DURHAM, N.C. – Head coach David Cutcliffe and the Duke football team return home Saturday as they host North Carolina A&T in their home opener at 6 p.m. at Brooks Field in Wallace Wade Stadium.
The game will be streamed on ACC Network Extra with Drew Fellios and Forrest Conoly on the call.
The Blue Devils are 9-2 under Cutcliffe in home openers, including seven in a row. Duke has not won eight consecutive home openers since a 10-year run from 1957-1966.
PRAISE FOR O-LINE NEWCOMERS
The Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game was the first career start for two members of the Duke offensive line, redshirt freshman Casey Holman and freshman Jacob Monk. That fact did not go unnoticed by their teammates.
“I thought Jacob and Casey did a great job,” senior quarterback Quentin Harris said. “They did a great job communicating with me and passing off twists and all those things. For that to be their first true game action, against a great opponent like Alabama, I thought they held up really well. I’m excited to see the work that they are going to put in over the season and how they are going to develop.”
Holman, a Snellville, Ga., native, appeared in just four games last year (Army West Point, N.C. Central, Wake Forest and Temple) before redshirting. Coming into the season with just 51 snaps under his belt, the 6-4, 295-pound left tackle fought hard to win his spot in the starting rotation.
Monk, a 6-3, 305-pound right tackle from Clayton, N.C., didn’t let the challenge of playing Alabama stop him from being impactful during his first collegiate game.
“Overall, the offensive line played well and got their job done,” running back Deon Jackson said. “I’m especially impressed with Jacob Monk, because it was first college game and it was against Alabama. He played pretty well and he held his own. There are definitely some positives that we can build on throughout the season.”
Duke held Alabama scoreless during the first quarter and limited the Crimson Tide offense to two scores on seven drives in the first half.
“Obviously, early we played well,” Cutcliffe stated. “We managed the line of scrimmage. Our defensive front did what I expected them to do. They were not going to get easy yards.”
“I think we did a pretty good job,” senior safety Dylan Singleton said. “Obviously, we were not up at the break, we still gave up 14 points in the first half. There are some things that we have to get better at. We have to build off of the momentum that we had in the first half.”
The defense as a whole walked away from Atlanta ready to improve. Singleton saw one key takeaway from the game.
“Looking at the film yesterday, we have to defend and limit explosives on defense. We have to tackle better.”
Duke’s run offense on Saturday featured primarily three backs, Brittain Brown, Mateo Durant and Jackson. All three ball carriers had seven rushes in the contest.
“It always helps,” Harris said. “A quarterback’s best friend is having a good run game. We have great backs, especially the top three right now with Brittain, Deon and Mateo.”
It was the first time that three Duke running backs all had at least five carries and 30 yards in a contest since Duke’s game against NC Central last year. Moving forward, Duke hopes to use their backs to push a balanced attack on offense.
“What I want to see is balance,” Cutcliffe added. “I want to see execution. I want to see us align well. I want to see 11 people, every snap, doing the right things. No busted assignments. I want to see our technique better. When you do all of those things, when you are crisper on offense, then you start running it better. Once you run it better you can build some explosive plays.”
In addition to running the ball, the Blue Devils’ backs pride themselves on being able to be effective in the passing game, adding a new dynamic to the offense.
“You can kind of see a little bit of confusion on the defense’s face,” Jackson said. “That is going to be something that we have an advantage in throughout the season, being able to line up in different places and having us both on the field at the same time. We are all threats in the pass game and the run game so you don’t really know who to key in on.”
NO WALK IN THE PARK
North Carolina A&T is next on the Blue Devils schedule. The reigning MEAC Champions and the 14th-ranked FCS team in the land have earned the respect of the men in Duke blue and white and Cutcliffe’s team expects a good one this weekend.
“I can tell you about A&T,” Cutcliffe said. “They are a great program, not just a great team. They are champions. They do what champions do. There are three ingredients to what championship football teams do and they have a conference championship trophy. They were MEAC champions for a reason. First of all, they have talent. Second, they are extremely well coached. The third thing is that they play and compete at an extremely high level in all three phases.”
The Aggies are known for being well-coached and having a lock-down defense.
“In this era, to keep people to under 30 points is hard,” Cutcliffe commented. “I think the most points they gave up a year ago was 23 to East Carolina and they won the game. That gives you a lot to be concerned about.”
DUKE IN THE NFL
With the National Football League season approaching, teams all over the country are naming their 53-man rosters for the 2019 season. 10 former Blue Devils have been named to NFL rosters, while one other Duke student-athlete has been named to the practice squad.
“I’m excited,” Cutcliffe said. “I talked to a couple that made it and a couple that didn’t make it. Being right on the verge of that last cut is difficult.”
Former tight end Daniel Helm was recently waived by one NFL team but has since joined the San Francisco 49ers practice squad with hopes of being pulled up throughout the year.
“You are talking about a guy that believes that he is an NFL player and intends to be one,” Cutcliffe stated about Helm. “He fights, scratches and claws to be in the game. It is pretty special.”
The other Blue Devils in the NFL are as follows: Breon Borders, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars; Ross Cockrell, CB, Carolina Panthers; Jamison Crowder, WR, New York Jets; Thomas Hennessy, LS, New York Jets; Lucas Patrick, OG, Green Bay Packers; Matt Skura, C, Baltimore Ravens; Laken Tomlinson, OG, San Francisco 49ers; Shaun Wilson, RB, Washington Redskins.