NCSU at Duke: Blue Devils coming up with big plays at right time

Nov. 08, 2013 @ 10:29 PM

Duke’s football players have had two weeks of people telling them how good they are.

When the Blue Devils last played a game — on Oct. 26 — they won 13-10 at a Virginia Tech team that was ranked No. 16 in the country at the time. It was Duke’s first win over a ranked team on the road since 1971 and made the Blue Devils bowl eligible for the second consecutive season.

Following the bye week, Duke (6-2, 2-2 in ACC) is ready for another test as struggling N.C. State comes to Wallace Wade Stadium today (4 p.m., ESPNU).

The Blue Devils, who have yet to experience a winning season since 1994, have been favored by more than a touchdown over the Wolfpack (3-5, 0-5) all week.

It’s a different feeling for Duke and part of the intrigue about today’s game is how the Blue Devils will handle prosperity.

“It’s very crazy,” Duke redshirt junior running back Josh Snead said. “Now a lot of people believe that Duke is not just an academic school. We play football here, too. We can compete with any team in the ACC.”

Another contributor to Duke’s solid offense, tight end Braxton Deaver, said he believes the Blue Devils have their minds in the right place.

“That’s what’s good about this team,” Deaver said. “We don’t have the luxury to get cocky, to look past people. That’s not how we win. Duke is good because defense, offense and special teams all play well. It works out for us.”

The offense has been the most reliable part of Duke’s game. The Blue Devils are No. 6 in the 14-team ACC at 420 yards per game, No. 5 in scoring offense at 32.9 points per game.

When that offense struggled as quarterback Anthony Boone threw four interceptions at Virginia Tech, Duke’s defense came up big with four interceptions of its own. The Blue Devils, after having allowed 127 points over a three-game stretch in late September, are now in the top half (No. 7) of the ACC in scoring defense at 22.9 points per game.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe said the key against Virginia Tech was that, while his players didn’t come up big all the time, they did come up big at the right times.

“It was players making plays at critical times,” Cutcliffe said. “The critical plays in the game mostly fell our way, and that’s why we were able to hang on and win a close ballgame. We wouldn’t be good enough otherwise.”

During practices over the last two weeks since the Virginia Tech game, the Blue Devils have worked to improve their play on offense. As good as that unit has been all season, it had some serious rough patches against the Hokies.

No one in Duke blue wants to see a repeat of that against N.C. State today.

“We are not trying to do anything that we haven’t done before,” Deaver said. “We are just going to throw and catch the football and block and run. We didn’t do what we wanted to do against Virginia Tech. But we did what we had to do and got the game won.”

Anthony Boone’s play, in particular, has been a focus of the coaching staff. The redshirt junior completed only 7 of 25 passes at Virginia Tech. But Cutcliffe is encouraged that improvement is in the offing for the N.C. State game.

“He’s been more consistent, and I’ve really been pleased with his response to being challenged,” Cutcliffe said. “I think any quarterback, that’s hurtful to have a day like that. But you’re going to have them. And Kurt Roper has done an incredible job with him and challenging him and encouraging him. But I think he’s more back to himself. He’s the healthiest he’s been by far since the injury, and I think that’s helped him get more consistent with his throwing over the last two weeks in practice.”