Duke Beat: Devils Seeking Sustainability After Opening Win

It isn’t that hard to win one game in college football. Even Duke in its worst years managed that feat more times than not, but winning with regularity, therein lies the challenge.

Lou Brown, the fictional manager from Major League put it best when he said, “We won a game yesterday; we win one today that’s two in a row; we win one tomorrow, that is called a winning streak.”

Yes Lou, it has happened before, just not so much for the Duke Football program, but that is something that David Cutcliffe wants to change and believes that can be changed.

“We’ve had good football teams. We can play with anybody,” Cutcliffe said. “We’ve had some nice wins here; we’ve played some good games. Remember we had three ACC wins in a row in (2009). We can sustain this. But will we sustain it, that’s your challenge.”

The Blue Devils sit at 1-0, not necessarily a winning streak, but the way that Duke dissected Florida International’s defense and played opportunistically overall on route to their 46-26 victory, it is a start. And it only speaks to how far the Blue Devils have come and how much closer they are to sustaining the kind of success that Cutcliffe believes they can.

The Blue Devils took a big step toward the respectability they seek Saturday night.  The victory has a lot of fans talking about a possible upset next week against Stanford and the possibility of a bowl game in the future. While those are nice to think about, Duke has to do something that they just haven’t been able to do; play consistently.

The win was Cutcliffe’s first ever season opening victory against an FBS team while at Duke. The win brings his record in season openers to 3-2. All the previous games had been against FCS level schools, with both loses coming at the hands of the Richmond Spiders.

But it was the way that Duke won the game that stands out. They won it by essentially forcing FIU to play from behind by being the aggressor after taking the lead in the second quarter. It also helped that so many of the game’s misfortunes befell FIU, as opposed to Duke. Those freakish mistakes have killed Duke over the years.

“Any break, any opportunity we got, we took advantage of it,” Cutcliffe said. “We played with more consistent intensity and that is when those plays start happening.”

The Blue Devils forced three turnovers and blocked a field goal attempt late in the first half, which Ross Cockrell returned 75 yards for a touchdown.

Most importantly Duke managed to capitalize on those turnovers, either scoring directly off of them or having the offense capitalize on them. The Blue Devils ended up scoring a total of 12 points off the three turnovers, not including the seven scored off the blocked field goal.

Those kinds of numbers and stats are nice but is it something that Duke can duplicate? Can the type of game they played against FIU be replicated and improved on?

The simple answer is yes, Duke didn’t play a perfect game and Cutcliffe knows it.

“We weren’t perfect for 60 minutes but we were into the game for 60 minutes,” Cutcliffe said. “There is another level of execution and consistency, and when we find that other level … we have a chance … to become a good football team.

“And once you become a good football team, then it is endless what you can do.”

Moving forward, Duke has to be better on third down, they have to tackle better, and they have to eliminate costly penalties. In short, there is a lot of work to be done, and next week’s opponent is not likely to be as forgiving as FIU.

Cutcliffe knows this too, and he knows how good the Cardinal are even without Andrew Luck. He also knows that Stanford’s new quarterback Josh Nunes will only get better in game two.

“He (Luck) is not the only good football player that Stanford has,” Cutcliffe said. “Stanford is outstanding on defense. He (Nunes) has lots of weapons surrounding him.”

Still the win over FIU gives Duke something that, like wins, hasn’t been in abundance in Durham for quite some time: Confidence.

Several players were asked about how important the victory was for the team’s confidence. All agreed that it is a major factor going forward. Duke has a week to prepare to put that confidence to the test in Palo Alto. And it will be there and beyond when we know if this Blue Devil team has turned the corner and finally made winning sustainable.

“We’ll find out after we go play game two, and game three, and game four. I think that is what you have to turn it into,” Cutcliffe said.

Duke Sports BlogMike Kline is the operator of DukeSportsBlog.com, a site dedicated to coverage and analysis of Duke Football and Basketball from a fan’s perspective. He is also a regular contributor for DukeReport.com. Mike does a monthly podcast with Jim Oliver of Duke Report focusing on Duke Basketball and occasionally football. Mike is a long time Duke football and basketball fan. A former journalist, Mike is now a mild mannered middle school teacher by day and blogger by night. Follow Mike on Twitter at @DukeBlogMKline

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