One game at a time.
No matter how cliche it may be, that's the motto the No. 2 Blue Devils have been living by for the past month—and it has worked out pretty well for them. Coming off a 17-15 victory against No. 10 Virginia, Duke has the opportunity to close out regular season play on an eight-game winning streak when the Blue Devils face off against Rutgers Saturday at 1 p.m. at Koskinen Stadium.
“The NCAA allows you to play 17 contests,” head coach John Danowski said. “Whether you’re playing in February or mid-week at Furman or you’re end of the year at home against Rutgers, they’re all very important to us. Because you don’t get that many opportunities to play games.”
In the 13 games Duke (11-2) has played this season, senior Jordan Wolf has been the one looking to take advantage of his opportunity to go out as a back-to-back national champion. The Wynnewood, Pa., native leads the team with 40 goals this season.
Wolf will not be alone when he leads Duke against Rutgers (7-6). The up-and-coming midfield duo of Myles Jones and Deemer Class have been the driving force for the Blue Devil underclassman, combining for 49 goals and 40 assists through 13 games. Although the pair was heralded coming out of high school as two of the top recruits in the Class of 2012, both have managed to exceed expectations due to the massive leap in production in their second collegiate seasons.
“They’re way ahead of the curve that we projected for them at this time and that’s just a tribute to their own desire and their own hard work,” Danowski said. “I don’t think any of us in the program envisioned they’d be where they’re at right now.”
Although much of the outside focus will center around the potent Blue Devil attack, it is the defense that has them on a seven-game winning streak. In a rematch of last year’s national championship game, Duke bested Syracuse 21-7, holding the Orange to their lowest season total of the regular season.
In the year following their title run, the Blue Devils have lowered their goals-against average by 1.2 goals and will put their defense to the test when they take on a Rutgers squad that is averaging 15 goals per game in its last three contests.
Despite the impressive offensive output by the Scarlet Knights, Duke is concentrating on playing its own game.
"This time of year, you really have to focus on who you are," Danowski said. "If you're fortunate, ever, to get to the ACC finals where you have a quick turnaround, even the NCAA tournament, you can't really change much, You've got to play like what got you here."
As defending national champions, the Blue Devils do their best to act like last year never happened. Danowski believes this works due to the tumultuous nature of the regular season, as thinking about a repeat would just have his players distracted, something they cannot allow themselves to be when it comes time to face off against Rutgers .
"We don't really talk about last year. We don't mention it as coaches, the players don't mention it because we know how difficult it is," Danowski said. "You don't know year to year if you're going to get that energy you had."
Following Saturday's contest, Duke will prepare for a matchup against Syracuse in the ACC semifinals six days later.