Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Duke's Cutcliffe encouraged, despite loss to Tide

DURHAM - After watching, and re-watching, film of his team's 62-13 loss to top-ranked Alabama, Duke coach David Cutcliffe said Tuesday he's actually more encouraged than discouraged about his team's future.

For one thing, he was impressed with his players' ability to run with the Crimson Tide - reinforcing his belief that the young Blue Devils boast more speed and athleticism than years past.

For another, "our effort was still really good with five minutes to go in the game," he said. "And I want you to think about that. There's a lot of folks that would fold the tent in that situation ... but our guys were still playing as hard as they can play. How can you not be encouraged by that?"

As bright a spot as that effort might be, Duke (1-2) still has plenty of work to do as it prepares to play Army (2-1) on Saturday. The Black Knights run an option offense that will challenge a Blue Devils defense that ranks 117th out of 120 FBS teams (allowing 510.67 yards per game) and 118th in scoring defense (allowing 46.67 ppg). Meanwhile, Duke's offense - which sputtered against Bama after a solid start to the season - faces an Army defense that posted a shutout against North Texas last weekend.

Three areas where the Blue Devils must improve, if they want to push their record back to .500:

* Tackling.

Cutcliffe knew his new "multiple" defense might struggle at times, but he didn't expect it to give up 116 points over two games.

"I knew we weren't very big, and I knew we lacked some real experience in certain places," he said. "But through speed and through movement, you thought you could hide it, cover it, and make the plays you need to play. But when you are unsure of yourself, or are playing on your heels, then you absolutely put yourself in harm's way."

The biggest problem has been wrapping up opponents. All too often, Duke's defenders have been either out of position, or simply unable to finish a tackle. Linebacker Abraham Kromah said the defense has been working on being more consistent in practice - something he hopes will carry over Saturday.

"This is a great opportunity for us to show what we can do on defense, what we're capable of, to show what we should be doing," Kromah said.

* Third-quarter scoring.

Why have the Blue Devils scored only 3 points, total, over three games in the third quarter ?

"I'm hunting that one with a big ol' stick," Cutcliffe said.

Duke's third-quarter dropoff is perplexing, considering  it has managed 31 points in the first quarter, 44 in the second and 24 in the fourth.

 "I've looked at different things, and I haven't seen anything unusual," Cutcliffe said. "You've just got to go do it. Schematically ... no one's run something new in the second half that they didn't run in the first half, to this point. Sometimes somebody will come out with a different change, and it will take you a couple series to adjust. Sometimes we do that offensively, too. But [there's] no particular reason other than we're not getting it done."

* Catching the football.

Duke's receivers have dropped at least a half-dozen passes each of the past two games, something it can't afford when the offense might have to make up for the Blue Devils' defensive lapses.

"It's bothering me," Cutcliffe said of the bobbles. "...I'm irritated that we do [have those drops] and we're better than that. ... I think we've got some guys, starting to let it get in their head. That's not the way you go, you don't ever start doubting yourself in sports. The minute you do, you're beat."

-- Robbi Pickeral