Duke Beat: Blue Devils Have to Get Better for ACC Play

Duke fans are exited and rightfully so; their Blue Devils are 3-1 for the first time since 2008 after taking care of business in their nonconference schedule.

The most recent victory, a 38-14 drubbing of Memphis, wasn’t always pretty, but in the end Duke managed to take care of business, something that hasn’t always been the case.

It has been a long time since anyone could say that Duke won all the games it was supposed to win. Typically it is the ‘if Duke had won this game or that’ talk that dominates the post season reflections. But we aren’t in the post season yet but Duke, yes Duke, has positioned themselves to actually play some football this post season.

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves though, because the challenge for Duke has only just begun. They’ve finished their non conference schedule 3-1, basically what everyone had predicted they would do by beating the three teams they were expected to beat.

The only loss, to a highly ranked Stanford team doesn’t quite seem as bad now that everyone has seen how good the Cardinal really are.

Duke now heads into the ACC season and will face a good Wake Forest team that has essentially dominated this series since Jim Grobe took over as head coach in 2001. Since then the Blue Devils have not beaten the Demon Deacons, and to break that streak this season the Blue Devils are going to have to get a lot better.

Getting better means taking care of the ball and eliminating the errors that have hurt the team this year in every way except in the win-loss category. The only exception being the Stanford loss where the turnovers combined with Stanford’s talent did Duke in.

Duke had four turnovers against Memphis, and until the second half was still struggling on third downs.

“We can’t be losing the turnover ratio four to zip. We can’t make mistakes at critical times,” Cutcliffe said.

“We’ve got a lot of getting better to do to compete in this league.”

The ACC, for all the talk of it being a wide open league, appears to be top heavy again with teams like Florida State, Clemson and to a lesser extent Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech leading the way.

But even Miami, despite a lopsided loss to Kansas State earlier this year, is making some noise again after beating Georgia Tech.

All of those teams are on Duke’s conference schedule and one thing is undoubtedly clear, all those teams are better than Florida International, North Carolina Central and Memphis, and the mistakes that Duke has made in those games will cost them in conference play.

Wake is the first ACC test and the Deacons have owned Duke. Wake Forest, under Grobe, has mastered winning the close games, and the Blue Devils have lost more than their fair share of heart breakers lately in this series.

A loss against the Deacons, and that fan enthusiasm for Duke Football will all but be gone. Sadly for the team that is how fickle the fan base is these days.

In the game against Memphis, and to an extent in every single home game this year, there was a mass exodus at halftime. Either the fans aren’t convinced this team can win big games given the level competition they have faced to date, or they don’t know that football is played in two halves.

This isn’t the same Duke Football team; this is a team that feels like it will be one that has to be reckoned with in the ACC. And the players are beginning to believe that they finally can compete for something more than just respectability.

“We need to carry this to Wake Forest and now conference play all the way through and make sure we show everybody that this is a new Duke team and that we are contenders in the ACC,” Duke defensive end Kenny Anunike said.

If that is to happen it will start against Wake Forest, a game that many in the fan base are already calling, and rightfully so, the biggest Duke Football game since 1994.

But really every Duke game from this point forward is going to be one of the biggest, because it is ACC play, and that is where Bowl hopes are born or where they fizzle out.

A loss to the Deacons next week and those Bowl hopes for Duke will die before they could ever really develop.

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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