Duke football notebook

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The Duke football team has a short turnaround this week, preparing for a 7 p.m. Friday kickoff against No. 14 Miami. Live television coverage as the Blue Devils look for their first 5-0 start since 1994 will be provided by ESPN.

MORE THAN FOOTBALL

For the 10th consecutive year, Duke’s football coaches will display their support of the Coach to Cure MD program, which will be held during games Friday and Saturday, September 29 and 30.

“This is the annual Coach to Cure MD Weekend, so coaches all over the country will be participating,” head coach David Cutcliffe said to open his Tuesday press conference. “This has been pretty long standing tradition. I’ve met a lot of young people who have suffered from MD. We will have two or three families who we have met who will be at Friday’s game.”

On the weekend of September 29-30, American Football Coaches Association members will wear the traditional Coach to Cure MD logo patch on the sidelines and college football fans will be asked to donate to research projects supported by Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD), the largest, most comprehensive nonprofit organization in the U.S. focused entirely on Duchenne. Many of those games will recognize a local Duchenne family on the field before or during the game.

Football fans can help support the fight to end Duchenne by either going online to www.CoachtoCureMD.org or by texting the word CURE to 50555 to make a $10 donation in honor of this year's anniversary.

A NATIONAL AUDIENCE

Friday’s game will be nationally televised at 7 p.m. on ESPN. It will be Duke’s first game of the season on the primary ESPN network after having two on ESPNU.

“It’s awesome knowing we’re 7 p.m. on ESPN,” redshirt senior center Austin Davis said. “We’re the primetime game on Friday night. On this field we get to showcase our talent to the world. That’s an awesome thing. It makes it even better playing a team that is as talented as Miami, a team that was predicted to do very well in the ACC Coastal. That’s just a great thing for us.”

Redshirt senior cornerback Bryon Fields Jr. also looks forward to the opportunity Friday will present.

“It will be a lot of fun,” Fields Jr. said. “Friday night on ESPN. You couldn’t ask for a better time to showcase who we are as a program and as a team. It will be a great challenge for us.”

The Miami contest will be the second straight season playing on a Friday night as the Blue Devils traveled to No. 7 Louisville on October 14, 2016. Prior to last year against the Cardinals, Duke had not played on a Friday night since traveling to North Carolina on November 26, 1993.

“You definitely want it to be one of your better games,” sophomore cornerback Mark Gilbert said. “There are going to be a lot of people watching. It’s big time.”

Since 1936, Duke has played on just four Friday nights. This will be the first at home.

A QUICK TURNAROUND

Playing on Friday provides the national spotlight, but it also shifts Duke’s practice schedule to prepare for Miami.

“We’ve had two practices because it’s a short week,” Davis said. “I like that. It’s a quick turnaround and it is fun. We get on that field quicker and get to play another opponent. That makes it fun.”

Gilbert says the work in the film room is extra important during a shortened week.

“Preparation throughout the week is key,” he said. “Our defense is very confident. Watching film, knowing what the team’s plan is – we come into the game very well prepared. All the credit goes to the coaches.”

“There’s a little less rest,” Fields Jr. said of the changes to this week’s schedule. “We normally get Mondays off, but worked this one, andSunday. We’re dialing it down a little here later in the week so it’s starting to feel like a normal week. It’s not too much different.”

Cutcliffe is well aware of the importance of recovery during the short week to get ready to go again Friday night.

“I think our minds are in the right place,” the head coach said. “We just have to make sure our bodies are. You always are taxed during the season after a game so it’s very important we do a good job resting and eating properly.”

BRANDNER RECEIVES GOOD WORKS TEAM AWARD

Late last week, Duke redshirt senior offensive tackle Gabe Brandner was named to the 2017 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team®, which honors dedication to volunteerism and enriching the lives of others.

“It’s an awesome award,” Brandner said. “Coach Cutcliffe told me about it last week during practice. It’s awesome that football has given a lot of us a platform to do community service. I’m very thankful for what football has allowed me to do. It’s something I’m very passionate about.”

Brandner, a recipient of a 2017 ACC Top 6 for Service honor for excellence in community service, has been extremely involved with the local community, serving with the Lideres Unidos Futbol Club, National Inclusion Project, Habitat for Humanity and Kid’s Club in Oxford Manor.

“I think our work with Habitat for Humanity this summer definitely reflects our efforts to focus more on the community and reaching outside just the university,” Brandner said.

Brandner is the ninth Duke player to earn the prestigious honor and sixth in the last six years, joining DeVon Edwards (2016), Kelby Brown(2015), Laken Tomlinson (2014), Dave Harding (2013), Sean Renfree (2012), Bryan Morgan (2010), Re’quan Boyette (2008) and Zaid Abdul-Aleem (1994).

ADVERSITY HANDLED

Trailing 17-13 entering the fourth quarter Saturday in Chapel Hill, the Blue Devil offense kicked into gear with senior running back Shaun Wilson scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a one-yard plunge into the end zone.

“We take a lot of pride in battling adversity,” Brandner said. “I think that was the focus this summer with our conditioning, battling through adverse situations. Our coaches definitely put us through the wringer this season to be ready for moments like that.”

A FAMILIAR OPPONENT

Now that Duke is in the ACC portion of the season, the Blue Devils are very familiar with the majority of their remaining opponents.

“They were the last team we played last year, so there’s a familiarity,” Davis said. “Last year, they were a young team. I know within their front seven, predominantly all of them are coming back. So it’s a team we faced recently and has a lot of guys back up front. We’re very familiar with who they are. It almost feels like it was just yesterday that we were watching their film from 2016.”

Fields Jr. appreciates the continuity in Miami’s coaching staff as he prepares, but knows the Hurricanes are a talented group.

“It’s the same system so that helps, but the personnel is a little different,” Fields Jr. said. “This is probably the best team we have played thus far. They’re really talented. We just have to continue studying film and do what we do.”

One name on the Miami squad that is very familiar to Cutcliffe is Mark Walton, the Hurricanes’ top running back.

“He is just a tremendous football player,” Cutcliffe said. “He is fiercely competitive running the ball and plays fast. He is decisive as a runner and his acceleration in a three or four-yard space is explosive. He explodes through holes and comes out the other side sometimes untouched. He is an outstanding player. He can break tackles and outrun you. You don’t really see any weakness. He is a big-time player.”

DUKE OFFENSE MAKING STRIDES

Through four games, Duke has scored 162 points, tied for the second most in program history. The Blue Devils have totaled 20 touchdowns this season (5.00 TD/game), tied for second in the ACC behind only Clemson’s 21 TDs.

Brandner and his offensive line play a key role in the success of the unit and keeping redshirt sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones running the operation smoothly.

“As an offensive line, we’re pretty well coached up on our assignment,” Brandner said. “We have to keep mixing our pass protections. That helps keep Daniel up. If we keep No. 17 clean, we can do some good things. He’s got a season under his belt and he’s playing at a level that’s winning us a lot of ball games. It’s encouraging from an offensive line perspective knowing that you have a great leader back there. It’s fun playing with Daniel back there.”

Cutcliffe also notes the production of the running back group. Duke has 11 rushing touchdowns this season, tied for the 17th most in the country.

“Running is always the best way to score because the field gets minimized in the passing game,” Cutcliffe said. “I tell people all the time that you better thank players, not plays. I believe in either packing it in or spreading it out in the red zone. I have believed that for years. When we can do a little of both and run the ball, we’re better.”

Brandner Named Semifinalist for 2017 Campbell Trophy

IRVING, Texas – Duke redshirt senior offensive tackle Gabe Brandner has been named a semifinalist for the 2017 William V. Campbell Trophy, the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame (NFF) announced Wednesday.

The award recognizes an individual as the absolute best football scholar-athlete in the nation. The NFF will announce 12-14 finalists on Nov. 1, and each of them will receive an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship as a member of the 2017 NFF National Scholar-Athlete Class, presented by Fidelity. One of the finalists will be named the winner of the William V. Campbell Trophy at the 60th NFF Annual Awards Dinner on December 5 in New York City, and his postgraduate scholarship will be increased to $25,000.

In December of 2014, Duke won the first William V. Campbell Trophy in program history as former linebacker David Helton took home the prestigious honor.

Brandner, a 6-6, 285-pound Blythewood, S.C., native has helped Duke’s offense to a quick start in 2017 as the Blue Devils have scored 162 points through the first four games of the year, tied for the second most through four contests in program history. He has the Duke offense clicking, surpassing 200 rushing yards and 200 passing yards in each of the first two games of the year. Against Northwestern the Blue Devils converted 15-of-22 (.682) third downs, the most by a David Cutcliffe team at Duke.

In the classroom, Brandner graduated from Duke in May, 2017 with a degree in evolutionary anthropology and a minor in chemistry and a final grade point average of 3.637. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in liberal studies. A two-time Academic All-ACC selection, Brandner was also a first team CoSIDA Academic All-District III selection in 2015.

Brandner, a recipient of a 2017 ACC Top 6 for Service honor for excellence in community service, has been extremely involved with the local community, serving with the Lideres Unidos Futbol Club, National Inclusion Project, Habitat for Humanity and Kid’s Club in Oxford Manor. Last week, he was named to the 2017 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team®.

“These 181 impressive candidates truly represent the scholar-athlete ideal,” said NFF Chairman Archie Manning whosesons Peyton (Campbell Trophy®winner) and Eli were named NFF National Scholar-Athletes in 1997 and 2003, respectively. “It is important for us to showcase their success on the football field, in the classroom and in the community. This year’s semifinalists further illustrate the power of our great sport in developing the next generation of influential leaders.”

Named in honor of the late Bill Campbell, former chairman of Intuit, former player and head coach at Columbia University and the 2004 recipient of the NFF’s Gold Medal, the Campbell Trophy® is a 25-pound bronze trophy and increases the amount of the recipient’s grant by $7,000 for a total postgraduate scholarship of $25,000, which is endowed by HealthSouth. This year’s postgraduate scholarships will push the program’s all-time distribution to more than $11.3 million. Since 2013, the Campbell Trophy® has been prominently displayed inside its official home at the New York Athletic Club.

“The NFF would like to personally congratulate each of the nominees as well as their schools and coaches on their tremendous accomplishments,” said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. “We are extremely proud to highlight each semifinalist’s achievements, showcasing their ability to balance academics and athletics at the highest level. The NFF Awards Committee will have an incredibly difficult task in selecting the finalists from this outstanding group of candidates.”

Nominated by their schools, which are limited to one nominee each, candidates for the awards must be a senior or graduate student in their final year of playing eligibility, have a GPA of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale, have outstanding football ability as a first team player or significant contributor and have demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship. The class is selected each year by the NFF Awards Committee, which is comprised of a nationally recognized group of media, College Football Hall of Famers and athletics administrators.

Launched in 1959, the NFF National Scholar-Athlete Awards program became the first initiative in history to award postgraduate scholarships based on both a player’s academic and athletic accomplishments, and it has recognized 828 outstanding individuals since its inception. The Campbell Trophy®, first awarded in 1990, adds to the program’s prestige, having previously honored two Rhodes Scholars, a Rhodes Scholar finalist, two Heisman Trophy winners and five first-round NFL draft picks.

In 2011, the NFF and Fidelity Investments launched a multi-year initiative between the two organizations to celebrate the scholar-athlete ideal and a joint commitment to higher education. As part of the initiative, Fidelity became the first presenting sponsor of the NFF National Scholar-Athlete Awards program. In 2014, Fidelity became the presenting sponsor of the Campbell Trophy®.

Fidelity also helped launch the NFF Faculty Salutes, which recognize the contributions of the faculty athletics representatives at each of the institutions with an NFF National Scholar-Athlete. As part of the initiative, the NFF presents each of the faculty representatives with a plaque, and Fidelity donates $5,000 for the academic support services at each school with a total of $440,000 distributed from 2011-16.

The past recipients of The William V. Campbell Trophy® include: Air Force’s Chris Howard (1990); Florida’s Brad Culpepper (1991); Colorado’s Jim Hansen (1992); Virginia’s Thomas Burns (1993); Nebraska’s Rob Zatechka (1994); Ohio State’s Bobby Hoying (1995); Florida’s Danny Wuerffel (1996); Tennessee’s Peyton Manning (1997); Georgia’s Matt Stinchcomb (1998); Marshall’s Chad Pennington(1999); Nebraska’s Kyle Vanden Bosch (2000); Miami (Fla.)’s Joaquin Gonzalez (2001); Washington University in St. Louis (Mo.)’sBrandon Roberts (2002); Ohio State’s Craig Krenzel (2003); Tennessee’s Michael Munoz (2004); LSU’s Rudy Niswanger (2005); Rutgers’Brian Leonard (2006); Texas’ Dallas Griffin (2007); California’s Alex Mack (2008); Florida’s Tim Tebow (2009); Texas’ Sam Acho (2010); Army West Point’s Andrew Rodriguez (2011); Alabama’s Barrett Jones (2012); Penn State’s John Urschel (2013); Duke’s Helton (2014); Oklahoma’s Ty Darlington (2015); and Western Michigan’s Zach Terrell (2016).

Could Duke quarterback Daniel Jones be the next Philip Rivers?

Chip Alexander, Raleigh News & Observer

CHAPEL HILL - Here’s a thought to ponder: Could Daniel Jones be Duke’s Philip Rivers?

There are similarities, and it goes beyond that number on the jersey — No. 17 — and that they’re both 6-5 and 225 pounds.

Both had quarterback gurus to coach them as college freshmen, which is invaluable if they’re going to be asked to be a starting quarterback in the ACC.

Rivers came to N.C. State in 2000 and immediately fell under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Norm Chow, a quarterback Svengali. Chow’s former pupils included BYU’s Steve Young and Ty Detmer, and he later had Carson Palmer when he was the offensive coordinator at Southern Cal. Rivers only had Chow for a year, but it was an important year in his development.

Jones has Duke coach David Cutcliffe. Mention Cutcliffe and you think of Peyton and Eli Manning. He has long been their mentor and few coaches know more about in intricacies of quarterback play than Coach Cut.

As freshmen, both Rivers and Jones beat their schools’ top rival — North Carolina. That always endears you to the fan base.

In 2000, in a memorable game, Rivers ran for a touchdown, threw a touchdown pass and also caught a touchdown pass in a 38-20 win at Kenan Stadium. A year ago, Jones accounting for three touchdowns, passing for one and running for two, in a 28-27 victory.

Rivers never missed a start at N.C. State, playing 51 consecutive games. He was named the 2003 ACC player of the year and took the Pack to an 11-win season in 2002 and four straight bowls.

Jones also has proven his durability at Duke. His game Saturday at North Carolina is his 16th straight.

Jones won’t go to four bowls — Duke was 4-8 last year. He may have the potential to be ACC player of the year and could carry the Blue Devils to some big seasons. A lot of Duke’s football future may ride with him.

Both are studious types, preparing well for games. Both make good decisions in the pocket, although Jones, like Rivers at NCSU, tends to hang on to the ball too long at times under pressure, trying to make a play.

There are some differences. Rivers is a more accurate passer, even with the sidearm sling, and Jones a better runner.

Then there’s the NFL. We all know what Rivers has done. It’s up to Jones to prove he deserves to make that leap, that the similarities with Rivers don’t end after college football.

O-Line Success

Jim Sumner, GoDuke the Magazine

Austin Davis has played center for three years in high school and most of his four seasons at Duke. The redshirt senior starts every play with the football in his hands.

Then he gives it up, and never gets it back.

Davis has never scored a touchdown in high school or college, never caught a pass, never run with the ball.

At least Davis gets to touch the ball. His offensive line cohorts may fall on a fumble once every season or two, even more rarely recover one in the end zone for a touchdown.

But most of the time an offensive lineman hears his number announced in a game only when an official singles him out for a hold or a false start. Offensive linemen are the only group of athletes in major American team sports without a statistical history.

And that’s fine with them.

“If you have an ego, it’s tough to be an offensive lineman, because you don’t have those stats, you don’t have that praise,” Davis says. “We’re selfless players and we don’t get the glory and that’s okay with us. We care about each other and we care about the team.”

Davis says offensive linemen are a different breed.

“When you’re growing up, not a lot of people want to be an offensive lineman. I wanted to be a quarterback. But when your body type pushes you there, it kind of fits. It’s not the most glorious thing but I love it because of the camaraderie.”

That camaraderie starts off the field.

“If we want to be close on the football field, we need to be close off the field,” Davis explains. “When stuff starts getting hard, if you have a relationship with that guy off the field, then you can trust him on the field. We’re a bunch of guys that just want to have fun. Every offensive line I’ve ever been a part of has been close-knit. We’re almost a team within a team. You always know that you have four other guys with you. That’s a cool feeling because there is no glory but I love seeing Daniel Jones score a touchdown, I love seeing all our wonderful skill players score because I know I had a part in it. I’m not an athlete. I can never do what they do. So, I don’t mind doing the dirty work because I know that as long as we’re winning, I’m a happy guy. Offensive linemen have a team mentality.”

Redshirt junior guard Zach Harmon agrees.

“Since my freshman year, we’ve had an offensive group, we call it the bro-line. I like to say it’s the most close-knit position group at Duke. It’s like a chain link — if one link is weak, it affects the whole group. That bonding and understanding and trust is key.”

Davis is the party planner, getting the bro-line together for cookouts, trips to the donut shop or ice cream parlor, usually on Thursdays. Davis says his roommate, left tackle Gabe Brandner, knows his way around a grill and notes that “food brings people together and food will definitely bring offensive linemen together.”

Harmon says that leadership is invaluable.

“Austin’s a great leader. He approaches every guy differently, because we know each other so well. He understands the offense, not just the line but the whole scheme. He’s a great resource for us all.”

Of course, there are lots of close-knit groups that can’t block 300-pound defensive linemen. The bro-line has to produce on the field.

The early returns are promising. Davis, Brandner and Harmon are returning starters. Brandner plays left tackle and has fully recovered from an ankle injury that kept him out of spring ball.

Harmon may be Duke’s most versatile lineman. A natural center, he practices at both guard and center and is listed as Davis’ backup.

“Coach (Marcus) Johnson does a great job of making sure that if something happens to someone on the first team, we have the pieces to fill in,” Harmon says. “It challenges me when I go to guard. Being at center you need to know the calls at each position on the line. You understand what everyone needs to do. That helps me at guard.”

Davis, Brandner, and Harmon had the traditional career arc, redshirting a year, getting on the field as redshirt freshmen and gradually moving up the depth chart.

The other two starters are a bit different.

Left guard Julian Santos last year became the first recruited offensive lineman to play as a true freshman for David Cutcliffe at Duke. Walk-on freshman center Alex Gourley also played three snaps last season against Northwestern, and true freshman Rakavius Chambers — he goes by “Rock” — is second-team guard this year.

Cutcliffe says playing true freshmen is a result of better recruiting. “When you sign people good enough to play, you play them.”

Playing true freshmen might be the wave of the future, but Evan Lisle may not be a paradigm changer. Lisle is Duke’s starting right tackle. He began his career at Ohio State but graduated last season, with a year of eligibility left. Lisle approached Duke about finishing his career in Durham.

Duke was receptive. Injuries had prematurely ended the careers of a couple of offensive linemen, while several veterans had not made a compelling case to be on the field.

“A hole developed,” Cutcliffe says. “Evan Lisle helped answer that. When you have some guys who can’t finish their careers, it just kind of happens like that, you can’t fix it in just one year. I’ve never been a big transfer guy and I never will be, but guys have sought us out for the right reasons and they’re our kind of people.”

Harmon says the 310-pound Lisle is Duke’s most physical lineman, and Lisle was named the ACC offensive lineman of the week after Duke’s 41-17 win over Northwestern.

But he’s hardly the only physical lineman. Cutcliffe says the entire team made a commitment to be more physical this season.

Davis embraces the move.

“You see it every day in practice, offense versus defense, because we know if we put in the effort in practice, it will pay off on Saturdays. We have to be hungry because it starts in the trenches and we feel like we have to win every play.”

Harmon adds another wrinkle: “We’ve always had a great attention to detail, a great focus on the little things.”

Cutcliffe likes what he’s seen in the early going.

“They’ve been better at camp than at any time last year,” he said after the season-opening 60-7 win over North Carolina Central. “They’ve worked very hard, taking a big challenge in the weight room. They’re stronger. Coach Johnson has driven those guys every day in practice to do everything better.”

Cutcliffe wants to build depth on the offensive line. Chambers helps with that, along with fifth-year senior tackle Sterling Korona, guard Zach Baker and touted redshirt freshman tackle Robert Kraeling.

Davis says last season’s 4-8 mark left a bad taste in a lot of mouths.

“We’re ahead of where we were last year because of our mentality. We’re playing with a chip on our shoulder because none of us wants to stay home again in December and watch all those bowl games.”

Offensive lines may be anonymous. But that’s hardly the same as being unimportant. General Robert Neyland, the great coach of yesteryear at Tennessee, famously said that “touchdowns follow blocking as sure as night follows day.”

Duke’s 2017 success will depend in large part on those blocks leading to touchdowns — something that happened 14 times in Duke’s 3-0 start to the season.

A Quick Start for Brown

John Roth, GoDuke the Magazine

One of the most highly-regarded recruiting prospects in recent Duke history spent his first season of college football behind the scenes, away from public scrutiny. But running back Brittan Brown made a favorable first impression on those who shared his cloistered environment last autumn. As a scout-teamer in a live scrimmage session against the first-stringers, he returned a kickoff the length of the field for a touchdown that several Blue Devil veterans still recall in wonderment.

“It was like, who is this guy?” said wide-eyed receiver Johnathan Lloyd. “We couldn’t wait to get him on the field.”

Head coach David Cutcliffe did wait, though, struggling at first with the thought of redshirting a four-star talent who was ranked the No. 18 running back in the country. But after September passed, the temptation to play Brown diminished and the expectation grew that he would be a more complete player when his turn finally came in 2017.

And that is exactly how Brown’s early playing days unfolded. In the season-opener against N.C. Central, the rookie rushed for 120 yards on only 10 carries as the Blue Devils whipped the Eagles 60-7. He became the first freshman to post a 100-yard debut since hometown hero Desmond Scott rambled for exactly 100 vs. NCCU in 2009. The only previous Duke freshman to run for more in his first appearance was B.J. Hill at 121 vs. Western Carolina in 1998.

“Now everybody else gets a chance to see what he can do,” Lloyd noted a few days afterward. “It’s great to see him out there making plays. We’re going to count on him a lot this year.”

The biggest play Brown made in his first game was a 39-yard touchdown run during which he was barely touched by defenders, swerving around them like they were so many crimson gates on an alpine slalom course. He did that one better in his third contest, vs. Baylor, when he ripped through the heart of the Bears’ defense and three would-be tacklers for a 34-yard score, slipping out of an ankle grab with a determined dive at the goal line. He contributed 86 rushing yards in that game, and added another 71 on pass receptions that included a 40-yard bomb.

Running back coach Re’quan Boyette’s training camp plaudits of Brown’s versatility suddenly looked more than prescient.

“He can run in between the tackles and he can go outside,” said Boyette. “He has great feet, great size, great vision — and speed as well. And he’s a powerful runner. He’s also a smart football player and that’s the beauty of it. Once you coach him with something, he’s able to transition and get it done.”

The Blue Devils as a whole got it done in almost every area during the first three nonconference home games to post a 3-0 start, sandwiching the NCCU and Baylor wins around a domination of Northwestern. Particularly satisfying was the effectiveness of the running game. Duke ran for 243, 233 and 246 yards in the three-game set, while averaging 4.6 yards per carry and totaling four touchdowns of 30 yards or more.

Duke also had three different 100-yard ball-carriers in the stretch, with Brown’s 120 followed by a 108 day from QB Daniel Jones against Northwestern and senior Shaun Wilson’s 176-yard explosion against Baylor.

Wilson remains the starter in Duke’s typical one-back lineup and was in prime form by the Baylor contest, when he turned in touchdown sprints of 50 and 65 yards. He’s been delivering lightning strikes for four years now, as the two explosive scores pushed his career total to a school-record six TD runs of 50+ yards. It’s worth noting that he’s also had a touchdown catch-and-run of 89 yards and two kickoff returns of 90+, and no Duke running back ever had a better day than the 245-yards-rushing outing he delivered as a true freshman in his third college game.

But this year, Wilson is doing more than seeking big plays. He’s also serving as the big brother in Boyette’s youthful backfield stable of predominantly first- and second-year players such as the redshirt freshman Brown and the true freshman Deon Jackson.

“He’s grown a lot, he’s grown tremendously,” Boyette said of Wilson. “Seeing him now as a senior, he’s at his best. The biggest thing for him is that he’s matured. He’s doing great things as a leader and that’s what I’m most proud about. His leadership skills in bringing along this young group, he’s the elder statesman and it’s on him to lead these guys. It’s part of the Duke Gang mantra of leaving a place better than you found it and now that’s what his job is. Production, he’ll do that. That’s what he does. The intangibles, everything off the field, is where he has to be great and he’s doing that.”

With Wilson and Brown splitting most of the game snaps, Duke is able to keep fresh, dynamic legs on the field for every series. In Brown’s case, there is also the matter of intense hunger to perform after being held out of action last fall. Cutcliffe says Brownj needed the time to grasp a better understanding of Duke’s pass protection schemes, the concept of precise route running on pass plays, and the necessity of being consistent from week to week.

Brown seemingly made good use of his season away from the spotlight.

“I got myself in the playbook and started grinding on that. There are a lot more plays than in high school so I studied really hard,” said the Georgia native, who rushed for 1,777 yards and 18 TDs as a high school senior. “And then physically in the weight room I kept lifting. Coach (Noel) Durfey helped us get faster. So, physicality and mentality.”

“I’ll tell you what Brittain has first, is vision,” Cutcliffe said after viewing him in live college action for the first time. “He’s making a cut before you anticipate his cut because he sees. You look at his strength, his quickness and his speed — they are all 8 to 9 to 10 on a 1-to-10 scale, but his vision allows him to create something special on the field.”

The first three games were special enough for the team — a hot start, with the promise of more to come thanks to a high-scoring offense and a fast defense that showed a knack for getting off the field on third down (a 30-for-34 stop rate in three contests).

But the season could become even more special if the Blue Devils can continue to run the football like they did in the opening stanza.

“People don’t respect Duke football enough,” Brown asserted. “I’m just going to try to run the football as hard as I can every time I touch the rock, and I know Shaun is too, or Deon or whoever else gets the ball. That’s what we’re trying to do this year — show the world that we’re here.”

'A people business': David Cutcliffe reflects on what 100th win means to his career

Mitchell Gladstone, Duke Chronicle

Saturday’s game was a historic win for the Blue Devils—marking the program’s third 4-0 start in the last 29 seasons and the 500th victory in school history—but was an even bigger milestone for their head coach.

With the 27-17 win against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Duke’s David Cutcliffe picked up his 100th career victory, becoming just the 19th active FBS coach and one of 164 men to ever reach the century mark. The 63-year-old, in his 17th season as a head coach, was reluctant to bask in the personal moment Saturday evening after the game, instead opting to praise his team as well as his wife, Karen.

But during his weekly postgame conference call Sunday, he reflected on the significance of the number in a coaching career that has now spanned five decades.

“I’ve lasted longer than a lot of people—that’s one thing,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s probably as important to it as anything, but in all honesty, it makes you reflect on the people. Football is just a people business. There’s such a large number of players on every squad, you’ve got a good-sized staff, and it’s families and it’s kind of a trip through all of the people through all of these years.”

After beginning at his alma mater, Banks High School in Birmingham, Ala., Cutcliffe joined Johnny Majors’ staff at Tennessee in 1982. Cutcliffe moved up the ladder with the Volunteers, eventually becoming their quarterbacks coach in 1990 and then offensive coordinator in 1993.

His most famous protégé then came along in 1994—Cutcliffe teamed up with five-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning for 40 wins in only four seasons, as Tennessee came up just short of a national title in 1997. A year later, Mississippi gave Cutcliffe his first head coaching job.

“One of the interesting things is that [Blue Devil offensive coordinator] Zac Roper, I believe, has been a part of 99 of these 100 wins,” Cutcliffe said. “The first one was the Independence Bowl [in 1998] when I took over the Ole Miss team. But that’s what I mean by people. There are not many individual things that happen in football, and that’s the reason I love it the most.”

Cutcliffe won 44 games for the Rebels before being fired at the conclusion of his only losing season. He then took a season off and ultimately returned to Knoxville for two years an assistant under legendary coach Phillip Fulmer.

But Cutcliffe has now found a home in Durham. And the only question that remains is how far he can carry Duke as it hopes to remain unbeaten.

His next opportunity to do that comes Friday night vs. No. 14 Miami.

Cutcliffe now reigns as earl of Duke football

Rick Cleveland, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal

This wasn’t big news in Mississippi last weekend, but it was in North Carolina and in the Atlantic Coast Conference. It deserves some mention in the Magnolia State.

Last Saturday, Duke’s David Cutcliffe, who coached six seasons and five bowl games at Ole Miss, won his 100th game as a college football head coach, and he did it in style.

The Fighting Cutcliffes rallied to win at North Carolina 27-17 and go to 4-0 on the season. That’s right. Duke, the basketball school, has defeated North Carolina Central 60-7, Northwestern 41-24, Baylor 34-20 and North Carolina by an average margin of about 25 points per game.

We’re talking Duke football here. Duke.

Before Cutcliffe got to Duke, the Blue Devils had won four games total over the four previous seasons. Cutcliffe won four in his first season at Duke and has averaged six over nine full seasons. There’s more, plenty more.

Before Cutcliffe’s arrival, Duke had been to two bowl games over the previous 47 seasons. Two! Cutcliffe’s Duke teams have been to four bowl games in just nine seasons.

Before Cutcliffe’s arrival, Duke hadn’t had a nine-victory season since 1941. He’s had two, including a 10-win season, and seems headed for a third.

Before 2012, Duke had defeated North Carolina one time in the 22 previous meetings. The Fighting Cutcliffes have now knocked off North Carolina four times in the last six years.

Long-time readers of this column know of my respect for Cutcliffe and the job he did at Ole Miss before he was fired in 2004. “Coach Cut” – as his Ole Miss players called him – was 44-29 at Ole Miss. He had five winning seasons and then was let go after a 4-7 record in 2004.

I thought it was a mistake at the time – and still believe it was. Besides his winning record, Cutcliffe ran an honest, clean program that graduated players at a high rate without a hint of NCAA problems. The Rebels are on their fourth head coach in the 13 volatile years since.

The victory over North Carolina makes Cutcliffe 56-61 overall at Duke, a record that sounds infinitely better when you know the football culture he inherited at Durham, which was a running joke in the ACC. More to the point, he is 35-21 over his last four-plus seasons. Duke is no longer a football joke.

But Duke, like Ole Miss (or Mississippi State), is a job where you simply can’t win eight, nine or 10 games every season. You are going to have some down seasons there because you are competing in a division and in a league where your conference brethren have built-in advantages over you.

Ole Miss and State must deal with Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Arkansas, Texas A & M, and each other in their own division. Duke must deal with the likes of North Carolina, Miami, Georgia Tech, Pitt, Virginia and Virginia Tech. All have distinct advantages over Duke.

The difference is Duke folks seem to understand the situation.

Duke fell to 4-8 last season after going 10-4, 9-4 and 8-5 in the previous three seasons. Unfazed, the Duke administration extended his contract two years through 2021. By comparison, when Cut fell to 4-7 after five straight winning seasons at Ole Miss, he was gone.

The Rebels’ loss has proved to be Duke’s gain. This Friday night, undefeated Duke plays host to undefeated Miami on ESPN. No matter the outcome, Duke football is light years better than it was before David Cutcliffe went there.

So, from at least one admirer in Mississippi, here’s to the Fighting Cutcliffes of Duke ...

Wake Forest, Duke savoring 1st 4-0 starts at same time

Joedy McCreary, Associated Press

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Wake Forest and Duke have never both been this good this early.

For the first time, the Demon Deacons and Blue Devils are each 4-0 in the same season.

The Tobacco Road rivals with similar profiles as small, private, academically elite schools are savoring the success that in the past has often been an either-or — if not a neither-nor — proposition.

Wake Forest receiver Scotty Washington called it “very cool” for both teams to be unbeaten and appropriately named teammate Duke Ejiofor added that “we’re going to try to keep our streak going.”

Both teams are preparing for their biggest tests so far, with visits this weekend from Florida-based powers who were the preseason picks to win their divisions: Duke plays host to No. 14 Miami on Friday night in search of its second Atlantic Coast Conference victory, while Wake Forest welcomes surprisingly winless Florida State on Saturday.

“Build on it — hopefully, it builds into the next one,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “We’ve got an opportunity to win our fifth game in our fifth game. Everybody would like to say that. Doesn’t mean anything, other than that’s an opportunity. ... I don’t look back, but it lets you look forward at No. 5. That’s a lot more exciting than trying to get No. 1, right?”

And both of them needed big non-offensive plays to remain undefeated, with the Demon Deacons blocking a field goal to preserve a 20-19 win over Appalachian State on the same day the Blue Devils returned an interception 61 yards for a game-sealing touchdown against North Carolina.

At Wake Forest, the offense has finally caught up with a defense that in recent years was forced to carry the team. The Demon Deacons are averaging nearly 38 points after ranking last or next-to-last in the ACC in scoring in each of the past three years.

“Offensively and special-teams wise, we’re doing a pretty good job,” said Ejiofor, a defensive end. “Our offense, we have a lot more explosive players, a lot more talent. ... Defensively, I think we’re doing well up front. ... We’re doing well just staying locked in and following the game plan coach has for us.”

The Blue Devils boast one of the nation’s best defenses, ranking second in the FBS against the run and best in the league in turnover margin, to go along with an offense that continues to hum, averaging 40.5 points and 470 total yards.

It’s added up to a pair of successful starts for the Tobacco Road rivals that merit at least a footnote in the schools’ record books.

The Demon Deacons have opened with four straight wins for the second straight year , but this is still only the sixth time in school history they’ve done it.

The Blue Devils, meanwhile, are 4-0 for the 17th time, but the vast majority of those came before 1970, and they were considered one of the worst power-conference programs — if not THE worst — before coach David Cutcliffe arrived a decade ago.

These two always seem to ebb and flow in opposite directions.

Not only have Wake Forest and Duke never gone to bowl games in the same season, they’ve both finished with winning records only four times since the ACC was formed in 1953.

It hasn’t happened since 1988 — when the Blue Devils went 7-3-1 under Steve Spurrier and the Demon Deacons were 6-4-1 behind Bill Dooley.

While Wake Forest made its school-record run of three straight bowl appearances — including a 2006 ACC title and an Orange Bowl berth — the Blue Devils floundered, winning one game in Ted Roof’s final two seasons.

Then, when Duke enjoyed its renaissance earlier this decade, reaching four consecutive bowls and winning the 2013 Coastal Division title under Cutcliffe, the Demon Deacons were ushering out coach Jim Grobe and finding their footing under Clawson.

With two months left in the regular season, only one thing is certain — they won’t both finish undefeated, because Duke visits Wake Forest onNov. 25 in the finale.

It’s still early, of course, but a rematch the following week in Charlotte — in the ACC championship game — isn’t entirely out of the question yet.

“It’ll be cool to see how they progress this season,” Washington said. “And obviously, we meet up later in the season. ... Maybe, possibly (twice). That should be fun.”

Brand New and True Blue

Stephen Schramm, Working@Duke

Watching David Shumate work, it’s easy to see that, for him, the routine of calling a college football and basketball games on the radio is nothing new. On the mic for Duke’s football victory against visiting Baylor In September, Shumate was the picture of capable calm.

Looking down on Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium from the radio booth in Blue Devil Tower, the 33-year old had everything he needed.

He had lineup cards with the most important players’ heights, weights and hometowns streaked in green and blue Hi-liter. He had a schedule reminding him of station breaks and sponsor mentions.

And after a broadcasting career that thus far has seen him cover plenty of ground, now he has a home.

“It’s awesome,” Shumate said of his first few months on the job. “I’ve gotten to meet a lot of fans and people who follow the program who have been very welcoming. It’s great to get that kind of embrace. That doesn’t happen for everyone who walks on campus.”

This summer, Shumate became the Director of Broadcasting for the Blue Devil IMG Sports Network, which airs live Duke football and men’s basketball broadcasts on a statewide network of radio stations, including WDNC-AM 620 and WDNC-FM 96.5 in Durham and WCMC-FM 99.3 in Raleigh. As part of the position, Shumate stepped into the role of play-by-play announcer. While not a Duke employee, the job, is one of the more high-profile posts affiliated with Duke Athletics.

That’s due in large part to Bob Harris, who retired from the position in March after calling Duke games for 41 years and mastering the balance between relaying events to his audience while also sharing in the swings of emotion.

“I don’t worry about replacing Bob because I don’t think that’s possible,” Shumate said. “I mean, Bob was a legend and will always be the soundtrack for so many moments to so many people. He encouraged me not try to be him, to find my own voice.”

Born in Fayetteville to a military family, Shumate is no stranger to finding his bearings in new places. He spent parts of his childhood living in Panama and Hawaii.

Until this year, his broadcasting career had a similarly meandering quality. Prior to arriving at Duke, Shumate spent five years as Director of Audio Operations for IMG, a Winston-Salem-based company that handles the radio broadcasts for nearly 200 college athletics programs, conferences and bowl games. In that role, Shumate often served as the fill-in play-by-play announcer at IMG schools when the usual inhabitant of the role was unavailable.

That’s how Shumate found himself broadcasting games for schools such as Auburn, Connecticut, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt, Washington and West Virginia. He even subbed in for Harris four times during Duke’s 2016-17 basketball season due to scheduling conflicts with football.

“The more you do it, the more you feel comfortable with it,” Shumate said of the fill-in play-by-play role. “It’s challenging because you have a tight window in which to earn everyone’s credibility as representing them and their brand. But at the same time, it’s really rewarding when a head coach invites you into your locker room and gets comfortable with you.”

Shumate, who now calls Durham home, has enjoyed getting to know Duke, saying he’s especially fond of taking runs during quiet moments on West Campus. He’s also relished opportunities to meet Duke fans, like he did at August’s “Meet the Blue Devils Day” and coach David Cutcliffe’s weekly radio show.

But Shumate’s bond with his audience will truly be forged on game days. And a month into the season, he’s enjoyed provided soundtracks for new memories.

“Second down and 10 off their own 20 … Smith going to throw again … fires … intercepted!” Shumate called into the microphone during the Baylor game as Duke linebacker Ben Humphreys picked off a Zach Smith pass and ran it back 22 yards for a game-sealing, fourth-quarter touchdown.

“There goes Humphreys to the end zone! Touchdown!” Shumate said, his voice rising along with cheers of the crowd.

Duke's 4-0 team heads into a pivotal 'program game'

Ben Swain, WRALSportsFan.com

DURHAM, N.C. — On a wall in the Duke football weight room, there’s a sign recognizing each fourth-quarter win during the David Cutcliffe era.

The list is a testament to the fitness level within the program that allows Duke to persevere through tough times during the course of a football game. As Duke prepares to avenge the 2015 loss to Miami on Friday night – a game that serves as an infamous exclusion from that list of fourth-quarter wins – the Blue Devils have an opportunity to showcase the strength of the program as a whole, not just the strength within it.

Since the start of the 2013 season, Duke is a combined 35-21. Normally, that clip would be compared to the 21-40 record during Cutcliffe’s first five years at Duke, but it’s time to put those comparisons to bed. Instead, hold it up beside NC State’s 28-27 record during the last four-plus seasons. Or UNC’s 33-24 mark. Or even better, Miami’s 34-20 record. Those are the comparisons Duke deserves now.

Following last year’s 4-8 season, it wasn’t entirely clear if the program was headed back toward eight or nine wins a season, or eight or nine wins every three seasons. The 4-0 start, with three wins against Power 5 opponents, has sharpened that picture a bit, but it’s the “how” and the “who” of it that better focuses the outlook.

Duke is winning with a program-record number of freshmen and sophomores, and even more reinforcements are on the way. So far this season, one or more freshmen or sophomores from Duke show up in the top 10 of the ACC in rushing, tackles, sacks, tackles for loss, interceptions, pass breakups and forced fumbles. As for recruiting, Scout.com recruiting analyst Michael Clark recently told The Devil’s Den’s Steve Clark, "There’s multiple guys in this 2018 commit list for Duke that are going to be multi-year starters for them, and you look at certain guys, and you can see that he’s got a chance to potentially be an All-Conference level of player. I think that just really shows where the program is going and where it’s really headed. If you are a Duke fan, I don’t know how you can’t be excited about where Coach Cutcliffe has this program headed.”

Not all wins have been as dominant as the wins over NC Central and Northwestern, but Duke has been plenty dominant when it was needed most. Through four games, Duke has faced two fourth-quarter possessions where the opponent had a chance to tie or take the lead. Both of those two possessions ended in interceptions returned for Duke touchdowns. No team has finished within 10 points of the Blue Devils, and the three consecutive double-digit wins over Power 5 schools mark the first time Duke’s been able to accomplish that feat since the 1989 ACC Championship season. Duke hasn’t been perfect this year by any means, but they’re good enough that they don’t have to be perfect anymore.

Miami is coming into Wallace Wade Stadium as about a touchdown favorite, but that’s nothing new for a Duke team still shaking off memories of winless seasons and lost decades. Over the past five years, no team in college football has been better than Duke against the spread, covering a remarkable 70 percent of the time as an underdog. They’ve won 50 percent of those games outright. Another upset win on Fridayputs Duke in prime position to compete for another Coastal championship or maybe even more. But it’s also an opportunity for Duke to plant their flag as a program to be respected and no longer the recipient of pats on the head. And as David Cutcliffe likes to say, "program is a big word."

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