Duke still hungry after Chick-fil-A Bowl
Duke football’s list of accomplishments over the last two seasons rewrote the school’s record book in a positive manner.
Coming off the school’s first back-to-back bowl game appearances and the first 10-win season, though, the Blue Devils contend there’s plenty more to accomplish.
The main thing? Winning a bowl game.
Duke reeled off eight wins in a row to close the regular season a year ago, vaulting the school that a few years ago represented the worst of college football into the top 25 to stay.
A 45-7 loss to eventual national champion Florida State bruised the Blue Devils. A 52-48 Chick-fil-A Bowl loss to Johnny Manziel’s Texas A&M Aggies implanted bitterness in an otherwise stellar season.
With the start of practice for the new season a fortnight away, the Blue Devils are stressing that their 10-4 season must only be the start.
“Think about it like this,” Duke defensive tackle Carlos Wray said earlier this week, “when you are 10-4 that means there are four games that we lost. So the hunger is still there. We made it to the ACC championship game. That’s not enough. We want to win it, whether it’s Florida State, Clemson, whoever. We want to win. We go to our bowl game, we want to win it no matter who. If we are playing LSU or playing Florida, we want to win. We are still hungry. We still have goals we haven’t met yet.”
At the first team meeting following the Chick-fil-A Bowl loss to Texas A&M, where Duke saw its 38-17 halftime lead disappear into defeat, players described the feeling as bitter.
“It leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” Duke right guard Laken Tomlinson said Sunday. “It’s never a good feeling losing. It sucks. But a true athlete comes in the next day and works even harder so that doesn’t happen again.”
While that’s good for keeping a team hungry, Duke coach David Cutcliffe urged the players to take stock of how much they’d accomplished with their hard work in turning around the program.
“Coach Cut’s point was it was time to move on,” Brown said Sunday at the ACC Kickoff media event at the Grandover Resort. “Let’s look forward to bigger and better things.”
The Blue Devils return eight starters on offense, including quarterback Anthony Boone and dangerous wide receiver Jamison Crowder.
But it’s the defense, which had brilliant stretches during the second halves of games last year in the regular season, where improvement is needed. Those last two games against Florida State and Texas A&M saw weaknesses exploited.
“We gave away a game essentially that we very well should have won,” Brown said of the 35 points Texas A&M scored on Duke over the final two quarters. “We’re all ready to start over again.”
Brown and senior David Helton return at the two linebacker spots, giving the Blue Devils as experienced and productive a duo as will play in the ACC this season.
Brown was an all-ACC selection last season, recording 114 tackles with 11 for losses. He also intercepted two passes. Helton led the ACC in tackles last season (133) .
“I hate to say it this way but it feels like I got all the glory and David did all the dirty work,” Brown said. “He led the ACC in tackles and barely got any recognition for it. David is just a real solid teammate that I know I can count on.”
Up front, Duke lost three senior starters from last season. While defensive tackle Jamal Bruce is back, seniors Dezmond Johnson and Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, along with Wray, a junior, are now starters.
In the secondary, Duke returns a starter at safety in redshirt junior Jeremy Cash. Young, talented players who made their marks as reserves last season — cornerbacks Bryon Fields and Breon Borders, along with safeties Deondre Singleton and DeVon Edwards — become starters.
“Those guys have a fresh swagger,” Brown said. “They came in thinking that they can’t be beaten. They stepped up and weren’t afraid of anybody. Those guys are going to come out and ball this year. I can’t wait to see it.”
If they do, and the rest of the defense follows suit, Duke just may cross another historical accomplishment off its list by winning a bowl game for the first time since the 1961 Cotton Bowl.