Monday, Oct. 18, 2003, the football team ran out on the field in Wallace Wade Stadium on Homecoming Weekend ready to play in-state rival Wake Forest. The Duke players walked back into the locker room at halftime demoralized and embarrassed by the 42-0 deficit that stared each of them in the face. The following day, head coach Carl Franks was fired. Ted Roof took over in an interim capacity for the remainder of last year and became the permanent head coach in December.
A year after Roof took over the program, the 2004 team has struggled to find a rhythm or identity on its way to a 1-5 record.
“It’s been challenging,” Roof said. “A lack of challenge certainly hasn’t been a problem.”
Despite Duke’s poor record, however, players said they have seen improvements under Roof’s guidance.
“I think we’re closer than we’ve been since I’ve been here,” junior Justin Kitchen said. “We hang out more. We’re supporting each other a lot more than we used to. And we’re not pointing the finger as much, and that’s the huge thing because it’s so hard when people start pointing fingers at other people. I think you get away from a team sense when that happens, so I think Coach Roof has held us together really well.”
Nonetheless, the team is frustrated with the results on the field because last season finished on such a high note after Roof took over. In the final five games, Roof led the Blue Devils to a 2-3 record and had the team competing in nearly every one of those contests.
Morale has not been as high this season. Saturday may present the most difficult challenge the Blue Devils have faced thus far when they take on No. 14 Virginia, which leads the ACC in every offensive category. The Cavaliers, however, are coming off a disheartening 36-3 defeat at the hands of fifth-ranked Florida State.
“We do have a tremendous challenge, but it is also a great opportunity,” Roof said. “As far as we match up, well, they lead the ACC in everything for a reason. They have good coaches and good players. We have to play better and we have to coach better.”
Roof plans on reverting back to fundamental drills for this week’s practices. He does not expect to make any changes in the game plan, because he said his system can be successful if his team executes better.
“We do what we do, we adjust it within the parameters of the system,” Roof said. “We certainly have a lot of flexibility within that system, but we’ve got to continue to work to get better. Sometimes people don’t want to believe it, but when things don’t go the way you want you have to go back to fundamentals—you have to go back to basics because when things start going right, that’s what you have to hang your hat on.”
Kitchen agreed with his coach that the defense needs to make particular improvements in the game’s basics.
“When [Roof] talks about fundamentals, I think he means staying low, tackling better, being better with our eyes,” Kitchen said. “I look at us as more of a young defense, and I think we need to get better with our eyes and our assignments and just focusing a little bit more when we’re playing.”
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There are still some bright signs for this team, however. Sophomore John Talley is leading the ACC with four interceptions after picking off Georgia Tech’s Reggie Ball. Similarly, quarterback Mike Schneider has continued to demonstrate some improvement as the full-time starting quarterback, even after taking some painful hits Saturday.
“I thought he showed a lot of guts, a lot of character, a lot of toughness. When your quarterback shows those types of characteristics it rubs off on your football team,” Roof said. “He was in my office [Monday] morning wondering what he could do better, how he could help our team.”
After his first year at the helm Roof is still approaching each week as he did his first.
“I knew it was just a Monday—that we had to come get ready to play,” Roof said.