by Mike Potter
WALLACE WADE STADIUM/DURHAM It's pretty easy for Duke football folks to be feeling pretty good about themselves right now.
The Blue Devils are 2-2 at the end of their non-conference portion of the schedule, and are coming off a 49-14 victory in their spirited new cross-town rivalry with N.C. Central in which Coach David Cutcliffe said his team might have taken some things up a notch - at least at times.
"Coming off the game we're still looking for consistency," Cutcliffe (pictured) said at his regular weekly press luncheon at the Brooks Football Building. "It was kind of three games. It was a 21-0 game, and then it was a 0-14 game and then it was a 35-0 game. We kind of showed in that regard what we're capable of doing if we can put that consistently together."
Yes, the Blue Devils definitely delivered a knockout punch in the rain against a scrappy and inspired but still outmanned opponent.
But the next assignment is going to get a lot tougher.
On Saturday at noon ACC favorite Virginia Tech (3-1) will visit Wade, sporting a No. 6 national ranking and an eight-game winning streak against the Blue Devils. It's the first true road game for the Hokies, who ripped then-No. 8 Miami 31-7 on Saturday before eking out a 16-15 win over Nebraska the week before.
There is one thing on the positive side for Duke, and that was the success the Blue Devils had last season in Blacksburg as they shed their reputation as the conference doormat. The Hokies won that game 14-3, but needed a 23-yard interception return from Victor Harris to get a knockout punch.
"This is by far the biggest test we've had to this point, Virginia Tech," Cutcliffe said. "They're a complete football team and may have played the toughest schedule in the country to this point of the season. Marshall (a 52-10 victim of the Hokies) is a better team than they made them appear.
"Balance, balance, balance is what Virginia Tech is about. Excellent kicking game that's pretty storied and fabled and they earn that. That's not just reputation. Defensively they're just Virginia Tech. Need I say more? And offensively they're spreading the field and doing things that make them difficult to defend. Speed on offense, certainly (quarterback Tyrod) Taylor can beat you a lot of ways. He's a spectacular playmaker much like (Kansas' Todd) Reesing, but probably faster."
Frank Beamer's Hokies have been installed as 16 ½-point favorites, and by past standards if that turned out to be the reality it would hardly be an embarrassment for Duke. In the three previous meetings before last season's, Beamer's club won by a total of 124 points to 14.
"(The NCCU game) gave us a chance to see where our team was before ACC play," senior cornerback Leon Wright said. "It gave us a chance to make adjustments. Playing (Tech) at this midpoint is best for us. We can look back at our early games and make some adjustments and turn it up a notch."
Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis said an upset is possible, but only if the Blue Devils follow their game plan to a T.
"You have to have that intensity, but you also have to go out and execute," Lewis said. "It's important that we establish ourselves early in every game. You want to deliver the first blow, but don't just deliver it, keep delivering it.
"Four games in, the guys understand what the coaches want and what it takes to win football games. You can't take any plays off, and you have to out-physical your opponent. Right now there shouldn't be anyone having to get after you to pick it up a notch. This is an ACC game, and we're going to have to give it everything we have on Saturday."
Duke needs to go 5-3 in ACC play to get the bowl appearance for which Cutcliffe is aiming this season, and an upset in front of a nice home crowd would go a long way toward making that a possibility.
"We have to work to get the Duke people there," Cutcliffe said. "Blacksburg is not very far away. We need Duke students in a big way, and we need our Duke fans to show up wearing blue. That's significant for our team on Saturday.
"I was disappointed in the homecoming crowd. I thought North Carolina Central had more students at the game than we did (but) the loyal ones that were out there were wet and they were loud. We want that student section full. It makes a huge difference when you see that."