Duke's Cutcliffe 'humbled' by ACC Coach of the Year honor
David Cutcliffe’s first response when told he’d been named ACC Coach of the Year on Tuesday was to express humility.
“It’s awfully humbling,” Cutcliffe said.
His first task with that honor is to accomplish something worth bragging about for a lifetime.
The No. 20 Blue Devils, having won more games this season than in any of the school’s 101 seasons of football, face No. 1 Florida State in the ACC championship game in Charlotte on Saturday (8 p.m., WTVD).
Duke (10-2) hasn’t won an ACC championship outright since 1962 and has never defeated a team ranked No. 1. As daunting as the task is — Duke is a 29-point underdog according to Las Vegas sports books — there’s little doubt in ACC circles that Cutcliffe can prepare a team well for any circumstance.
In his sixth season as Duke’s coach, Cutcliffe was voted the ACC’s top coach for the second consecutive season. He’s also a finalist, along with Missouri’s Gary Pinkel and Gus Malzahn of Auburn, for the Maxwell Football Club’s national coach of the year award.
Cutcliffe led Duke to its first bowl game in 18 years last season and, this season, has easily topped the 6-7 mark the Blue Devils finished with last season.
Beating Florida State (12-0) is a task no one has been able to do this season.
“They are truly a No.1 football team in the country,” Cutcliffe said. “Very efficient in everything they do.”
That said, the Blue Devils have won eight games in a row by immersing themselves in the process that leads to being at their best on game days.
“Our preparation has got to be outstanding and this team has been a team that has done that,” Cutcliffe said.
The problem with Florida State, though, is its immense talent and the propensity it has shown to dominate teams. The Seminoles’ average margin of victory this season is 42.6 points.
“They are really athletic and are going to try to get up on you early,” said Kelby Brown, Duke’s first team all-ACC linebacker. “We have got to take this game to the fourth quarter, somewhere where we really thrive. We have got to do our best to not let ourselves get down early.”
With Heisman Trophy candidate Jameis Winston at quarterback, the Seminoles have routinely demoralized their opponents with big plays that lead to easy scores.
“You have to defend the explosive plays they are capable of making,” Cutcliffe said. “You have to defend and compete where they have to work to earn yards, which is, again, very difficult to do. We can’t give up a bunch of big, explosive plays and expect to beat this team.”
And if Duke does? How do the Blue Devils respond and get the game to the fourth quarter, where they’ve been as stingy as anyone this season? Duke has allowed only 37 fourth-quarter points.
“I believe in the fortitude of this team,” Cutcliffe said. “I believe in the fortitude of the staff. That’s not an accident. It’s part of the character of this program. It is. So you do what you have to do. You can’t write the script. We can try.
“How resilient are you gonna be? You’ve just got to keep playing and keep playing. We preach that. Hopefully we’re able to do that because they are going to make some plays.”
Third team all-ACC tight end Braxton Deaver said his Blue Devils simply have to play their best game.
“Execute better than we’ve executed in any game this season,” Deaver said. “That is an unbelievable defense over there. If we want any shot at this thing we are going to have to play our butts off and make every play and compete at an unbelievable level with them.”
Second team All-ACC defensive end Kenny Anunike was on the field last season when Florida State routed Duke 48-7 in Tallahassee, Fla. He said the Blue Devils have proven to be strong finishers this season, so the plan is to play tough from the start and get FSU into a rare fourth-quarter game.
“We are a third- and fourth-quarter team,” Anunike said. “We don’t go away. We are going to be going to every whistle as hard as we possibly can.”