by Mike Potter
If the worst-case scenario happens on Saturday, at least Duke got this far.
The Blue Devils are facing, let's face it, a "must win" game against No. 21 Miami, and they're going to be pretty big underdogs on the road.
David Cutcliffe's team will have to get its biggest win in 15 years to stay eligible for a bowl game. If the Blue Devils put together four quarters of brilliance, taking pieces of the kind of games they played in road wins over Army and N.C. State and Virginia, they have a chance.
And that seems to be all Cutcliffe has been asking.
"You focus yourself and your mind on accomplishing everything in your power to prepare to win," Cutcliffe said about how to beat a team that looks better on paper. "We don't worry about Saturday, we don't worry about (last) Saturday. We're in between. If you plan well and prepare well and focus on what you can do, you have to identify your challenges. I can tell you 5,000 reasons we won't win. But if I tell you 5,000 reasons we won't win I have to tell you 5,000 things we're going to do about it.
"We didn't go to 5,000, but I've talked about the challenges. 'Here's what they are and here's what we're going to do about them, but if you don't prepare well you're not going to believe you have a chance to win or going to win when you get on that plane.' It comes down to sincere, total, focused, intense preparation. If we don't prepare and have ourselves mentally focused, we're defeated before we ever move forward."
Duke tight end Brett Huffman said that with no margin for error, the only way to approach the game is with a single-elimination mentality.
"That was one of the first things Coach (Noel) Durfey our strength and conditioning coach said when we came in to get our Sunday lift," Huffman said. "It's playoff football. We know what's at stake. We've got to win these next two games to achieve our goal of making a bowl game, and we have every intention of doing so."
Duke (5-5, 3-3 ACC) vs. No. 21 Miami (7-3, 4-3)
[Saturday, noon, Land Shark Stadium]
Miami leads series 5-1
Audio: WDNC-620, GoDuke.com, HurricaneSports.com
Key stats ...
Duke: Team scoring 25.2 to opponents' 26.1. Rushing 63.9 to 155.9. Passing 270.8 to 205.5. Individual leaders - (rush) Desmond Scott 50-194 1 TD, (pass) Thaddeus Lewis 226-364-2640-6 16 TD, (receive) Donovan Varner 46-708 5 TD, (tackle) Vincent Rey 82 with 1 int., 1 fum. rec.
Miami: Team scoring 31.5 to 24.2. Rushing 134.5 to 122.2. Passing 270.8 to 205.5. Individual leaders - (rush) Graig Cooper 99-541 3 TD, (pass) Jacory Harris 190-313-2655-16 19 TD, (receive) Leonard Hankerson 34-609 4 TD, (tackle) Colin McCarthy 78 with 1 int., 1 fum. rec.
Best message board tidbit on the game:
Jobe01 at DevilsIllustrated.com "Wanted to wait until I saw the injury report this week. Doesn't look good as Vince Oghobaase is still off the field, and Thaddeus Lewis isn't at 100%. Barring something spectacular, I don't see us winning this one, even though I think we'll be hard pressed to show as poorly as we did against Georgia Tech. Miami isn't as good as GT. Their running game is weaker, their OL isn't quite as strong, their DL isn't quite as formidable. We should be able to score some points (assuming Lewis doesn't go down), and should be able to prevent them from scoring 49 like GT did. Also, if Jacoby Harris isn't sharp, we could see a few interceptions. We have a chance. All that said, they're more athletic than us, and are a bit healthier, and are deeper. I see us fighting for about two quarters, then fading into the third as we tire out. This one goes 38-17 Miami. Wish I had more confidence than that."
Duke will win if ... The Blue Devils play their best football game of the year. Lewis' health is definitely a key. The defense has been playing solidly, but must improve significantly following the 49 points allowed to Georgia Tech. Duke definitely needs big plays on both sides of the ball.
Miami will win if ... The Hurricanes keep playing the way they have for most of the season and don't let a defeat at UNC on Saturday have their heads down. Turnovers and big plays are definitely going to be key. And Miami's defense definitely needs to be better than Duke's.
Can the French Blue Devils finally stop that Tropical Hurricane? Sure, if they catch a lightning bolt in a bottle. Duke has played respectably against Miami over the past few years, but definitely needs its best overall performance of the season to win.
Players to watch ...
Duke: #9 QB Thaddeus Lewis, # 31 MLB Vincent Rey, # 83 WR Austin Kelly, #91 DE Ayanga Okopokowuruk.
Miami #12 QB Jacory Harris, #25 K Matt Bosher, #44 LB Colin McCarthy, #64 OT Jason Fox.
Injury report ...
Duke: WR Austin Kelly (upper body) probable, LB Abraham Kromah (leg) probable, QB Thaddeus Lewis (leg) probable, LB Vincent Rey (leg) probable, K Will Snyderwine (leg) probable, RB Re'quan Boyette (leg) OUT, DT Vince Oghobaase (leg) OUT, WR Johnny Williams (knee) OUT.
Miami: LB Sean Spence (knee) probable, S Ray Ray Armstrong (knee) probable, CB Sam Shields (groin) doubtful, WR Thearon Collier (ankle) OUT.
Vegas line: Miami by 19.
Score prediction: Miami 35, Duke 24.