Cutcliffe: Win proves Duke has earned 'relevance'
For a program without a winning record since 1994, Duke appreciates its football victories both large and small in stature.
Saturday’s thrilling 35-22 comeback win at Virginia will resonate on all fronts as Duke plays the rest of a season that contains plenty of promise.
Erasing a 22-0 deficit on the road, and scoring 18 fourth-quarter points to grab the victory, shows Duke (5-2, 1-2 in ACC) isn’t a program to be ignored any longer.
“It’s very difficult to win on the road in the ACC,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “But it’s extremely difficult to go down 22-0 and come back and win by 13 points. I think our guys believe that we belong. Quite frankly, we were an irrelevant football program in this league. I think they realize they’ve earned relevance. I don’t know what else we’ve learned but we have earned relevance.”
In the eight seasons prior to Cutcliffe’s arrival in 2008, Duke won 10 games — total.
With the win over Virginia, the Blue Devils are 11-9 in their last 20 games.
Cutcliffe opines that that record, even with a five-game losing streak mixed into those 20 games at the end of last season, has changed his team’s mindset.
“I think it’s won enough,” Cutcliffe said. “It may not sound like much to some people but that’s the beginning of starting to believe you should win. Not can. There is a big difference. When you start believing you should win, then you start winning. This ‘can’ stuff is bull. It’s Durham Bull City bull. I’ve never liked that. Yes, of course you can win, but I hope we’re believing we should win. Then you can make comebacks.”
That happened on Saturday, even after the Blue Devils looked discombobulated over the first quarter and most of the second while falling behind.
But suddenly, Duke’s play — and its fortunes — turned on a dime and the stirring rally was on.
“We have a lot of competitors,” Duke quarterback Anthony Boone said, “a lot of gamers who don’t want to just lay down and take no for an answer. It’s a good stamp for our program and we look forward to moving forward.”
Last year’s Blue Devils made their mark on history by ending Duke’s 18-year drought from postseason bowl play. But the 48-34 loss to Cincinnati left Duke with a losing record at 6-7.
With five games to play this season, the 5-2 Blue Devils need only win one more to ensure a return to a bowl game. It would be the first time Duke has played in bowl games in consecutive seasons.
Duke needs two wins to claim its first winning record since 1994.
Those are the goals in front of the Blue Devils, and well within their reach, as they head on the road again next weekend to play at No. 19 Virginia Tech (6-1) on Saturday (3:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net South).
Cutcliffe said his team overcoming adversity to win at Virginia cemented lessons for his players. No matter with the opponents do, Duke can and should do more.
“Our guys are learning and this is a fact,” Cutcliffe said. “They are going to make plays. You just have to make more plays. It’s a 60-minute game and you just keep playing. If you plan is good and your preparation is good you are going to get a feel for an offense after you see them for a while.”
Heading on the road to face the Coastal Division-leading Hokies is a tall task. Duke has home games with N.C. State and Miami and then closes the regular season with ACC games at Wake Forest and North Carolina.
Saturday’s win makes a big season possible.
“Now let’s see what we can build on it from here,” Cutcliffe said.