Duke coach David Cutcliffe talked throughout August about his young players and the impact he expected them to make once the season started.
On Saturday night against overmatched N.C. Central, the youngsters put their talents on display in a college football game for the first time and backed up Cutcliffe’s confidence.
In a 60-7 shellacking of the Eagles, 21 Duke freshmen saw their first game experience. Ten of them were first-year freshman, including starting defensive end Victor Dimukeje (pronounced dim-OO-kah-jay).
“He’ll make the all-name team, probably,” Cutcliffe joked.
But, seriously, Cutcliffe liked how Dimukeje and fellow freshman defensive end Drew Jordan impacted the game positively.
Dimukeje had four tackles, including 1.5 sacks for 1.5 tackles for loss. Jordan had two tackles and was credited with half a sack.
“He and Drew Jordan,” Cutcliffe said, “is they’ve come in and they’ve competed from day one. They are physically gifted kids, but they didn’t wait to compete. If they will just keep that mentality, they’ve got an opportunity to really grow as young players.”
Duke played six first-year freshmen on defense: safeties Michael Carter II and Marquis Waters, defensive tackles Axel Nyembwe and Derrick Tangelo plus Dimukeje and Jordan.
On offense, running back Deon Jackson and guard Rakavius Chambers made their debuts. Tight end Noah Gray caught three passes for 31 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown pass.
“I think when you look at our redshirt freshman and freshman classes,” Cutcliffe said, “it’s a pretty special group going forward. Hopefully they will stay healthy and things will go well.”
What can Brown do for Duke? Plenty
Of the 11 redshirt freshman who played their first games at Duke, running back Brittain Brown had the most impressive night.
Brown rushed for a team-best 120 yards on just 10 carries, including a 39-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
Duke’s coaching staff liked what they saw from Brown last season and decided to hold him out of games even though he could have helped the Blue Devils.
“I couldn’t ask for better lanes or better holes,” Brown said. “My o-line was just cutting it up for me. I had a good time running out there. I really didn’t have to juke the defenders much. I just used my speed to run on them.”
Senior Shaun Wilson is Duke’s starting running back and Cutcliffe, while admitting Brown has talent, said nothing changed that fact on Saturday night.
But Duke has always used multiple running backs to keep a fresher player on the field. Wilson and Brown give the Blue Devils two fast running backs behind redshirt sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones.
“Since he’s been here, he really runs hard,” Cutcliffe said of Brown. “His change of direction, for a big guy, I think he surprises people with his feet and his quickness. His short space quickness is really good.”
Kicking game better, but still not good enough
In addition to his normal punting duties, Austin Parker handled all of Duke’s place-kicking duties and the majority of the kickoffs.
After AJ Reed made just 3 of 10 field goals in 2016, Cutcliffe is demanding better results.
Parker made his only field-goal attempt, taking on three points from 32 yards out. He also made seven of eight extra points. Yes, he missed one in the third quarter when he sent the ball off the left upright.
“I was disappointed,” Cutcliffe said. “The first thing that’s going to pop into my mind is missing an extra point. That’s an ongoing thing we will evaluate.”
Redshirt freshman Ben Wyatt and third-string quarterback Parker Boehme were the long snapper and holder. Their play pleased Cutcliffe.
“The snap-hold all night was really good,” Cutcliffe said. “For the most part we place-kicked the ball well. But you can’t miss extra points. We all know that costs people football games. All the time.”
Graduate transfer walk-on William Holmquist, kicked well enough in preseason that Cutcliffe said he would be comfortable using him in games. But Holmquist, who has three seasons of college football kicking experience at Division III Tufts, didn’t get any opportunities against NCCU.