Duke football coach David Cutcliffe talks about upcoming Miami game

Durham, NC – Duke football head coach David Cutcliffe met with members of the media on Monday afternoon for his weekly press conference.

The Blue Devils host Miami on Saturday for Senior Day. The game will be broadcast on RSN with Tom Werme, James Bates and Wiley Ballard on the call. Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m. The game can also be heard on the Blue Devil Sports Network from LEARFIELD through the Varsity app or GoDuke.com

David Cutcliffe Duke Football Head Coach
(Ref.: Opening Statement)
“Good afternoon. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. This is a unique week, always. It’s more unique when it’s the last game of the year, but always a unique week. It’s a good week because we spend a lot of time together as a team. We’ll have a Thanksgiving meal together. There’ll be other meals that we’ll eat together because they’re out of school. A little more time than you normally get with players.

“Just mentioning these seniors, we’ve got a unique group. We have some transfers in this group that we’re certainly going to celebrate that have really just been awesome people and fit into our program well. We have a couple of guys from other sports, baseball and lacrosse to name a few, that are celebrating a senior season as a football player and that’s fun as well. Then you have the guys that have been in the program that have contributed so much as leaders and players and people. Just looking at how many grad students are in this and guys that are graduating in December and then a few that are going to graduate in May, you are excited for them but you’re sad. As long as I’ve been in college football, it’s a sad time for a coach to say goodbye to anybody that’s been a part of your life every day for so many years. But you also are excited to know some have got jobs and we got guys that are in New York or in different locations. A lot to celebrate in that.

“Now to get into the football game part of it, we got a huge challenge. Miami is an extremely talented team at every position. Speed, size, strength – I mean, they have it. Obviously, we feel like we’ve got to play our best game. We all know our problems and the things we haven’t done. You focus on what you’ve done well, and you build on what you’ve done well. You build confidence in that manner. Also, you are obviously looking at the things that are the biggest issues. We’ve got to give up as few explosive plays to an explosive team as you can. We got to continue to finish drives and score. Everybody says how it takes high level of play. It takes a high level of play at a consistent manner. That’s what the practice week is about. Nobody is cashing things in, don’t think that for one second. We’ve already had one practice and it was motivated, enthusiastic and intense. We’ll practice tomorrow morning and then we get a little bit of an advantage with no school. They get a little bit of sleep needed this time of year, we’ll practice in the afternoon on Wednesday and Friday. On Thursday, we will practice in the morning so we can go as a team and celebrate a Thanksgiving feast for a lunch together. So that’s our week, a big football challenge, but it’s a week that we’re going to cherish and not wish away. I’m excited to see how our guys respond to this last challenge. We can’t do anything about what’s behind us. We’ve got one in front of us, and that’s where our focus is right now.”

(Ref.: On his assessment of the quarterback situation right now)
“Yeah, I think there’s no question you’ll see, you know, if not two, but three. There’ll be some form of rotation and opportunities to try to be different, to some degree. Which can certainly help us. It’s early in the week right now. So that’s not as clear and concise as it could be as the week goes on. But certainly, there’s no question that you’ll see Gunnar [Holmberg] and you’re going to see Riley [Leonard] and then Jordan [Moore] obviously does some special things himself. We’re going to try to use every talent that we have on this team to try to beat an extremely talented team. We may have to pick and choose how and when to use those talents, but we’ve got to do that.”

(Ref.: On utilizing Mataeo Durant more in games)
“Well, as a layman you don’t see what people are doing to the line of scrimmage. When they put a lot of people at the line of scrimmage, you can’t just keep running into people. You have five or six blockers and they put seven or eight, they’re making you make decisions to either run the quarterback, some because you gain a blocker or throw the football. He is always a part of our plan, but you can’t dictate to them what they are doing.”

(Ref.: On Duke’s tackling woes and missing tackles against Louisville)
“We have to do a better job of teaching them to tackle and they have to do a better job of being fierce as a tackler. If I’m tackling you, if I stop here and you’re a great athlete, what are the chances that I’m going to be able to even put a hand on you or just get an arm tackle? You have to have confidence to close and tackle with speed. That’s just one of the issues. It’s hard, it’s not impossible. Like I said, we got the robot, we got different things, but it’s hard to do a lot of live tackling in practice, particularly this late in the season. But you have to have more and more quality work, and then the players have to commit to that quality work, understand how important it is. It’s the same basic thing and message I’m carrying to the defensive staff and the defensive team. The only way we’re going to get better at tackling is to be more aggressive tackling, not less aggressive, not cautious. You can’t fear missing a tackle and be a good tackler, if that makes sense. I think sometimes when it gets in your head, you become more cautious. You got to pull the trigger. It’s like a check swing in baseball. One out of every 90, you may get a bloop single. You can’t check swing tackling, if that makes sense. You may trip them, but we have to do that better, particularly against this team.”

(Ref.: On if he has more football left in him after dealing with outside noise on and off the field)
“That’s what everybody’s speculating. I got more. I don’t know if I look worn out or look all that bad, but I got a lot of fire in me. I’m a young football coach. I love doing what I’m doing. Has this been fun? No. Has it been rewarding? Yes, because you find out more about yourself during these times. Here is the test. I’ve had to fight adversity all my life, and you don’t run from it. I mean, you just get better. It pays. I’m a firm believer in Galatians 6:9, “don’t grow weary of doing good for at a proper time you will reap a great harvest.” I’m not going to back down from that mentality. I appreciate the question, I do. You get reports like this, and I don’t read anything, but I get prospects and people saying, ‘hey, is this true? Is this true?’ I’ll speak to that when I want to speak to that, make no mistake about that. But I want to invite anybody that wants to keep up with me to try to keep up with me. Come on.”

(Ref.: On the hope of taking advantage of an inexperienced Miami quarterback)
“Any time you take a guy that has less experience, you hope you can put him into at least mentally thinking more you think. Just like I was talking about tackling, when a quarterback is thinking he’s not playing, you’ve got to play that position on time. And so yes, it always does, and you can’t depend upon disguise. It’s got to be changeups and disguises, but it also comes with effective good play. He’s got some talented, experienced receivers and a tight end. He has just done a tremendous job of creating explosive plays because he’s got a big arm and he’s got an accurate arm. But yeah, it’s going to take a little bit of all of it to have a chance to have some success”

(Ref.: On what is he is thankful for)
“Well, I’m always thankful for my family, which is getting bigger and bigger when you have grandchildren. But I’m thankful for all the people, the collective group of people, that are Duke football, Duke Athletics and Duke University. I mean, I would suspect people would imagine that in 14 years, how many people pull it at your heart so strongly here. We’ve got incredible people. The relationships I’ll always be thankful for. That’s life, isn’t it? It’s strong relationships, whether it’s family and friends and others that make a good life. We were just talking about the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. That may be the perfect example. Everything was falling apart for Jimmy Stewart. If you’ve never watched it, I suggest you watch it this holiday. Then he realized, because of the people that he loved so much, he was the richest man in town. So, it’s a great lesson and it’s one in our family that you’re required to watch every Christmas. I don’t know what I would do to any of them that didn’t, but I don’t have to find that out. They all love it, but it’s kind of what I’m thankful for year round, not just now.”

(Ref.: On any changes possible to Duke’s defensive schemes)
“I’ve got my toolkit out, just to answer that question. We kind of got a screwdriver, a hammer and quite a few things. You got to look at it. I mean, you got to look at some things and I’ve had a lot of long meetings with those guys. I came in really, really early Sunday morning before church and it was good because it was quiet. Nobody in the building. Started looking at all the different ways that Miami’s been successful and what are the different ways that can be contested. You got to look at every bit of it. It’s just like Jim said, you got a quarterback, make him think a little bit, and you’ve got to tackle better, like you said. But you also have to put people in the best positions we can be in to have success. That goes into scheme. So, a lot of thought going into that all week.”

(Ref.: On it being the final game of the season and Senior Day)
“Well, I’ve heard some of them mention it. They’re well aware of it and well aware we were in a tough slot there. When you’re in this circumstance, everybody looks for hope and belief, and I think that’s fine. I mean, I wouldn’t discourage that. They know, too, though this is a different Miami team and completely different Duke team. But it’s what you do when you try to rally from a difficult time. It takes everybody, and they remember that. That’s what you’re looking for this week is all in, everybody.”

(Ref.: On Mataeo Durant being close to the school record in single-season rushing yardage)
“Well, I’m well aware of it and you know, the coaches are well aware of it. It’s always, an individual record is always secondary to trying to win the football game. We would all love that for a youngster that’s had a special year. I think he would have already broken it if he hadn’t been as banged up as he’s been over the last few weeks, which is another reason we’ve lowered the number of carries. Let’s hope we win and that happens. Wouldn’t that be fun? That would. That would not cure everything, but it certainly would make you feel better heading into the off season.”

(Ref.: On younger players that have stood out to him throughout the season)
“Well, we’ve got a number, and it’s hard to just single out players. It’s unfair to other players, particularly when you know you have seen it all year long. But our first- and second-year players, whether it’s been in the kicking game or whether it’s been on offense and defense, as a group have been impressive. You see guys that are making tackles way down the field in the kicking game. You see guys making plays all over the field. You feel like guys have been there a while. But, some of these young people are second year players. You think Jaylen Stinson’s been around for forever, but he hasn’t. That’s what I would tell you about those two classes, it’s probably the fastest two classes. We’ve got a lot of speed. Another one you don’t think about being a second-year player is Graham Barton, who has started a year as a center, now starting as a left tackle. Wow, and he’s played really well. They’re all in and growing, and what you pray for them is that all of the adversity and the difficulties that they’ve gone through sharpens them beyond the game field. It sharpens them and their desire to get better in the offseason. The desire to have the kind of team that you have to have that’s all in. All of those things collectively can come out of adversity and make it a special run for these first- and second-year players. Of course, we got third- and fourth-year players back as well. I’m excited about that class overall, but I just hesitate to pick any individual out at this time. But, you can go through the stat sheet and see how many of them. Then, Gary Smith III, a defensive lineman that has started for us as a second year. You forget DeWayne Carter is a third-year guy. I mean, I forget, hadn’t he been around here forever, you know? But it’s interesting. Depend upon how you count it. He’s basically a redshirt freshman. Because he was on the 2020 team that was given an extra year of eligibility. You ought to try to count your roster. It’s hard. I mean, I don’t know who’s what. When I say, ‘OK, senior stand up?’ It’s interesting the way they view it sometimes.”