by Mike Potter
WALLACE WADE STADIUM/DURHAM Duke's margin for error on the football field is down to zero.
So for the Blue Devils (5-5, 3-3 ACC) to get into a bowl game this season they're going to have to win their last two games. One of them would be a pretty big upset, and that one is this week.
On Saturday at noon David Cutcliffe's club will visit No. 21 Miami (7-3, 4-3) at Land Shark Stadium.
Duke is on a two-game losing streak after suffering its worst loss of the season, 49-10 to visiting No. 7 Georgia Tech three days ago.
Miami is also coming off a loss, falling 33-24 at UNC on Saturday in the game that guaranteed the Tar Heels a bowl spot. UNC helped put Duke into this position with a 19-6 win on Nov. 7 in Chapel Hill.
The Blue Devils have actually played Miami respectably of late, despite losing five straight in the series. Randy Shannon's Hurricanes won 49-31 last season in Durham, and that was the worst beating they have given Duke since 2005.
Duke would have to pull the upset the hard way, as backup quarterback Sean Renfree is out for the season with a torn ACL. Starter Thaddeus Lewis (pictured) continues to play at less than 100 percent, and if the senior goes down Cutcliffe will either have to burn freshman Sean Schroeder's redshirt in the 11th game of the season or use backup punter Alex King under center.
"Thad's a winner," Cutcliffe said during his weekly press luncheon at the Brooks Football Center. "He's had to fight and scratch for everything he's got here. He's been hit a whole bunch, and he's extremely tough. After I watched the tape of the (2007 season, before Cutcliffe was head coach), I was impressed he came back. He was sacked 47 times and hit 40 more. Brutal hits. ...
"He's a little better this week. He practiced this morning, but he's not full speed. He has my admiration. It wasn't easy for him to work today."
But the "what-ifs" are something Cutcliffe has had to think about even if he'd rather not.
"We got a jump-start on rehearsing our plans," he said. "We've got obviously a lot of work to do. What we're going to do (at QB) is we're working Sean Schroeder as the second-team quarterback and we're working Alex King as the third-team quarterback. If Thad were to be lost for a brief moment, we would go with Alex King to get us through a series or a play or two or three. If we lose Thad (knocks wood), then Sean Schroeder would play."
Duke has already accomplished some road upsets this season, with wins at N.C. State and Virginia. Even at Army, Duke was a slight underdog and won.
"We know how to come back and keep fighting," tight end Brett Huffman said. "We know our backs are against the wall. I was just talking with my father about it this past weekend. We seem to play some of our best football in hostile environments and away games this season."
Duke's senior defensive end Ayanga Okpokowuruk said there's no reason to give up on the season as long as the Blue Devils have a chance to accomplish any of their goals, and that won't end until the clock says 0:00 following the last game.
"We're a little bit banged up, but a lot of guys are still fighting out there," Okpokowuruk said. "We've got to keep doing a better job of reading our keys and do a better job tackling. I feel like the good thing is, we still have two games left for improvement. It's not the end of the season yet. We still have something to play for and to push for for the post-season, so that's a big motivation for us right now."