Duke football head coach David Cutcliffe held his weekly press conference today, addressing Duke’s 54-17 victory over N.C. Central and their next matchup. Here are some highlights from his 30-minute question and answer session. The Blue Devils (2-1) face Memphis (0-3) at Wallace Wade Stadium this Saturday at 6 p.m.
Duke welcomes injured players back to practice this week.
The Blue Devils have been hampered by injuries all season, but Cutcliffe indicated today that the team is finally starting to get healthier. Safety Jordon Byas and linebacker Kyler Brown saw action in practice Tuesday morning after missing Duke's last game. Cutcliffe added that guard Lucas Patrick participated in practice, which was conducted in full pads, as well.
"We'll know a little bit more Thursday about their game status. It felt good to them, it felt good to us and I think it felt good to their teammates," Cutcliffe said. "I thought we had the best Tuesday we've had, what we have to do is have the best week by having the best Wednesday. But it helps to get a few familiar faces out there."
"We're at a stage, particularly when we've been short-handed, that they're all must-wins for us."—Cutcliffe
Cutcliffe addressed his next opponent, Memphis, and stressed the importance of potentially entering Duke's first ACC matchup with a 3-1 record. The Tigers are still searching for their first win this season, dropping to 0-3 last weekend after falling 48-30 to Middle Tennessee State. Although Memphis appears to be one of the easier opponents on the Blue Devils' schedule this season, Cutcliffe pointed out specific facets of the game, including blocking and tackling, that he wishes to improve upon from last week's win over N.C. Central.
"They keep scoring every time I turn on the tape."—Cutcliffe
Cutcliffe said special teams will play a factor in Saturday's matchup with the Tigers. Memphis has scored two touchdowns on special teams this season and have excelled in their kick coverage. The Blue Devils have scored two touchdowns on special teams as well, but Cutcliffe said they will need to be wary of the Tigers' dangerous special teams unit.
"They've blocked three punts, they scored with one of those. They recovered a fumble in the end zone on a punt. They're all over the place," Cutcliffe said. "They have dangerous returners and I think they only have one non-touchback on their kickoffs. They are playing well in the kicking game."
"He's got a big part in the plan. I'm really proud of him. He's very committed to learning and being a part of what we're doing."—Cutcliffe on Brandon Connette, who continues to play multiple positions for Duke
After appearing at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end for the Blue Devils in their first two games, Connette added yet another position to his repertoire against N.C. Central when he lined up for his first snaps on the defensive side of the ball. Cutcliffe said he was impressed with Connette's play at free safety and his capacity to learn new positions, while also adding that he doesn't expect any other players to start playing both ways anytime soon.
"Not quite yet. It's still staying in my mind," Cutcliffe said. "I'm trying to continue to find a way that we can get, at least situationally, the best 11 football players we can get on the field."
"Ross is just that kind of young man. I never lost confidence in him because he never lost his confidence."—Cutcliffe
Cutcliffe spoke very highly of Ross Cockrell, lauding the cornerback for the strides he has made since a difficult freshman season. Cockrell was named ACC Defensive Back of the Week for his two-interception performance against N.C. Central, and is among the top corners in the nation with three interceptions on the season. He is the only Duke player to intercept a pass this year.
"If there ever was an AFCA Good Works national member, it's Sean Renfree."—Cutcliffe
Quarterback Sean Renfree was one of 11 college football players named to the AFCA National Good Works Team, Cutcliffe announced Tuesday afternoon. Renfree has been recognized for his service to both the Duke and Durham communities, and was lauded by his head coach for receiving the honor.
"Sean, as most people know, goes about his business very quietly. He spends a lot of time in service for a lot of people," Cutcliffe said. "A hearty congratulations to Sean, his family and his teammates. That's pretty exciting news."