In todays paper, I wrote about the culture change thats taken place within the Duke football program. The Blue Devils have a winning record in their past 20 games (11-9). Just about half of the scholarship players have never missed a bowl at Duke. Read all about that and more here.
A concrete example of this change came I was talking to senior Ross Cockrell, and he mentioned that the veterans had to make sure the young players stayed humble. Wait a second: theres a concern that Duke football players could become too cocky and confident? My, how times have changed.
"That was nothing you had to worry about when we were younger, Cockrell said. "Now you have to worry about it."
No one personifies the new Duke football better than sophomore Jeremy Cash. A big-time recruit out of South Florida, Cash played for a year at Ohio State before transferring to Duke prior to last season ( for more background on how Cash got to Durham, check out this story). He sat out the 2012 campaign and is now starting at safety, leading the ACC in total tackles (66) and ranking second in tackles per game (9.43).
Cash still has the swagger, if you will, of a big-time recruit. For example, when I suggested to him that maybe some people (writers included) had written Duke off when down 22-0 at Virginia, this was his response:
"Thats fine. If people dont want to believe whatever we think , thats absolutely fine," he said. "My thing is, you can go ahead and hate, but when you do hate, just make sure to spell our name right.
"Thats fun," he said of the comeback. "Thats fun, no question. It gives us an opportunity to show everyone what weve got."
Not surprisingly, Cash expects to go to a bowl this year and every year hes at Duke. And he thinks this team has yet to play up to its full potnential.
"Were one of the best second-half defenses in the country," he said. The next level for me would be to play a whole game like that. Theres nothing stopping us but ourselves."
Offenses are pretty good, you know, Jeremy, the defensive struggles are pretty common across the country
"Thats true, but its still not an excuse," he said. "Its not an excuse."
Duke has allowed just 52 points in the final halves of games an average of 7.4 points per half (and that includes seven points the offense surrendered on a pick-six against Pittsburgh). The Blue Devils have given up just two fourth quarter touchdowns this season.
Long gone are the days when every team helped keep Duke humble, like they did when senior captain Dave Harding and his fellow classmates first came to campus. The Blue Devils are no longer the doormat of the league, and after last weeks come-from-behind win at Virginiathe team the Blue Devils have beat five out of six times under head coach David Cutcliffethey feel pretty good.
"Confidence is everything," sixth-year senior Kenny Anunike said. "To earn a win like that, coming back, defense just playing lights-out and offense just tearing through the defense and making big plays when we needed them, that definitely all added to it. Coming into that game 4-2 and now raising to 5-2, oh my goodness, confidence levels are through the roof."
The Blue Devils had a players-only meeting Tuesday morning to make sure everyone was on the same page heading to Blacksburg, the toughest environment theyll face this year. Dont get overwhelmed by the crowd was the prevailing theme. Just take care of business.