Duke football head coach David Cutcliffe held his weekly press conference today, addressing Duke’s 33-30 victory against North Carolina and their next matchup. Here are some highlights from his 30-minute question and answer session. The Blue Devils (6-2, 3-1 in the ACC) face Florida State (7-1, 4-1) at Doak S. Campbell Stadium this Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
"It's unbelievable how much that helps. Seeing the great crowd out there, it's something that I can't really put words on how awesome it is to see. It's one of the coolest things you'll see."—sophomore linebacker David Helton
The Blue Devils had significant home field advantage in last week's win against the Tar Heels, with a sellout crowd of 33,941 on hand at Wallace Wade Stadium. The crowd energy was definitely a factor throughout the game, especially during the fourth quarter. Duke had over 3,500 students in the stands for Saturday's game, and many players have said it was their presence that helped propel this team to a come-from-behind victory.
"It makes you feel like you're a part of something that's really, really big and really, really special," Helton said. "I talked to a lot of students afterward and they said they felt like they were so close to what was going on they were a part of it. That's what we want. We want our fans to be a part of what we're doing. It's special to hear that from them."
"He's got a strained knee, was unable to practice at all Sunday and was limited in practice today. Hopefully by tomorrow he'll be better."—Cutcliffe
Wide receiver Conner Vernon was injured in Saturday's game on one of the more puzzling plays you'll ever see in college football. Awaiting the snap at the line of scrimmage, Vernon was hit from behind on an apparent cheap shot from Tar Heel linebacker Shakeel Rashad while he was substituting in from the North Carolina sideline. Rashad knocked down the Blue Devil receiver, but inexplicably no penalty was called for encroachment or unnecessary roughness. The ACC issued Rashad a one-game suspension Monday for the hit and also suspended two referees involved for their failure to act.
Vernon remained on the ground momentarily following the hit but returned to action after sitting out one play. The ACC's all-time leader in receptions helped Duke to convert on two crucial third downs in its game-winning drive later in the fourth quarter.
"We're playing the most physical team we've seen. We're playing the fastest team we've seen. It puts a premium on our practice and our preparation. We've got to move that forward as quickly as we can."—Cutcliffe
With another memorable win in the books, the Seminoles await for Duke. Florida State poses the Blue Devils' toughest test of the season, especially in a hostile road environment like Tallahassee. Duke is 1-1 on the road in the ACC this year, and the Blue Devils will hope to right the ship after blowing a 20-point first quarter lead against Virginia Tech in their last road contest.
The Seminoles are led by quarterback E.J. Manuel, a Heisman trophy candidate and the most dangerous dual-threat quarterback in the conference. The team lost star running back Chris Thompson for the season following a torn ACL in last week's 33-20 win against Miami. Since being upset by N.C. State 17-16 three weeks ago, the Seminoles have picked up back-to-back wins against Boston College and the Hurricanes.
To add to its win total this weekend, Duke will need to continue to defy history. The Blue Devils have not defeated a ranked opponent since 1994 and have not accomplished this defeat on the road since 1971.
"We're going to go in there and try to impose our will, just like we did against North Carolina. We're not going to run away from who we are."—redshirt sophomore tackle Takoby Cofield
Duke's offensive line had its best performance of the season last week, allowing quarterback Sean Renfree to be sacked just once and leading the team to 510 yards of total offense—the highest offensive output in the Cutcliffe era. The Blue Devil offense established their presence on the ground against a Tar Heel run defense which ranked third in the ACC entering play, racking up 234 yards on 53 carries. Tackle Perry Simmons earned ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors for his performance.
Despite facing a bigger and more physical Florida State defensive front in this weekend's contest, Cofield added that the win against North Carolina has the Blue Devils' team confidence at an all-time high.
"There's a lot of swagger about a lot of guys. I'm seeing a lot of confidence in guys I didn't see much confidence in before," Cofield said. "And even in myself, just knowing that we have the ability to win every single game we play. At the end of the day I just see us taking it week by week and it's very much a reality you could go 4-0 to end the season."
"We have that big old monkey off our back. But now we've created an idea in our mind that we have a four game season, and this four game season will determine what happens afterward."—Helton
Earning bowl eligibility for the first time since 1994 with its sixth win of the season, the Blue Devils have a new and bigger goal on their mind—a trip to the ACC Championship game. Duke currently sits atop the ACC's Coastal Division a half game ahead of Miami. The Blue Devils and Hurricanes will square off in the final week of the season on Nov. 24, a game that could likely determine who takes the Coastal Division crown.
Helton emphasized that although a trip to a bowl game is a great accomplishment for his team, this season is far from over.
"We treat it kind of like a playoff, like every game is a big playoff for our ultimate standings at the end and our ability to compete for an ACC championship, which is a big goal for right now," Helton said.