Duke dominant up front in "upset" of No. 24 Miami
NOV 16, 2013 10:25p ET
DURHAM, N.C. -- When Duke senior cornerback Ross Cockrell walked into the postgame press conference on Saturday after Duke's second win over a top-25 team this season -- this one a 48-30 win over No. 24 Miami -- he shook his head when he saw the number of media members crammed into a film room.
There were rows and rows of media, cameramen cramming their equipment into one of the about 10-12 rows of movie theater-style seating. A very small movie theater, though. Like, a home movie theater. And they were all there to talk to an 8-2 Duke team, likely a top-25 Duke team when the polls come out this weekend, about being in control of the Coastal Division.
It was surreal.
"This is the most people I've ever seen postgame. I'll say that," Cockrell said, shaking his head. "But things change once you start winning games."
And he thought back to the ACC football media days in Greensboro. Cockrell, who's been great with the media for the last few years, was one of Duke's representatives. A reporter asked him what his goals were this season.
"To go to the ACC Championship," he said. Duke was picked to finish last in the Coastal Division by the ACC media, by the way.
And he saw the skeptical reaction from the reporter. Almost amusement. Duke? ACC Championship? Cute.
"They didn't actually laugh, no. That was nice of them to do that. It was nice of them not to laugh in my face, so ... " Cockrell said.
No one's laughing now. If Duke wins its final two games against Wake Forest (4-6) and rival North Carolina (5-5), it goes to Charlotte to face Florida State in the ACC Championship game.
1. The Blue Devils dominated the line of scrimmage.
Any question about the flukiness of a Duke win should be answered by the final stats -- Duke ran for 358 yards on 52 carries, averaging 6.9 yards per rush, against a Miami team that has plenty of talent and athleticism on defense. (Even if, to be fair, the Hurricanes aren't playing all that well defensively.)
"One of the emphases that we wanted to instill in practice this week was be physical and run the football," tailback Josh Snead, who had nine rushes for a team-high 138 yards, said. "Coach (Cutcliffe) said we were going to call it and haul it, and that's what we did today."
This isn't Duke pulling out a few trick plays to score touchdowns. This was Duke, particularly in the second half, grinding out long drives and pushing Miami around up front.
That's not something a Duke football team is traditionally supposed to do.
Duke head coach David Cutcliffe is a passing guru, yes -- he did mentor both Peyton and Eli Manning, in case anyone forgot -- but he has passed as much as he has at Duke partially out of necessity.
One of the hardest things to do is get good offensive and defensive lines. The offensive line is a veteran group that has been together for 4-5 years, and it's really starting to show. So Duke doesn't have to pass to win games now.
"We really didn't have to throw the football to be successful, which is a lot of fun," Cutcliffe said.
And wins like this can help eliminate any dismissals of Duke as a finesse team. The Blue Devils were as tough and physical at the line of scrimmage as any "traditional" football team is.
Snead, for one, is glad that the perception can start to shift.
"I can't recall, over the years, people look at us as, 'oh, they're just a team that got a lot of smart guys on the team'," Snead said. "We're at Duke. We play football here. And that's what we want to establish and that's what we're establishing this year."
2. Winning in November is now a reality.
Part of it, though, is because Duke knows how to finish now. Duke has two wins in November now, which is one more than it had in the previous five seasons under Cutcliffe. The Blue Devils haven't lost a game since Sept. 24 (to Pittsburgh). And while winning in November is something Cutcliffe emphasized since the preseason, he's really just been preaching finishing.
His strength and conditioning staff worked his first Duke team (2008) so hard that they collectively lost 597 pounds this year. Each year of being in the system has gotten his players in better and better shape, and they're physically able to finish games strongly.
But they were able to do that last year, too. Mentally being ready to finish, that was the next step.
And that step has arrived. Which is why when Duke went into the half with a 21-20 lead on Miami, they were far from satisfied.
"We knew that we had to come out, we had to hit them in the mouth, because they were going to hit us in the mouth," Cockrell said.
Miami took a 30-28 lead at the 5:04 mark of the third quarter, but Duke scored less than three minutes later and didn't trail again.
Duke was more ready -- based on body language and energy on the sideline -- for the fourth quarter than were the more athletically-gifted Hurricanes.
Part of the reason was that the words of their head coach were still echoing in their ears. He had seen his team -- and plenty of others, for that matter -- in the underdog role, getting a lead and playing not to lose. With his seniors playing their last home game, he didn't want them to do that.
"I told them, I said, 'I don't want you to do that. You're too good to do that. I want you seniors to wish this half would last forever. Go play every minute of this half and enjoy it -- the good and the bad. Don't try to waste any of it away'," Cutcliffe said.
"I told them, 'You're going to win the football game' and I told them the 4-5 reasons why ... and then they went out and proved me right, but I did feel like that. And I was extremely proud of the way we played the fourth quarter. That's a good sign."
3. Will Duke be ranked?
The Blue Devils are 8-2 and were fourth in last week's "others receiving votes" category of the AP poll. They didn't receive any votes in the coaches' poll.
Cutcliffe, who votes in the coaches' poll, knows it will be an uphill battle. When asked if his team deserved to be ranked, he said he couldn't speak for everyone else -- but they had earned his vote.
"I have enough respect for our team, I'm going to vote for our team. I can tell you that," Cutcliffe said. "I don't know the number yet. I've got to look at it. I don't have any idea of all the other results. But I think we've earned that respect from my vote, but I can't control what anybody else thinks."
At least one team will drop out of the AP poll -- No. 24 Miami. Logic might dictate that Duke could replace them in the poll. Another team that received votes in both polls, Minnesota, was off this week (the Golden Gophers are also 8-2). No. 25 Georgia lost too, dropping to 6-4. The top "other" vote-getter in the AP poll, Ole Miss, beat Troy 51-21 on Saturday.
So it might be another week or two before Duke gets ranked, if it keeps winning. But the Blue Devils have Cutcliffe's vote, and he's confident that it's the right choice. Cutcliffe said it's the first time he's voted for his team this season.
"I can feel great about doing that. I feel very comfortable with that," Cutcliffe said. "We've beaten two teams that were in the top-25 and we've played well fairly consistently, which is what a top-25 team should do. We have three areas, three phases that can all win. That's why I think we are ... I don't think every team is in that circumstance. We have three phases that can beat you, and I think that helps us be a good football team."
4. Duke isn't your cute Cinderella story.
There's a natural tendency for the Blue Devils to be seen as a made-for-TV-movie type of story. It wasn't that long ago that Duke argued in court that it was the worst team in college football.
Seeing Duke get to 8-2 on the season after that kind of recent history, particularly with a man as well-respected and well-liked as Cutcliffe at the helm, makes people happy.
Sorry if that bothers fans of other teams, but it does.
But guess what?
It bothers Duke, too.
The condescension is unintentional, of course. But it seeps through every statement that the national media -- and sometimes, even the local media -- makes about where the Blue Devils are right now.
"What if Duke runs the table and wins the Coastal Division? That'd be wild, right?"
Plenty said that before the Miami game. It would be wild. And it's closer and closer to being a reality, so maybe some of the good-natured laughter that always followed that hypothetical will stop.
"I heard a little bit of what they said on (ESPN's College) GameDay. People are kind of having fun with it, but it's a little bit -- and they're being very nice and I'm very appreciative of that, but it's still almost like you're saying, it's like, 'OK, this is kind of fun'," Cutcliffe said.
"Well, we're not going away. Get used to it. I will say that. We're not going anywhere. So this isn't an accident. That, if you want me to say something in that regard, this is no accident. We're not going anywhere. This is all by intention. So they can make their own minds up when we play, and that will be the way -- and I'm not trying to sound cocky. It's just a fact."
The Blue Devils aren't the embodiment of "Rudy". They're not a feel-good story. And they don't want to be congratulated or appreciated because of their past. They want to be valued for what they're doing now.
Duke might be a basketball school first and foremost, but the football culture is changing ever-so-slowly. Cockrell has seen it.
The Cameron Crazies are thought of as the most passionate basketball fanbase in America. The football players saw that, too. They saw the students camping out for weeks, months, in "Krzyzewskiville", just to get into Cameron Indoor Stadium to see a basketball game.
And yet the football team could also look up on Saturdays and see that there were no students in the stands. But the football team never complained about that. At least, not publicly.
Duke students, like most of us, like winning teams. And it took them awhile to get on board with Duke football. But now, they are. After shaky student turnouts all year, they turned out in droves on Saturday.
"I don't think anybody's admitted (jumping on the bandwagon), but it's nice to see the crowds packed like that, to have the support of our university, to have the support of our students," Cockrell said.
"It's something that you know is there. You can see it when they're camping out in K-Ville. So we're giving them a reason to celebrate, and I'm happy about that."
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