Duke football head coach David Cutcliffe held his weekly press conference today, addressing Duke’s 56-20 loss to Clemson and their next matchup. Here are some highlights from his 30-minute question-and-answer session. The Blue Devils (6-4, 3-3 in the ACC) face Georgia Tech (5-5, 4-3) at Bobby Dodd Stadium this Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
"We would have probably had eight guys not play had we had to play Saturday."—Cutcliffe
The Blue Devils' bye week was the latest in the ACC this season, and playing 10 consecutive games had really begun to take a toll on Duke physically. Cutcliffe mentioned that Juwan Thompson, Kenny Anunike, Brian Moore and Perry Simmons, among others, benefited from the week off and were able to heal from previous injuries. With just two games remaining in the regular season and hoping to make a push for the Coastal Division title, the Blue Devils are looking to put its first back-to-back losses of the season to Florida State and Clemson behind them.
"The two-game stretch took a toll on us," Cutcliffe said. "We had guys already banged up, and we got to the point where they were worse. Being able to rest everybody helped us get a large number of people back."
"I am very close to Vad Lee, to be honest with you. I saw him a lot over here. I had him in camp. Vad is a fine young man and a very gifted athlete. I'm glad he's doing well...the next week."—Cutcliffe
Redshirt senior quarterback Tevin Washington has been the staple of Georgia Tech's triple option offense for years, but it was redshirt freshman signal-caller Vad Lee who made the difference for the Yellow Jackets in their 68-50 shootout win against North Carolina last week. Lee, a Durham native and graduate of Hillside High School, completed 6-of-10 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown against the Tar Heels and also ran the ball 23 times for 112 yards and two more scores. The Blue Devils will need to stop both Washington and Lee if they are going to break their first losing streak of the season this weekend in Atlanta.
"I watched it on television and my wife said I was getting irritable. I said 'Why not?' Yeah, I am getting irritable."—Cutcliffe
The Yellow Jacket offense came alive in Saturday's win against North Carolina, posting 588 yards of total offense in the ACC's highest-scoring game of the season. Georgia Tech was effective on the ground as usual, with its option attack gaining 380 yards on 67 rushing attempts. But it was the Yellow Jackets' efficiency through the air that made the team so dangerous in last week's victory, gaining 208 yards and averaging 29.7 yards per pass completion.
"They function very well offensively," Cutcliffe said. "If they don't turn it over they are going to score points and be successful. It's a huge challenge, it's a challenge of mentality also."
"Handling a big game is an art. That's something that is a work-in-progress and I'm anxious to see as this week moves forward how this team handles this."—Cutcliffe
With two games remaining in its regular season schedule, Duke controls its own destiny in the ACC's Coastal Division, and can earn a trip to the ACC championship games with back-to-back wins over Georgia Tech and Miami. Cutcliffe called this week's contest against the Yellow Jacket the biggest game he has coached in his time at Duke.
"When you have these kinds of opportunities in a 12-team league that's headed to a 14-team league, you best pay attention to them and take advantage of them," Cutcliffe said. "They don't come across your table all the time, anywhere I've been. It qualifies as a very big game."
"He was filling me in on all that was said, and we had a really good visit. I think he felt emotional about coming back to North Carolina. It was a little emotional for me."—Cutcliffe
With the Denver Broncos in Charlotte to take on the Panthers last Sunday, Cutcliffe got the opportunity to catch up with his good friend and former student, Peyton Manning. Announcers at the Panthers-Broncos game highlighted Manning's relationship with Cutcliffe and commented positively on the success of the Duke football program. Cutcliffe reminisced on the time he spent with Manning last spring, assisting the quarterback in his rehab from neck surgery and hosting his private workouts for NFL teams at Duke.
"That was an interesting time. We both decided that we got to go back in time and really do that, and you don't ever get to do that. All of a sudden I was a quarterback coach with hair—it was incredible. And he was a really young, skinny quarterback. It was pretty special," Cutcliffe said.
Cutcliffe also took the time to laud the accomplishments of wide receiver Brandon Stokely, who also worked out at Duke last spring and has been one of Manning's favorite targets for a number of years.
"I think his son is only nine or 10, but I sent Stokely a text the other day and said 'You're playing so good I'm offering your son a scholarship right now.' It's probably an NCAA violation but that's okay to say it," he added.