Duke strives to maintain 60-minute mind as it heads to UVa

Oct. 18, 2013 @ 10:30 PM

Duke’s football team embarked on what it hoped would be an historic season when practice began back in early August.

In the first 100 seasons of Blue Devil football, the program had never played in bowl games in back-to-back seasons.

Since Duke ended its 18-year bowl drought with a Belk Bowl appearance last December to make the program’s 100th season successful, the goal for year No. 101 this season was to return to the post season.

Following a win over Navy last weekend, Duke is two wins short of that goal as it heads to Virginia for an ACC game today (3:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net South).

The Blue Devils (4-2 overall, 0-2 in ACC) need to match last season’s total of six wins to earn a seat at the table when the ACC’s bowl slots are filled. The game at Virginia (2-4, 0-2 in ACC) begins the season’s second half that features every game against an ACC foe.

Duke starts off against an opponent it has had success against recently. The Blue Devils are 4-1 against Virginia with David Cutcliffe as their head coach. That includes a 42-17 win at Wallace Wade Stadium last season.

“We’ve played well in some of those games,” Cutcliffe said. “In our first one against Virginia, we played extremely well. I don’t know if that set a tone for the young guys that were on that team, but all I care about is how we play in this one coming up.”

Duke enters today’s game off what Cutcliffe called the team’s most complete performance of the season. In manhandling Navy 35-7 at Wallace Wade Stadium, the Blue Devils played solid offense in quarterback Anthony Boone’s return and got their best defensive performance since a 28-14 win at Memphis on Sept. 7.

Playing his first game since suffering a broken collarbone at Memphis, Boone completed 31 of 38 passes for a career-best 295 yards with three touchdowns against Navy. The Duke offense didn’t turn the ball over against the Midshipmen.

“(Anthony) really understands our offense,” Cutcliffe said. “He gets us in the right play exceptionally well. He can run our offense from the line of scrimmage exceptionally well. He is a very accurate passer. He’s a good decision maker, and then Anthony is a threat with his feet. He can extend a play, and he just gives us a ton of versatility as an offense.”

Defensively, the Blue Devils forced three turnovers against Navy. That’s as many turnovers at the Midshipmen lost for the entire season prior to visiting Duke. The Blue Devils had only received six turnovers over their first five games, so a renewed emphasis in that area showed.

Most importantly, Duke allowed only one touchdown. Over the previous three games, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh and Troy had combined to score 127 points.

“We’re better than we played against Pitt and Georgia Tech,” Cutcliffe said. “I can promise you. We intermittently played good in those games. What it came down to was not playing 60 minutes, and that was the other focus.

“Defensively you’re going to give up plays. You’re going to give up some plays today. But your level of play, your focus, your tackling, your ability to play blocks has to come with an edge, and you can’t lose that edge.

I think we’ve done a good job of that on the practice field and hopefully we can continue that.”

Virginia enters today’s game without two of its better defensive players as defensive tackle Brent Urban (lower extremity) and cornerback Demetrious Nicholson (toe) have been ruled out for the game.

The 6-7, 295-pound Urban leads all the nation’s defensive linemen in passes broken up with eight. He’s also tied for Virginia’s team lead with 7.5 tackles for loss.

Nicholson was injured on Oct. 5 against Ball State.