DURHAM — Every Tuesday, after his media obligations are complete, Duke coach David Cutcliffe and his staff spend the rest of the afternoon meeting about third-down situations.
“It’s very tedious,” he said. “You can’t predict everything that’s going to happen, but you’ve got to have a good plan. One of the things we’ve done is we’ve leaned on what we do, and what we’re very familiar with. That always is a good practice. Don’t talk yourself out of things because you’ve done it before.”
Up until halftime in the Memphis game, Duke was 9-of-50 (18 percent) on third down. The Blue Devils went 0-for-10 against FCS N.C. Central and were 1-for-7 against the lowly Tigers before completely reversing the trend.
In the second half of the Memphis game, Duke went 8-for-9 on third down. Last week against Wake Forest, Duke went 10-of-17. Over the past three halves, the conversion rate is 69 percent (18-for-26).
With the exception of one unsuccessful pass attempt on a third-and-1 try, Duke ran the ball against Wake Forest when it needed 3 yards or fewer and took to the air starting at third-and-4.
“We emphasized not just getting to the sticks but knowing where the sticks are, catching the ball and getting upfield and just better knowing our down and distance,” backup quarterback Anthony Boone said. “Just kind of having pre-snap awareness, letting our receivers know so they kind of have an idea of what we’re going to think.”
Before leaving with an elbow injury, starter Sean Renfree twice hit Desmond Scott to convert third-and-27 and third-and-19. Both times, Scott found a seam and picked up the necessary yards after the catch.
“It just gives the willpower to keep moving forward,” he said after the game about his conversions. “We’re supposed to make those plays. That’s what we train for week in and week out, to make big plays.”
Both of Scott’s long conversions led to touchdowns. Scoring hasn’t been an issue. Duke’s 185 points through five games are the highest in the program’s 100-year history.
This week against Virginia, Duke will try to make more history and become just the third squad since 1990 to reach the five-win plateau.