Duke stays positive
DURHAM — Duke is trying to stay positive, even as its recent results suggest it shouldn’t.
The Blue Devils, losers of two straight, are entering must-win territory with four games left and needing to win three to qualify for their first bowl game since 1994.
“We’re a much improved football team,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “Our challenge is to play better, and I think we can accomplish that. If we were 8-0 right now, we would be just as hungry to get better, and that works both ways because 3-5 is not a deterrent, or will it ever be, to how hard we work.”
When the Blue Devils visit Miami on Saturday, they know they’ll need to be better in the red zone than they were against Virginia Tech.
Duke (3-5, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) scored just twice on five trips inside the Tech 20. That’s a major reason the Blue Devils fell short in a 14-10 loss that put their already slim bowl hopes in serious doubt.
A week earlier, Duke held Wake Forest scoreless for most of the second half while scoring 23 straight points, but allowed the go-ahead score on a 66-yard touchdown pass midway through the fourth quarter.
“We don’t have much margin of error, but we’re playing as a team, and we’re not as talented as most of the teams we’re playing at this point yet,” Cutcliffe said. “When the margin is not great, you’ve got to perform at a high level, you have to perform near perfect, and we’re closing the gap of excellence, that’s what we’re seeking.”
Cutcliffe has praised his team’s ability to bounce back from losses and its determination, and says the team’s first practice after the Virginia Tech loss was its best on a Sunday this year.
The players agree with their coach. They say they’re upset that they lost two winnable games and say they’re ready to start making up for those shortcomings.
“We have the opportunity to win the game whether defensively or offensively, we just have to understand that we have to make the plays when it comes around to making them,” safety Matt Daniels said. “It starts Tuesday through Saturday, and you don’t make those plays Saturday if you don’t make those plays Tuesdays through Saturdays.”
Duke knows what it has to do against Miami, which is led by improved quarterback Jacory Harris and running back Lamar Miller, who ranks second in the league in rushing with an average of 108.6 yards.
“We just want to give it our all, and we’re only going to pick up our heat and pick up our intensity as we go down to Miami,” Daniels said. “It’s another Coastal Division team, and we’re looking forward to it.”