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Quick Hits: Cutcliffe readies Blue Devils for Georgia Tech

Duke football head coach David Cutcliffe held his weekly press conference Tuesday, addressing Duke’s 19-10 loss against then-No. 23 Northwestern and the upcoming matchup against No. 20 Georgia Tech. Duke (2-1) faces the Yellow Jackets (2-1) in its ACC opener at Wallace Wade Stadium this Saturday at noon for the third home stand in as many weeks. Here are some of the more notable sound bytes from Cutcliffe’s press conference:

The Blue Devils suffered their first loss of the season Saturday against Northwestern despite a strong defensive effort. Duke’s defense gave up 201 yards rushing—55 of which came on a single run—and just 70 yards through the air, where it also registered two interceptions. Despite the strong effort, lack of execution in the kicking game cost the team the victory. The Wildcats returned the opening kickoff of the second half 98 yards for a touchdown, and Blue Devil punter Will Monday—a three-time All-ACC selection—had a tough time placing his punts. Usually automatic, Monday had 6-of-11 punts fall into the end zone for touchbacks, which prevented Duke from capitalizing on the chance to switch the field Saturday.

“If we just take better care of the football and don’t give up big plays in the kicking game, we’re going to win the football game. It may not have been pretty, but you can win punting, particularly against a team like that.”

Despite suffering a partially torn pectoral muscle early in fall camp, redshirt junior Jela Duncan returned to practice Tuesday. The running back has not seen game action since the 2013 ACC Championship game against Florida State due to suspension, but is making progress to return to the gridiron for the Blue Devils. Duncan has 1,115 yards and seven touchdowns in 26 career games, so Duke is looking to get him back on the field as soon as he is physically able in order to make another run at the Coastal title.

“Jela did practice today and got some full speed contact. We’ll evaluate how his body responds to that.”

Georgia Tech ran into problems against Notre Dame last week that it normally does not face—they could not run the ball effectively. The Fighting Irish held the prolific Yellow Jacket offense to 216 yards on the ground, and only allowed 3-of-15 third down conversions. Due in part to a speedy and well-disciplined defensive group, Notre Dame was able to hand Georgia Tech its first loss of the season.

“I’d like to have six, seven, eight, nine, ten of those players is a big part of it. [Notre Dame’s defense is] very talented.”

Another problem for the Blue Devils against Northwestern Saturday was the inability to move the ball on offense in the same manner that they had the previous two weeks. It did not help the team that an interception in the red zone and two lost fumbles—one by running back Shaun Wilson and the other by Ryan Smith on a punt return—gave the Wildcats extra opportunities. Against Georgia Tech this week, Duke will have to maintain the ball better, and remedy the penalty situation that it faced last week—the team cost itself 39 yards on four penalties throughout the game. Due to the nature of the Yellow Jackets’ offense, the Blue Devils cannot afford to have the same occur if they want to begin ACC play with a victory.

“When you’re playing Georgia Tech, you can’t have penalties. You cannot have plays that put you behind schedule so to speak, down and distance…. I’ve always told offensive teams, you’re not only competing against their defense, you’re competing at this level against that offensive team.”

Through three games this season Georgia Tech has had 14 players register runs for a triple option offense that already has 1,131 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. Quarterback Justin Thomas has 100 yards and two touchdowns and running backs Marcus Marshall and Patrick Skov have combined for 409 yards and seven touchdowns. With the Yellow Jackets’ ability to spread the ball around and quickness on the offensive side of the ball, Duke will have to demonstrate the speed from recruiting is able to handle one of the top rushing attacks in the nation.

“Tomorrow we will be better at playing against [the triple option], and playing it—the scout team will be better. Is it going to look like Georgia Tech? No, that’s part of the problem…. They’re really fast. They’ve got one of the fastest players in the league playing quarterback and their slot backs are fast and now they’ve got a fullback that is really explosive and fast.”

Following an 0-2 start in the National Football League, the Philadelphia Eagles decided to sign former Blue Devil quarterback Thaddeus Lewis Monday. After graduating from Duke in 2010, Lewis had been on five different teams in the last six years, but will now look to make a difference wherever his new head coach Chip Kelly needs him.

“I was thrilled and am happy for him. It confirms to me that Chip Kelly is smart. Thad Lewis is a good football player.”

Stay with the Blue Zone for continued coverage of Duke football as the Blue Devils prepare for their conference opener Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium.

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