week, the ACC picks eight ACC players of the week -- one player at eight
the first six weeks of the season, the conference has honored six secondary
players as the ACC Defensive Back of the Week. Exactly half of those selections
have gone to Duke defenders.
Cockrell won after the NCCU game, when he had two interceptions and two pass
breakups to go along with six tackles. Jordon Byas won after the Wake Forest
game, when he had 11 tackles and a pass interception. And this week, following
Duke's 42-17 victory over Virginia, Walt Canty was honored for his 14-tackle
performance -- including three tackles for loss (especially a fourth-down stop
that was a key play in the game).
does that say about the Duke secondary?
says that we've made plays this year," Cockrell said when asked about the
triple honors. "That's what we wanted to do. We wanted to be game-changers.
Last year we didn't force enough turnovers and we didn't make plays when it was
time to make plays.
and Canty have been rocks of consistent excellence. Byas has been outstanding
since his return. Senior Tony Foster, a career backup, has been very good as a
starter. True freshman Dwayne Norman and redshirt freshman Tim Burton have been
said the charging cast of characters in the secondary has not been a problem.
is simple -- you see the ball and you go get the ball," he said. "At the end of
the day, that's what it comes down to. No matter what scheme you have, you
still have people who tackle the runner with the ball or if the ball is in the
air, attack the ball."
defense -- especially the secondary -- has made major strides this season. A
year ago, the Devils ranked either last or next to last in the ACC in every
significant defensive category. This year, the Blue Devils rank fourth in total
defense and fifth in pass efficiency defense.
has a lot to do with that. After six weeks, he leads the nation in passes
defended and the ACC in passes intercepted (four). The former category measures
passes either intercepted or broken up.
is seventh in the ACC in tackles -- he is the only defensive back in the top
10. He's also tied for ninth in the league in tackles-for-loss and is again the
only defensive back to qualify in that category.
FROM UP FRONT
reason the secondary is playing so well is the growth of the young players up
front. Duke's front six -- four defensive linemen and two linebackers -- have
raised their level of play this season.
which gave up 180 yards a game on the ground (and almost five yards a rushing
play) in 2011, is allowing less than 130 yards (and 3.7 a carry) this year. The
Devils already have more sacks from their defensive front (13.5) than they did
all last season (12).
improvement is due to a number of factors. One of them is simple maturity.
knew we had a challenge to replace some really good defensive linemen that we
inherited -- Vince Oghobaase, Ayanga Opokowuruk, Cliff Respress -- there were
some guys who were good players, but they were about done. We scoured the
country [to find replacements]," Cutcliffe said.
and his staff brought in a large group of linemen and linebackers two years
ago. Most of them redshirted in 2010 and saw their first game action in 2011.
were not ready to compete at the ACC level a year ago. Now, they are not only
competing, they are excelling.
they see themselves on tape from games a year ago -- they chuckle," Cutcliffe
said. "They're all bigger, stronger ... that's a difficult baptism that they went
through. It's fun to see them be a little more physical."
of the 13 defensive front/linebackers listed on the current two-deep were
signed in February of 2010 or later. Looking at the list of young defenders
points to another reason why Duke's defense is making strides -- Cutcliffe is
rotating two and three players at every position.
so many people is probably the number one factor [in Duke's defensive
improvement]," Cutcliffe said. "We've never had this many people to play and
trusted as many people to play."
exploding depth pays off in ways that the fans don't always get to see.
makes you fresher the second half -- that's the obvious thing," he said. "The
other thing it does is make you practice better. Competition makes you better.
People trying to compete for playing time. You're practicing more energized -- those
guys are competing and getting to play. Our preparation has been better."
linebacker David Helton enjoys being a part of the linebacker rotation.
realize we've got a lot of linebackers and a lot of d-linemen who complimented
each other -- all good players," Helton said. "So we want to swap in and out as
much as we can to show and keep our depth and play as one unit."
been a four-player rotation at linebacker so far -- Helton and sophomore C.J.
France sharing one position; senior Austin Gamble and redshirt freshman Kyler
Brown sharing the other. It's possible that sophomore Britton Grier and true
freshman Deion Williams, who have played mostly special teams so far, could
join the rotation at linebacker soon.
so exciting playing behind a defensive line like that -- it's fun for
everyone," Helton said. "You can feel it when we're out there. We play as a
cohesive unit. Ultimately we realize it's our choice and our will that will get
us off the field.
two units are very young. But it's exciting. Of course we make mistakes and we
make corrections from those mistakes. I feel like we're growing so much every
week. That's fun."
TO RUN THE BALL
with Duke's defensive improvement this season, the Blue Devils have finally
started to generate consistent results from the running game.
been a rarity in recent years. Since 2003, Duke has averaged more than 100
yards a game on the ground just three times -- with a high of 127.1 yards a
game in 2005.
far this season, Duke is pushing that mark, averaging 126.0 yards a game. That
might not look like a lot, but after finishing dead last in the ACC last season
with 94.0 yards a game, Duke is currently up to ninth in the league.
importantly, the team's three tailbacks are averaging exactly 5.0 yards a carry
biggest reasons are the quality of the offensive line and the backs we're
playing with," Cutcliffe said. "We've got some good running backs. Our line,
there's a mentality to that. That offensive line, they believe -- they truly
believe we're not only good, we're REALLY good at the back end."
is the first year Duke has not started a redshirt freshman on the offensive
line. All five starters had starting experience before this season.
me, the biggest difference we had to deal with here in the past wasn't always
in the skill positions," Cutcliffe said. "It was mostly the mismatches line to
line. So we've really tried to address that. We still can't see over a lot of
people we play, but we've closed the gap a lot."
Thompson, the team's leading rusher a year ago, is happy to be sharing the tailback
rotation with redshirt sophomore Josh Snead and true freshman Jela Duncan.
have a lot of depth this year -- a lot of fresh guys," he said. "We're able to
change things up and give defenses a different look, a different speed, a
different tempo every down. I might come in two or three plays, then Josh comes
in. That keeps me fresh and him fresh and Jela also.
year, I played a lot more snaps and I would get tired at times. A lot of guys
were injured. It might be a big run and I might not be able to finish it due to
being tired after playing seven or eight straight plays. Now, I'm in two or
three plays and we keep rotating, rotating and rotating -- keeping us fresh and
those big holes are opening."
running game also got a boost when sophomore Anthony Boone replaced senior Sean
Renfree at quarterback last week against Virginia. Renfree is one of the best
passing quarterbacks in college football, but Boone is the better runner.
is some value in that," Cutcliffe said. "People have to account for him. When a
quarterback runs the ball and you have to account for that, it changes you
Anthony Boone poses problems for opposing defenses, then what about Virginia
Tech quarterback Logan Thomas?
don't know if we've got anybody big enough to tackle him," Cutcliffe said of
the 6-6, 262-pound junior. "He is a great-looking athlete. Wow, is he big."
rushed for 469 yards a year ago, while throwing for just over 3,000 yards. So
far this season, he's been limited by the lack of playmakers at wide receiver
and running back -- the Hokies lost tailback David Wilson, a first-round NFL
draft pick, and the top two receivers in school history off last year's Coastal
Division champion squad.
what has really hurt the Hokies in their 3-3 start has been slippage on defense
-- Virginia Tech is giving up 86 more yards a game than a year ago ... and 18
more yards a game than the Blue Devils have so far.
be real honest with you -- looking at Virginia Tech on tape, it's the Virginia
Tech we know," Cutcliffe said. "They've had some hard knocks and some difficult
circumstances here and there, but there's talent. It's a great program. They've
played for the championship six of the eight years they've been in the league
and I know they've won four of them."
Tech has beaten Duke all eight years since joining the league, but a couple of
Cutcliffe's teams have played the Hokies close, including in last year's 14-10
easy task, but I do think it's important for our players to challenge our
program to go up there and compete," the Duke coach said. "We didn't do that
two years ago.
said that to prepare for the atmosphere in Lane Stadium, the Blue Devils
practiced with blaring loudspeakers.
ears are still ringing," he said. "You can't do what we did up there two years
ago. We got behind the eight ball pretty quickly. You can't let a game like
that get away from you."
showed up in both the AP writer's poll and the USA TODAY/ESPN coaches poll this
week -- well down the list of "other teams receiving votes."
Blue Devils got three votes in the AP poll (actually all from one Connecticut
writer who picked Duke 23rd) and 10 votes in the coaches' poll. That's the
first time since 1994 that the Devils have gotten votes this late in the season
in either poll.
who is no longer a voter in the coaches' poll, said he was told about Duke's
just glad somebody thinks we've got a pretty good football team," he said.
"That's better than not getting a vote."
the Duke coach isn't getting too excited.
and $3.00 -- it used to be a quarter -- will buy you a cup of coffee," he said.
was a bit more interested in the fact that at 5-1, Duke is just one victory
away from qualifying for a bowl for the first time since 1994. He's interested
because he knows his players are interested.
heard them chirping about it Sunday and I'm not going to stop them," he said.
"I told my wife, 'I don't want to spoil a good party.' That's just human
starving. Why wouldn't they feel that way?"
Cutcliffe doesn't want his team to focus on getting that crucial sixth win.
mentioned it, but I mentioned other things about the opportunity of playing
this game that are in actuality bigger," he said.
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