A close-up of Duke's new, grim reaper-style helmet stickers. Courtesy of Duke Sports Information.
Earlier this week, I wrote a story about Duke's transformation on defense. The unit that ranked either second-to-last or last in every meaningful ACC category last season currently ranks fourth in total defense, third in sacks and second in caused turnovers. Not a bad about-face in less than a year's time.
Speaking of faces, here is a close-up look at the new helmet stickers. Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles introduced them to the players the Sunday after Duke's first game along with their accompanying slogan: the decision is mine.
"You make a decision that youre going to make a play," Knowles said. "If a defensive lineman says, its third-and-6 and we really need a stop, you know what, Im going to beat this guy on this play. He gets off the ball really fast and he beats the guy and he hits the quarterback, even if he doesnt sack him, but he hits him and he makes the ball fly off and its an incomplete pass, thats a sticker. Its getting them to believe in themselves."
While Knowles was speaking hypothetically, the reality is that the play of the defensive line has been the greatest difference between this year and last. Head coach David Cutcliffe joked on Tuesday that he asked Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo who was wearing his jersey last year because the improvements he has made have been that drastic. The same can really be said about the entire line. After generating virtually no pressure on opposing quarterbacks last year, Duke has recorded 15 sacks this year.
"That has effects for the whole defense when you have a front four that are dominating the line of scrimmage," Ross Cockrell said.
The next target for the defense is a Logan Thomas-led Virginia Tech squad. It will surely be the toughest challenge yet.