DURHAM — It was a play that brought back feelings of here we go again.
It wasnt the second play from scrimmage, when Florida International took advantage of a missed assignment to snap off a 67-yard touchdown pass for a quick 7-0 lead. Rather, it was a play on the next drive that went in Dukes favor.
After a three-and-out in which Duke lost 4 yards, CJ France stripped the Golden Panthers punt returner of the ball, giving the Blue Devils a fresh set of downs. It was the type of play that could swing a games momentum. And it was one that reminded coach David Cutcliffe of another big play that occurred one year ago against Stanford, Dukes upcoming opponent.
The Blue Devils had just cut the deficit to 10-7 in the second quarter against the Andrew Luck-led Cardinal. On the ensuing kickoff, Duke successfully recovered an onside kick, setting up the Blue Devils on the Stanford 39, poised to at least tie the game.
But then quarterback Sean Renfree was sacked twice to set up fourth-and-25, Duke punted and the Cardinal went on to score 34 unanswered points.
The past couple of years since Ive been here, weve had those close games where games just changed in the second quarter, and some teams exploded, and unfortunately for us, it hasnt been us, redshirt sophomore Brandon Connette said.
At the 108th play of the game, counting all special teams, the score was 17-7, and 22 plays later, the 130th, it was 37-7 Stanford. The game flipped that quickly in a matter of 22 plays. We were able to do the same thing to FIU this time.
Indeed, after France stripped the ball and long snapper Jackson Anderson recovered it, Duke put together a 10-play drive that ended with a Connette rushing touchdown to tie the score at 7-7. The Blue Devils then put up 30 second-quarter points, the fourth-most productive quarter in the programs 100-year history.
Thats the opposite of what happened to us a year ago, Cutcliffe said. At the right time you started having players make plays.
Now, Duke will again face the Cardinal in the second game of the season, but this time with a 1-0 record instead of 0-1.
It would have been a much more difficult task to be energized when youre sore on Tuesday, he said. They understand, theyre enthused, and also, having played Stanford a year ago, understand the challenge of this game.
Cutcliffe isnt worried about a letdown following the type of quality win that has been all too rare at Duke.
Asked if he was concerned about the chance of complacency, he interrupted saying, If anybody gets complacent here, they are going to fail in life.
Instead, the Blue Devils are calmly, eagerly awaiting their opportunity to defeat a nationally ranked opponent on the road for the first time in 41 years.
The opponent in that Oct. 2, 1971 game? None other than the Cardinal.
The calmness comes from knowing what were capable of doing, Connette said. Theres just an unexplainable excitement around Duke right now.