by Mike Potter
BROOKS FOOTBALL BUILDING/DURHAM David Cutcliffe acknowledges his Duke football program is going through some growing pains right now, but says there’s no way he’s going to lose faith.
So when Duke (1-3, 0-1 ACC) heads to Maryland (3-1) for the Terps’ conference opener this week, the Blue Devils will be on a three-game losing streak.
The Blue Devils have lost seven straight games to Division I-FBS opposition, and will be going against a Maryland team looking for revenge after Duke won 17-13 last season in Durham.
“My hat’s off to Maryland,” Coach Cutcliffe said at his weekly press luncheon. “They had a tough year a year ago (but) they’ve worked themselves right out of it. They’re a 3-1 football team. They have a lot of weapons on both sides of the ball, and one of the better linebackers (Alex Wujciak) in the country.
“Last week a young quarterback (Danny O’Brien) played extremely well for them and he’s got two great backs behind him and a host of receivers that can make plays and cause damage. We will have to by far and away play our best football this year to be able to be in the game and play well enough to win this football game.”
The Blue Devils will have to be better than they were against the Cadets, who took advantage of a 5-0 turnover margin including a pair of interceptions that put the ball inside the Duke 5 in the 35-21 decision.
It’s going to be tough for Duke to win many football games when the quarterback has an off day, and sophomore Sean Renfree will try to bounce back this week after throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble.
“Sean (was) starting his fourth game of his career and there’s a learning curve, and some of those lessons are pretty harsh,” Cutcliffe said. “Sean Renfree is right on the track. I’m so encouraged about his start, his first four starts. There’s no reason to hang your head there.”
With the exception of the plays that went awry on Saturday, Renfree has been pretty impressive this season.
“I need to personally minimize the amount of turnovers,” Renfree said. “I need to protect the ball and have more awareness of what I’m doing and what kind of situations we’re putting ourselves in. Saturday was a tough day. There’s no doubt I have to protect the ball better.
“It’s going to be a faster game with Maryland. They have a lot of speed. There’s going to be a lot of pressure. Playing at their place will be a challenge. We’ve just got to be ourselves and get the ball to our playmakers.”
Cutcliffe said he relishes any opportunity to surprise an opponent on the road.
“I like being an underdog and like being on the road,” Cutcliffe said. “I love beating people at their stadium. I just think that’s one of the most fun things about my job. I have stood in many a stadium and looked around and tried to see what it looked like when you can take 90,000 of them and hush them up.”
One bright spot for the Blue Devils on Saturday was the play of the defense, which did a decent job keeping the Cadets under wraps when they didn’t have a short field.
“We ended up improving as the (Army) game went on, which is a big part of defense,” Duke freshman linebacker Kelby Brown said. “By the second half, they really weren’t moving the ball on us very well. Obviously we weren’t favored in the Alabama game and we were in the Army game by some people. But a loss is a loss and I don’t think anybody on the team liked either of them.
“Maryland has a very balanced attack, and they like to mix up formations. They have some tendencies that we can pick up on. But they’re a solid team with great athletes.”
Cutcliffe said his team is going to be OK in the long term as long as it keeps a positive outlook.
“I don’t believe in anybody hanging their heads, ever,” he said. “There’s no time for that. But beyond that there are so many things that I am encouraged about — our ability, our work ethic, going back on the field and working our way out of this. It’s kind of hard to have a bad state of mind when everyone you’re surrounded by buys into that — our staff, our squad, all the support folks. No one had bothered to hang their head as we’ve gone back to work.
“We realize we have much work to do and we’re doing it one drill at a time, one play at a time, one day at a time, and that’s all I know to do when you hit these points in a season or a program. It doesn’t ever change. I view this as an awesome opportunity to grow our program to where we want it to go, and we will not give in to this.”