Duke has not beaten a ranked opponent on the road in 41 years. The last time it happened, Stanford was the victim in 1971.
Duke will need to match the level of intensity from its season-opening 46-26 win against Florida International to have a shot at breaking that streak Saturday night against No. 25 Stanford (1-0) at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif. The Cardinal rolled to a 44-14 win last year at Wallace Wade, but the Blue Devils believe that this time will be different.
And Duke’s performance last weekend has given it reason to believe that might just be the case.
“The thing I liked the most about our team Saturday is there really wasn’t a lull,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “I have felt often in ballgames since we’ve been here that we’ve had lulls that have just critically hurt us. Even though we weren’t perfect [against FIU], there was never a failure to have an edge. We played 60 minutes of intense football.”
The win has Cutcliffe’s squad buying into the hype as well.
“[Winning our first game] makes a great difference,” Duke redshirt sophomore linebacker C.J. France said. “It gives us a lot more confidence going into this next game. Last year we kind of had our heads hung a little bit, so coming off a win is a great feeling going into the second game.”
Stanford had a disappointing opening-week performance, despite coming away with a victory. Against a mediocre San Jose State squad—which they destroyed 57-3 last year—the Cardinal gained only 280 yards and needed a field goal in the final two minutes to eke out a 20-17 win. Their offense was adjusting to the loss of Andrew Luck, the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, and they did not show the big play ability that allowed them to dominate Duke a year ago.
In last year’s loss, the Blue Devils kept the game close for the first half, but the Stanford offense broke loose for big plays in the second half. In the first 30 minutes, the Cardinal averaged 7.1 yards per play. But Stanford’s offense scored touchdowns on its first four drives of the second half and ran out the clock on its last possession. On the Cardinal’s second-half touchdown drives, they averaged more than a first down per play at 11.1 yards.
“We gave up a couple big plays. They were able to capitalize off that,” France said. “This year I don’t think that will happen. We’ve got a lot more depth. We’re a lot better in reading our keys and being focused.”
But the size and physicality of Stanford’s offense aided the big plays, wearing down opposing defenses as the games progressed. This year’s Cardinal squad is physically daunting as well, led by two-time 1,000-yard senior rusher Stepfan Taylor, who checks in at 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds. And two of senior quarterback Josh Nunes’ top targets are senior tight ends Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz, who stand at 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-6, respectively.
“They’re a good football team,” France said. “They have good backs, and they have a good [offensive]-line. I feel like they’re going to try to come out and play big boy football and run straight ahead. And we’re going to try to play physically with them.”