Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
Dear Duke fans,
I know you’re out there. You’re not the most vocal fans (unless it’s March), and you’re not the most visible (unless we’re in Cameron Indoor). But it’s football season, you have a team and it’s time to start paying attention. I don’t know if Duke will make it to a bowl game this year or not, but a road win over NC State and Russell Wilson marks significant progress in coach David Cutcliffe’s second season.
You should have heard the locker room after the game. They were tired. They were emotionally drained. And yet they were singing. It’s a victory song Cutcliffe said was “designed through the years,” a song those within the program will never reveal. A song they’d like to sing more, even if the tune is, by Cutcliffe’s standards, a little dull.
“We don’t have a chance to do that a lot,” Cutcliffe said.
No, they don’t. The Blue Devils beat NC State for the first time in 11 tries. They snapped a 20-game road losing streak against ACC opponents.
“Everybody keeps talking about streaks,” Cutcliffe said. “Our streaks don’t look too good, so we’ll just keep it at one game at a time and see what happens when the dust settles. ... You can’t play good and let it defeat you.”
This wasn’t improvement, though, that happened overnight.
Over the past three weeks, the coaching staff made a concerted effort to practice the fundamentals on both the offensive and defensive lines -- steps, base, footwork. After watching Thursday’s practice tape alone, Cutcliffe told offensive line coach Matt Luke on Friday it was the best the group had looked “by far,” and it showed on Saturday. The defensive line has improved its ability to maintain gap control and isn’t constantly getting knocked off the ball. That showed against Virginia Tech, when the Blue Devils also contested almost every catch.
The wide receivers might be the most-improved group on the field. They’re making tough plays and have increased their yards after catch. The one area that is still lacking is the running game, and that will be addressed during the bye week.
Cutcliffe said this team is “better equipped” to handle its success than it was last year, when Duke jumped out to a 3-1 start, but cautioned there’s still a long road ahead. Last year’s September win over Virginia created a similar buzz, but turned out to be the one-hit wonder of the season. Could this year be different?
“What it means is we’re playing better,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s what it means. Whether it computes to wins, I can’t focus on that. ... I think last year our kids just didn’t know how to take it one at a time and understand the focus and intensity of each ball game.”
They certainly have the quarterback to win another game.
Behind a jaw-dropping performance from quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, Duke racked up 502 yards of total offense and converted 13 of 19 third downs.
In other words, Duke finally gave you something to cheer about. Something to talk about. And it could happen again on Oct. 24 against Maryland. But if Duke wins two ACC games for the first time since 2003 and nobody was there to see it, did it really happen?
“If you don’t think a venue that’s loud and crazy is not effective, then look at Cameron Indoor Stadium,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s a pretty effective atmosphere for our basketball program. When you can turn that type of atmosphere into a football stadium -- because I’ve seen them -- it ignites teams. I know the Duke people believe that. I hope they’re able to come, and I believe that they will.”
I know you’re out there. I’ve seen you in March.