Show off your holiday lights and you could win an iPad! Enter your photo by December 13. Winner will be selected by popular vote.
The Blue Devils played in a bowl game for the first time since 1994, but faded down the stretch last season.
Mark Dolejs | US Presswire
Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell (6) breaks up a pass intended for Virginia receiver Kris Burd (left) during ACC action in 2010.
Thursday, August 1, 2013
When Duke reached its sixth win last year, beating rival North Carolina 33-30 on a late touchdown pass, it was a crowning achievement, one that ensured the Blue Devils would head to a bowl game for the first time since 1994.
“You feel like you’ve made it,” cornerback Ross Cockrell said. “When the standard for so long has been just getting to a bowl game and then you finally do it, you’re kind of like, ‘Oh, man. We’re here now. We’ve made it. We’ve arrived.’
“But in reality, we were nowhere close to arriving.”
That win on Oct. 20 would be their last. The Blue Devils lost five straight to finish the season. The most painful loss came in the game that was supposed to be the most enjoyable: the Belk Bowl.
Tied at 34 and on the verge of scoring a go-ahead touchdown with a little over a minute left, the Blue Devils instead somehow lost by 14 to Cincinnati — fumbling, giving up an 83-yard touchdown pass and a 55-yard pick six in the final 1:20.
“We did lose the last five games of the season,” Cockrell said. “We all know that. We understand that. And it’s not a good feeling.”
Head coach David Cutcliffe didn’t harp on the loss, however. For a team that had won four games total in the four years before he arrived, the veteran coach understood the importance of simply getting that far.
“It wasn’t frustration,” Cutcliffe said of the mood upon reconvening in the spring. “We knew we had gotten somewhere. We knew progress had been made.
“It was hunger. And I think the bottom line was I felt normal being able to prepare for a bowl game. Our team loved it. And it left you with wanting more, and that’s what you wanted to see. I don’t think I had to say a whole lot about that.”
Getting back to a bowl game — which would be a first for Duke — won’t be easy. Quarterback Sean Renfree, who threw for nearly 10,000 yards and 51 touchdowns in his career, is gone, making way for Anthony Boone, who brings a dual-threat capability to the offense.
But Cutcliffe, who coached Peyton Manning at Tennessee, has a reputation as a “quarterback whisperer.” And even though Conner Vernon, the ACC’s all-time leading receiver is gone, Boone will be able to throw to Jamison Crowder, who caught 76 passes for 1,074 yards last year.
The defense is a greater concern. A group that finished 10th or worse in the ACC in every major defensive statistical category last year will need to provide some sort of resistance if Duke hopes to get back to that six-win level.
The Blue Devils gave up 49.2 points and 585.4 yards per game in the final five contests. They gave up more plays of 20 or more yards (84) and 30 or more yards (50) than any team in the Football Bowl Subdivision last year.
“If we can limit it by planning to limit it, having a strategy to limit it, that will help us,” Cutcliffe said. “Because all defensive football really comes back to is PPG — points per game.”
Still, the Blue Devils were outgained by 140.4 yards per game, a gap larger than that of even woeful Boston College. So there was some good fortune that came along with Duke’s 3-5 league record that, without significant improvement, might be due for a regression this year.
That’s not stopping Duke from keeping its goals high, regardless of the public perception. Despite last year’s success, the Blue Devils were picked by the ACC media to finish in last place in the Coastal Division.
“I really want our team to understand that our expectations are far more important and should be far tougher than anyone else’s expectations,” Cutcliffe said.
Weather JournalComplexities of ice accretion