Despite 58-55 Pitt loss, Duke 'D' upbeat as Troy comes to town

Sep. 27, 2013 @ 10:31 PM

It would be easy, and some say expected, for Duke’s defensive players to be a bit down this week.

The Blue Devils scored 55 points last Saturday, but Pittsburgh put up 58 to win the second-highest scoring football game in ACC history.

That performance came as Duke is dealing with the loss of starting quarterback Anthony Boone to a broken clavicle and while two starting safeties — Corbin McCarthy and Dwayne Norman — are dealing with leg injuries serious enough for them to miss playing time.

As Duke coach David Cutcliffe and his staff set about working with the beleaguered defense in preparation for a non-conference game with Troy today (3 p.m., ESPN3.com), he found the team’s attitude to be far from downtrodden.

“I don’t think it’s dampened our spirits,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s probably the most encouraging thing that I’ve seen. It’s still relatively early in a season. I’m anxious to see how we take the challenge. I really am anxious to see if we come out and play with the enthusiasm and the fire that I expect us to. That’s what I’m looking for the most is if we can put great passion and energy into what we are doing.”

The Blue Devils (2-2, 0-2 in ACC) started the season off in strong fashion against non-conference foes. Duke posted wins over N.C. Central, 45-0, and Memphis, 28-14.

Things got rougher once ACC play arrived two weeks ago. A 38-14 loss to Georgia Tech, in the first game after Boone was sidelined was followed by last week’s loss to Pittsburgh in a game Cutcliffe called the most bizarre in his long coaching career.

After opening the season with those two strong performances, Duke’s defense has had trouble stopping teams the last two weeks. After allowing just one touchdown overall in the first two games, the defense has seen Georgia Tech and Pitt combine for 10 touchdown passes over the last two weeks.

Duke redshirt senior defensive lineman Sydney Sarmiento said the defense isn’t letting the last two weeks negatively impact its preparation for the rest of the season.

“Just put it behind you,” Sarmiento said. “That’s all you can do. There is no sense in moping about what happened the last two weeks. Every week is different. We have to learn from the mistakes. That’s all you can do.”

Senior defensive end Kenny Anunike, a sixth-year player, said flexibility is a big lesson for the team. The adaptation to a different style must come quicker and smoother.

“It just shows us that we have to be able to change gears on a moment’s basis,” Anunike said. “Playing a Georgia Tech that played spread-option offense to going to playing hard-nosed traditional football where Pitt is just trying to pound the ball down our throats. We have to switch gears.”

Any success Duke’s defense had against Pitt came in the second half, after the Panthers had scored 37 over the first two quarters. Pitt only had two second-half touchdowns against Duke’s defense. The final score came on an interception return.

“I think we just finally woke up,” Anunike said. “We came out find of flat. But in that second half we were like `This is a game we can win and know we should win.’ We changed our mentality.”

The Blue Devils know that mentality change, and the accompanying physical actions, must be foremost the rest of the season — starting today against Troy.