Duke sophomore running back Juwan Thompson occasionally cuts back to make a defender miss, but his preference is to plow straight ahead.
"I love to get down hill and hunt contact," said Thompson, who rushed for 69 yards and two touchdowns in the Blue Devils' 48-27 victory over Tulane on Saturday. "Get upfield. Just not worry about cuts, because sometimes trying to make that guy miss, it doesn't necessarily work all the time. And even when it does work, there's always someone else to come pursue the tackle."
As a team, Duke (2-2) rushed for 151 yards and five touchdowns Saturday - establishing the ground attack coach David Cutcliffe has craved since his arrival in 2008. Four games into this season, the Blue Devils are averaging just 110 rushing yards a contest, tying Wake Forest for eighth place in the ACC in rushing offense. That's the same amount Duke averaged last season - good for last in the league.
Traveling to Miami to face Florida International on Saturday (7 p.m., ESPNU), the Blue Devils hope to build on their rushing success. If Duke wants to prevent opponents from overplaying their first-option spread passing scheme, it needs to keep defenses off-balance with a sturdy running game.
That strategy starts with the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Thompson, who is averaging 5.2 carries and 63.0 yards per game. He earned the starting role in preseason camp, and with injuries to junior Desmond Scott and sophomore Josh Snead, Thompson serves as Duke's primary option.
"He's just tough," Cutcliffe said.
Compact and physical, Thompson entered the season prepared for a heavy load.
"I don't care if it's 100 snaps," he said. "I'm going out there to get it done. I'm going to stay out there as long as I can."
That attitude has impressed coaches who have watched Thompson grow into a better receiver and a more productive rusher in single-back formations. Playing at Woodard Academy in Fairburn, Ga., he ran in a wishbone offense similar to Georgia Tech's.
"He's developed a little bit more of a repertoire," Cutcliffe said. "As time goes by, he's got his footwork together, and he's seeing cutbacks."
Duke called on Thompson in the second quarter of Saturday's game against Tulane as it faced fourth-and-1 on its 45-yard-line. Thompson took the handoff left and slammed across the line of scrimmage for the first down and a 12-yard gain.
"That was huge," Duke junior wide receiver Conner Vernon said. The Blue Devils eventually scored on that 18-play drive kept alive by Thompson.
Earlier in the first quarter, Thompson broke free for a 20-yard touchdown run, busting inside and romping outside en route to the end zone for a career-long rush.
With his first two career touchdowns, he became the first Duke running back to score two rushing touchdowns in a game since Clifford Harris in 2008.
Crediting his offensive line, Thompson said Saturday's victory bolstered everyone's confidence.
"It doesn't matter the mistakes that we make, as long as we're doing everything full speed," Thompson said. "We've got to keep going, make the blocks ... make the big runs, good catches. We'll be able to beat anybody."
Note: Blue Devils junior defensive end Kenny Anunike will miss the rest of the 2011 season after tearing anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee during Duke's win over Tulane.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Kenny as he recovers from yet another unfortunate injury," Cutcliffe said. "He was obviously off to an excellent start this season, and we'll miss his production and leadership on the defensive front."
Anunike is currently tied for second in the ACC in quarterback sacks per game (1.00) and tied for fifth in the league in tackles for loss per contest (1.25). His season totals include 15 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks, one forced fumble and one quarterback pressure.