Even though much of the attention will be focused on the hardwood this month, March kicked off with Duke football's chance to shine.
The Blue Devils returned to action for the first time this year, playing in their annual Spring Game at Wallace Wade Stadium. The Blue squad, which included most of last year’s starters on both sides of the ball, emerged victorious with a 24-14 win.
Head coach David Cutcliffe emphasized after the game that even after a historic 10-win season, his team is still working to achieve more next season.
“You saw what our spring practice has been—continued momentum,” Cutcliffe said. “I felt like that was a big part of the day. The spring never looked like we won [10 games]. We divided our team in half and you saw what you wanted to see from the standpoint of defensive plays made and there were offensive plays made.”
After building a 10-7 lead going into halftime, Blue scored its second touchdown of the day when redshirt senior Brandon Connette found junior wide receiver Max McCaffrey over the middle of the field for a 37-yard touchdown pass with 6:20 to play in the third quarter to extend the lead to 10 points.
The White squad had a chance to cut into the lead later in the quarter when defensive tackle Mike Ramsey stripped Josh Snead of the football on the Blue 34-yard line.
However, the ensuing drive only went backwards and the white offense, led by redshirt sophomore quarterback Thomas Sirk, could not capitalize on the good field position.
Nearly a year after suffering a ruptured Achilles that forced him to miss the entire 2013 season, Sirk finished the day completing 12-of-28 passes for 83 yards. The redshirt sophomore also added a touchdown runs in the second and fourth quarters.
“He ran the football well, he made some nice throws and he got better as the game went on which is what you would expect from a guy who had not played football in a while,” Cutcliffe said.
Trailing 17-14 late in the fourth quarter, Sirk lofted the ball on third down to freshman wide receiver Terrance Alls, but he could not haul it in. Sirk would be stopped short of the markers on the following down, turning the ball over to the Blue team.
Running back Shaquille Powell secured a Blue victory when he broke away from the White defense on fourth down with 1:19 to play, sprinting into the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown run that gave Blue a 24-14 lead.
Quarterback Anthony Boone split time under center with Connette for the Blue squad, with the duo combining for 154 yards and two touchdowns. Boone struggled, however, throwing for only 33 yards on 10 completed passes.
Duke fans also got their first glimpse at freshman quarterback Jonathon Lloyd, a three-star recruit from Graham, N.C., who enrolled early in January and practiced with the team this spring. He showcased his talent with his legs, running for 18 yards on three carries.
“We have talent [at quarterback],” Cutcliffe said. “We have seen in game situations what Anthony and Brandon can do, now ewe have seen that Thomas made some progress. Llloyd played very little, it is all new to him, but you saw the skill and athleticism that he has. The theme has to be consistency at the position. If we get consistency, we are headed in the right direction.”
Cutcliffe said that the two areas he is most concerned about are the offensive and defensive lines. The Blue Devils lost experienced guards Perry Simmons and Dave Harding on the offensive side of the ball and lost starters Kenny Anunike, Justin Foxx and Sydney Sarmiento on the defensive side of the ball.
Redshirt senior Dezmond Johnson said that his unit has been working hard this offseason to fill the voids the veterans left behind and combine experience with the talent of younger players.
“Look for the young guys to step up and play a huge role on the defensive line,” Johnson said. “ [Jamal] Bruce, [Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo] and I all have experience, but you want to look out for us being more aggressive and being as fast as possible. Trying to stop the play before it gets past us.”
Experience on will be a crucial advantage for Duke on both sides of the ball, but the program’s older players have watched Cutcliffe transform Blue Devil football into a serious BCS contender.
“We came a long way,” running back Josh Snead said. “Coach cut had a plan, had a vision. He had a lot of guys that believed in his vision. We started out rough, 3-9 two seasons in a row. We built the team. We are one the plateau of being one of the elite teams in the NCAA.”