by Mike Potter
BROOKS FOOTBALL BUILDING/DURHAM David Cutcliffe has never before had to get one of his football teams ready to play after a seven-touchdown loss, but that’s the assignment the Duke coach faces this week.
The Blue Devils have good memories of their last meeting with the Black Knights, as they won 35-19 at Michie Stadium with quarterback Sean Renfree coming off the bench in his first college game to lead a fourth-quarter blowout. And Duke may have the best team Army has played so far this season.
Despite the rough weekend, Cutcliffe was upbeat at his weekly press luncheon on Tuesday.
“I feel better standing here today than I might would’ve for a number of reasons,” Cutcliffe said. “We practiced well (Tuesday morning), and coming back to practice well after a painful defeat is a good sign. I believe that if you have character that you grow during times of pain and suffering. I don’t think, I know, that this team and staff has great character and they showed that today. Rome wasn’t built in a day and that doesn’t cure everything we have to fix, but it’s a beginning.
“The second thing is, after getting into that tape again and again I’m more encouraged than discouraged about our athleticism, our future and our immediate future. We have capabilities in many areas, and we’ve got to turn that level up a notch and keep it there.”
Cutcliffe said one thing he’s concerned about with the Cadets is that he can’t depend Rich Ellerson’s squad to make silly mistakes.
“I don’t think there’s any question that the service academies have great young men that I have the ultimate respect for,” he said. “It shows in their discipline, it shows in their execution, it shows in their effort. There’s a mixed emotion there. You certainly hope that’s the case as a citizen, that we’re getting the right kind of people in our service academies. If you have to play football against them it’s a little different feeling. But I’m very impressed. I’ve played now Air Force, Army and Navy. They execute, they play hard, they play disciplined just across the board.”
Army is currently the only team in the country with five running backs averaging over 40 yards per game. Although the Cadets — and their counterparts at Navy and Air Force — get better financial benefit packages than the ones allowed at civilian schools, they have to make do with less-heralded recruits. They try to close that gap by running a triple-option offense that tries to get plenty of extra blocking ahead of the ball carrier on running plays.
“We have a lot of guys who didn’t play in that (2009) game, but one thing I have to say, especially for these ‘option’ teams, is that our coaches do a very good job preparing us for them,” Duke senior linebacker and tri-captain Abraham Kromah said. “They do a very good job of explaining things in terms of what we have to do specifically. In practice it’s our job to focus in on those things and make sure not to let anyone run loose. We have to make tackles in practice and not let anybody run loose.”
One particularly bright spot for Duke so far this season has been a decent rushing attack. The Blue Devils are averaging 155.7 yards per game on the ground, much better than last season’s 63.5 that was the worst in the country. Right now the Devils are seventh in the ACC in that department, outrushing teams like Texas, Penn State, Notre Dame and Georgia as well.
Big keys to that have been the breakaway threats of sophomore Desmond Scott (238 yards) and true freshman Josh Snead, who carried for 83 yards on 14 attempts against Alabama.
“We got dominated in all phases of the game (against Alabama),” Snead said. “We’re not looking back, we’re looking forward preparing for Army this week. We’re going to try and come back and get this ‘W.’ We feel that the rest of the games are all must-win games. …
“We want to get the running game started. Last year (Duke was) 120th and we want to be better. In the first three games the running game has been pretty good. It’s on the positive side.”
Cutcliffe also announced that center and tri-captain Bryan Morgan has been named as one of the 11 players on the AFCA Good Works team, which honors honoring “dedicated and hard-working student-athletes for their off-the-field achievements and selfless contributions to their communities.”