Six of one, half-dozen of another no longer cuts it for Duke
Getting to six wins last season marked a memorable accomplishment for Duke football since the program hadn’t had that many wins since 1994.
It made the Blue Devils bowl eligible for the first time in a generation.
Last Saturday’s 35-22 comeback win at Virginia puts Duke (5-2, 1-2 in ACC) on the precipice of repeating the feat.
With that in mind, Duke’s captains and veteran players led a players-only meeting Tuesday as the Blue Devils prepared for a game at No.16 Virginia Tech on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ESPNU).
“This is about our goals besides just making a bowl game,” said Duke quarterback Anthony Boone, of the team’s four captains along with Dave Harding, Justin Foxx and Ross Cockrell.
“We are preparing for a very good Virginia Tech team, one of the best defensive teams in the country. We don’t want to go out there and say `Let’s take this loss and look past them.’ We want to beat everyone on our schedule.”
History is against the Blue Devils, as it so often is on the football field.
Duke’s last win over a top-25 team came on Nov. 5, 1994 against Virginia. The Blue Devils haven’t defeated Virginia Tech since 1981, dropping the last 12 meetings.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe said the team’s leaders checked with him before going ahead with their players-only meeting. His response was “that’s awesome.”
The Blue Devils have won 11 of their last 20 games, dating back to last season. That caused Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer to tell reporters in Blacksburg, Va., on Monday that “this isn’t the same Duke team of four or five years ago.”
Still, Cutcliffe knows his players need to be at their best against the talented Hokies (6-1, 3-0).
“We have to perform at a high level to be in the game,” Cutcliffe said. “The players have to make a decision to compete at the highest level for 60 minutes.”
Hence, the veterans wanting to drive that point home to the rest of the team.
“This is a big game for our program,” Boone said. “It’s on the road. We wanted to talk to the guys. If you want to win this game, you have to be serious about it.”
The Blue Devils are aware of last season, when they claimed that sixth win on Oct. 20 and proceeded to lose their final five games and finish 6-7.
Duke’s schedule certainly contributed to that losing streak as games with ACC champion Florida State, Atlantic Division runner-up Clemson and Coastal Division champion Georgia Tech were included in that season-ending stretch.
With that said, the Blue Devils want to take a different mindset into the regular season’s final games.
“We got to that sixth win last year and we didn’t win any more,” Duke junior wide receiver Jamison Crowder said. “At the end of the season we were disappointed about that. This year coming back we have pretty much the same team. We can get to that sixth win and hopefully win some more games. That’s the goal. Win eight or nine games if we can.”
Linebacker Kelby Brown, who has been Duke’s leading tackler in three games this season, agreed that six isn’t the biggest number of wins the Blue Devils are focused on.
“To be honest, I don’t think people on our team are worried just about our sixth win,” Brown said. “Right now we have much higher goals. This week is one more win. We have five games left and we are trying to win every one. Another win would get us bowl eligibility but we’re hunting bigger things than that.”
While wide receiver Jamison Crowder enjoyed last December’s Belk Bowl in Charlotte despite the 48-34 loss to Cincinnati, he knows the Blue Devils have to keep striving for more.
“Going to the bowl game last year, that was a good experience,” Crowder said. “Getting six wins. So we are definitely trying to build on that. We definitely don’t want to take any steps back. We want to keep building up.”