Duke readies for key Coastal showdown with visiting Miami
Notes from Tuesday’s Duke (7-2, 3-2 ACC) football press conference as the Blue Devils prep for Miami’s (7-2, 3-2) visit to Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday (3:30 p.m., ESPNU).
SENIOR DAY — Saturday will be the last home game for Duke’s senior class, which includes sixth-year defensive end Kenny Anunike and 10 fifth-year seniors, including captains Ross Cockrell, Justin Foxx, and Dave Harding.
“That’s a lot of buy-in to this program,” coach David Cutcliffe said of his senior class. “They’ve done it 12 months every year they’ve been here. Those guys ... there are no complaints you can register about them. They’re pretty special.”
The number of departing Blue Devils may still grow. Cutcliffe said several fourth-year players with a year of eligibility remaining may choose to graduate instead of returning next season.
Cutcliffe didn’t mention which players were weighing the decision to leave, but there are 13 fourth-year players who redshirted a season, including QB Anthony Boone, RB Josh Snead, TE Issac Blakeney, NT Jamal Bruce, DE Dezmond Johnson, and TE Nick Sink. Cutcliffe said he expects to release a list of graduating players on Thursday.
NEW CAPTAIN — Cutcliffe announced that RB Juwan Thompson would become the team’s fifth permanent captain for the rest of the season. Thompson has excelled on special teams, but his 31-yard run on Saturday kept alive the go-ahead touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. Thompson has also seen action at linebacker lately.
Thompson joins Cockrell, Foxx, Harding, and Boone, who were named captains before the start of the season. Thompson will represent special teams as captain.
“Juwan took it upon himself this summer to really become a coach,” Cutcliffe said. “He taught our young people the fine art of special teams play and it’s paid off.”
“He’s earned it,” Cutcliffe added. “He’s one of the most unselfish football players that we’ve had anywhere I’ve been. He’s the epitome of Duke football.”
ROOTING INTEREST — The team isn’t focusing on all the different what-if scenarios that will determine the Coastal Division champion (Duke, Virginia Tech, Miami and Georgia Tech are tied in the loss column at 2), but the players are aware that any hope Duke has of playing in the ACC Championship game depends on Georgia Tech (6-3, 5-2 ACC) losing its final conference game Thursday at Atlantic Division rival Clemson (8-1, 6-1).
DE Kenny Anunike and OL Dave Harding admitted that they’d be watching the game and knew what was at stake, as did their coach.
“I’d be lying to say I’m not pulling for Clemson,” Cutcliffe said. “Who wouldn’t?”
Cutcliffe won’t watch the entire game, however. “It’s the least of my worries, to be honest,” he said. “I have some other things I do on Thursday nights. Usually, I catch the second half and try to get most of it watched. It depends how sleepy I am. I may not see the end of it.”
As it stands right now, Georgia Tech holds the division lead followed by Virginia Tech (7-3, 4-2) with Duke and Miami tied for third. If Duke beats Miami and wins out at Wake Forest and North Carolina the following two weeks, the Blue Devils would hold tiebreakers over Miami and Virginia Tech by virtue of having beaten both, but Georgia Tech beat Duke in Durham and holds that tiebreaker over the Blue Devils, thus the need for a Tech loss at Clemson.
QUARTERBACK ROTATION — The team hasn’t decided on a starter at quarterback. Anthony Boone struggled for the second straight game on Saturday and was replaced by Brandon Connette in the win over N.C. State. Cutcliffe said both would see action against Miami.
Cutcliffe isn’t worried about either player being distracted by the competition. “If they thought (true freshman) Parker Boehme could help us win better against Miami, they would want Parker to start,” Cutcliffe said. They are team-first people.”
The quarterback decision will come down to which player is better able to avoid turnovers. Boone threw three interceptions against N.C. State (after tossing four in the previous game at Virginia Tech), while Connette fumbled twice, losing one.
“There’s a premium on taking care of the football,” Cutcliffe said. “We teach young quarterbacks and then quiz them on it: The most important thing about every play we run is that we have possession of the ball when the play ends. There were good things done at quarterback by both young men, but you can’t turn the ball over.”
BASKETBALL SCHOOL? — Cutcliffe praised the large, vocal home crowd at Saturday’s N.C. State game, saying that’s how ACC football atmosphere should always be. “I saw a sea of blue,” he said.
While fans are taking notice of the Blue Devils’ performance on the gridiron, Cutcliffe shut down questions about the school’s athletic identity.
“It should remain a basketball-first school,” he said. “That’s what it is. What we’ve earned and accomplished (in basketball) is tremendous.”
Cutcliffe listed all the other sports that have won NCAA or ACC championships since he’s coached at Duke, including tennis, women’s soccer, women’s basketball and lacrosse. “You see it all over,” he said. “I don’t care if they say we’re a basketball school. How about saying Duke athletics are winners? Duke’s a winning school, and we’d like to participate in that.”
“I’m a Duke basketball fan too,” he added. “I was before I came here. How could you not be? Now I get seats.”