College Football: Victory gives Duke belief it can win
DURHAM ó David Cutcliffe delivered a rare season-opening win in his first game as head coach at Duke. Turns out that victory over James Madison has generated two things even more unusual for the Blue Devils ó interest and enthusiasm.
“The students are really excited,” running back Clifford Harris said Tuesday, three days after rushing for a career-high 95 yards and two touchdowns in the 31-7 rout of the Dukes. “I think we put on a good show this past weekend, and I think they’re really excited about the Northwestern game. People are starting to believe in Duke football again around the campus.”
Plenty of good seats remain on the Duke bandwagon and inside Wallace Wade Stadium, but those numbers dwindle slowly by the day. With the help of an employee ticket promotion, the Blue Devils drew 32,571 fans for the James Madison game, the largest home crowd since 2002.
“It was amazing,” senior defensive end Clifford Respress said. “That was the most people I’ve seen at one of our games ó the most of our people, anyway. It was great. The student section was loud, and everybody was cheering. They contribute to the energy that we play with.”
Cutcliffe said he hopes for an even bigger crowd this weekend against Northwestern, which defeated Syracuse 30-10 in its opener. But Cutcliffe’s chief concern is making sure that his team is ready to play in the second of four consecutive home games to open the season.
The Blue Devils, who before last weekend hadn’t won a season opener since 2002 and hadn’t won a home game since 2005, aren’t used to preparing for games after a win. Cutcliffe acknowledged that his players looked physically tired at the end of practice Tuesday ó “I think there was a lot of energy spent” Saturday, he said ó but he praised their mental attention to the next task at hand.
“They understand what we’re trying to do,” he said.
This week, that means more of the unusual. Duke is trying to start 2-0 for the first time since 1998, win consecutive home games for the first time since 1997 and string together back-to-back wins of any kind for the first time since 2003.
Plus, the Blue Devils are playing the only team that they defeated in 2007. Duke won at Northwestern 20-14 last September despite allowing the Wildcats to roll up 506 yards of total offense.
“Everybody congratulates us, and it’s nice to have people come up to you and say congratulations and all that good stuff,” Respress said. “But as a team, we’re focused now on Northwestern. The opener is gone. It’s over with.”
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