Blue Devils look to end, continue streaks vs. Memphis
It’s been the job of Duke’s current players to end the ugly streaks the program has built up over the past couple decades of mostly futile football.
The Blue Devils were in a bowl a year ago for the first time since 1994. They beat Wake Forest for the first time since 1999 and beat North Carolina at home for the first time since 1988.
A week ago, Duke opened the season with a 45-0 win over N.C. Central, the program’s first shutout since 1989 and the first shutout win at Wallace Wade Stadium since 1978.
When the Blue Devils play at Memphis today (4:30 p.m., ESPN3), they will be looking to start a season 2-0 for the first time since 1998.
“This is another thing we can try to accomplish,” Duke redshirt senior cornerback Ross Cockrell said. “That’s what we’re going after.”
This will be the third time in four seasons that Cockrell is part of a Duke team seeking an elusive 2-0 start.
In 2010, the Blue Devils opened with a 41-27 win over Elon before losing at Wake Forest 54-48 in week 2.
A year ago, Duke manhandled 46-26 Florida International in the season opener before traveling west and losing at Stanford 50-13.
This season, Duke again hits the road after an easy week one win. While Memphis is far from a top-10 team like Stanford was last year, the Tigers still present challenges for the Blue Devils.
Duke beat Memphis 38-14 a year ago while the Tigers were starting the season 1-8. Memphis got better, winning its final three games to finish with a 4-8 record.
“Really, the majority of their team returns,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “I think certainly the strength of their team will be their defensive front. A year ago, at times, they were difficult to deal with. They’re certainly a year older and better.
“You can tell, reading between the lines, that they’ve done a good job there and they expect to be better.”
One person who is new is Memphis’ starting quarterback, redshirt freshman Paxton Lynch. In a training-camp battle, Lynch won the starting job over redshirt senior Jacob Karam.
Since Memphis is opening its season today, no game film is available of Lynch for the Duke staff to study. Instead, Cutcliffe said, he found some footage of Lynch as a high school player in Florida.
Still, Cutcliffe said, Memphis improved its offense a year ago when it became more committed to running the ball. That means Duke’s defensive line, which played well against NCCU, will be need to come up strong again.
“They’re physical,” Cutcliffe said. “They’ve got some backs that are good backs — strong, but really quick.”
Duke defensive end Kenny Anunike, a sixth-year senior, has seen the Blue Devils slowly get better under Cutcliffe. His group is relishing the shutout streak ending and is ready to end another bad streak today.
“We’re on our way now, but we’ve got to keep working,” Anunike said.
With every streak that ends, Duke’s players revel in another positive step the program takes under Cutcliffe.
“Little things like that are just showing how he has changed this program so much,” Duke tight end Braxton Deaver said “We’re just steadily climbing and climbing.”