ACC Football Preview: Duke at florida International
MIAMI ó Duke coach David Cutcliffe can speak volumes about how much high school football talent there is for recruiters to choose from across South Florida.
And that’s why he’s not surprised to see Florida International’s evolution into a winner.
“You can go into Dade and Broward County and if you dig in there hard, you will find a lot of football players,” said Cutcliffe, a longtime recruiter of that area himself. “And they have done that.”
Cutcliffe sounds more than a bit leery of what awaits the Blue Devils on Saturday night, when they visit FIU. The Panthers had 10 wins in a 53-game span from 2004 through October 2010, and have won 10 of their last 13 games since.
Schools that have Hall of Famers for basketball coaches ó Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, Isiah Thomas for the Panthers ó would seem to make for an interesting nonconference matchup in football as well, with the Blue Devils (2-2) looking to get over .500 and FIU (3-1) trying to beat an Atlantic Coast Conference team for the first time.
“It’s a great opportunity to play a team from the ACC, a BCS team,” said FIU quarterback Wesley Carroll, whose team is coming off its first loss of the season after an attention-grabbing 3-0 start. “There will be a lot of excitement, a lot of energy around here. We’re anxious to get back out there and I think this team will respond well.”
Ask either team what worries them the most about their opponent this week, and you’d get the same answer: Speed.
FIU has it all over the field, with receiver and returner T.Y. Hilton ó who is expected to play despite getting dealing with injuries over the last two weeks ó and a defensive front that ranks among the nation’s top 10 so far in both sacks and tackles for loss.
Meanwhile, FIU coach Mario Cristobal raves about Duke’s playmaking ability on both sides of the ball as well. He said Duke ó which easily topped Tulane 48-27 last weekend ó is the best team FIU has seen yet this season, and remember, the Panthers have already beaten Louisville and Central Florida.
“They really revved up the offense this last game,” Cristobal said. “They’re playing excellent defense. They don’t get nearly enough credit for their defense, allowing one touchdown I believe in five quarters. Real stingy in the red zone, and it’s because they’re playing physical, physical football. They have some real good athletes.”
Cristobal actually underspoke a bit on the Duke defense assessment. Over an 88-minute span against Boston College and Tulane, Duke’s defense didn’t allow any touchdowns. Tulane got one in the first quarter on an interception return last weekend, then got two from its offense in the final 10 minutes after the outcome was long decided.
“Each week we’ve gained a little more confidence in our defensive scheme,” Duke linebacker Kelby Brown said. “Obviously last week was a great chance to say, ‘Look, we’re going to stop this team, and they’re not going to do anything to us.’ For most of the game, that’s pretty much exactly how it went.”
If it goes that way again, Duke will be on a hot streak, something not often said during football season in Durham. Since starting 7-0 in 1994, the Blue Devils have had only one other three-game winning streak ó coming in October 2009.
By late Saturday, that might change.
“This week is huge for us,” Brown said. “It’s time to finally have a winning record. Going into our bye week, this would be huge for us to keep the momentum going. FIU has got a really good team, so we’ve got to have a great sense of urgency this week.”
FIU is looking for the same.
The Panthers were getting votes in the AP Top 25 for the first time after their 3-0 start. Getting upset by Louisiana took care of that, and not only does FIU have to find a way to emotionally rally, but the Panthers are also dealing with a number of injuries.
“All we’ve said all year is ‘Be 1-0, be 1-0 on every play, every series, every game,'” Carroll said. “Do that, and it all adds up at the end of the night. We’ve just got to stay the course.”