ve got a chance for him this week. Questionable would be what I would call it. That’s one of those things that with treatment and medication, day to day the inflammation may back up a bit. He’s been hurt a big good of camp. If he gets right, he’s a weapon and we need that weapon to operate like we’d like to operate.