Cutcliffe ‘disappointed’ with play vs. Jackets
Upon further review, David Cutcliffe prefers a different word to describe his feelings about Duke’s lopsided loss to Georgia Tech on Saturday.
“I used the word that I was frustrated after the ballgame,” Cutcliffe said Tuesday. “That’s not accurate. I think more appropriately, and it’s bothered me since I said it, is that I was disappointed. I think frustration sounds like you may be sidetracked or detoured. I really have never been frustrated here.
“I’ve been disappointed a few times. There were a few things that were disappointing Saturday, but I’ve never been disappointed on our process.”
The disappointment did come from a 38-14 loss to Georgia Tech as the Blue Devils (2-1, 0-1 ACC) dropped their league opener before a crowd of 21,267. Cutcliffe and the players reiterated that point on Tuesday even while turning their attention toward another home ACC game, against Pittsburgh on Saturday (12:30 p.m., WRAL).
Quarterback Brandon Connette, starting his first game since Anthony Boone’s injury a week earlier at Memphis, absorbed much of the focus. The redshirt junior, who normally plays in short-yardage and goal-line situations, completed 15 of 28 passes for 122 yards.
Duke’s offense sputtered, converting only 3 of 14 third downs and punting nine times.
But Cutcliffe called Connette on Saturday night to reassure him that all of the blame doesn’t fall on him.
“It was certainly far from, ‘Well, Brandon didn’t produce,’” Cutcliffe said. “When you get a team where everyone loses confidence in the quarterback, you may be headed for a problem. But these guys go to Duke. They’re smart. They saw the same film I saw. You don’t lose confidence in Brandon Connette.
“Also, they know Brandon Connette. I’ll line up with Brandon Connette anytime because of who he is and how he’s going to respond to adversity. His teammates know that, too.”
Junior wide receiver Jamison Crowder, Duke’s top threat in the passing game this season, agrees that his group has some improving to do.
“As far as the receivers, it was not really sticking to the game plan — guys kind of doing their own thing,” Crowder said. “It was just something that (receivers coach Scottie Montgomery) always talks about — executing the game plan and paying attention to details as far as route running and blocking.”
Cutcliffe said the lack of crisp play was evident all over the field, not just when the Blue Devils had the ball.
“Our execution is the thing I guess I was most disappointed in,” Cutcliffe said. “We’re putting a premium on having to execute on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game.”
That said, there are crucial areas on offense that are getting attention as Connette adjusts to playing an entire game rather than for select plays. Nonverbal communication between receivers and the quarterback, which can be key to a play’s success or failure, can only be improved with shared playing time.
Connette admitted after the game that he doesn’t have as much experience throwing to first-team receivers such as Crowder. Players who split time with the first- and second-team units a year ago, such as Max McCaffrey, have a better comfort level.
“That’s the difference when a guy has not been your first-, second- and third-down player,” Cutcliffe said. “You see it in practice, and it’s not the same thing. It’s never going to be the same thing. Those are things that will still be a work-in-progress but that we are addressing and have been addressing in meetings since Sunday.”
Aiming to qualify for back-to-back bowl game appearances for the first time in school history, the Blue Devils remain confident even after absorbing such a one-sided loss.
“That game in no way represents who we are and what we are capable of doing,” Duke defensive end Kenny Anunike steadfastly said following the game on Saturday.
Another veteran Duke player, redshirt senior right tackle Perry Simmons, doesn’t think the loss set the Blue Devils back too far.
“It was very correctible things,” Simmons said. “It wasn’t a just a colossal meltdown. We just have to tighten up little things here and little things there. Plays that go for no gain will go for big yards.”