You could see it in Ben Humphreys’ eyes, hear it in David Cutcliffe’s tone of voice, sense it in Daniel Jones’ comments.
Losing a football game is one thing. Losing the way Duke did Saturday against Virginia, a week after a huge win at Notre Dame, had everyone in blue dealing with frustration and trying to control their emotions after the game.
The Cavaliers beat the Blue Devils 34-20, on homecoming at Wallace Wade Stadium. They picked off five Jones passes and forced a fumble in the end zone by the redshirt freshman that the Cavs’ Eli Hanback recovered for a touchdown late in the game.
As nightmarish as the game was for him, Jones kept his composure after the game.
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“I’ve got to be better. It all falls on me,” Jones said calmly.
Cutcliffe quickly made the point the Blue Devils had been “out-everything-ed” by the Cavaliers, who gave first-year coach Bronco Mendenhall his first ACC win and ended a 17-game road losing streak. Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert, the East Carolina transfer, made some precision throws in passing for 336 yards and three touchdowns, the defense did its part — corners Bryce Hall and Juan Thornhill each with two picks — and the kicking game was sound.
“We’re going to have, I imagine, a long, long laundry list of things that we have to repair, that I’m deeply concerned with,” Cutcliffe said. “I’m looking forward to putting that list together, starting with me.”
Asked about Jones, who was so effective at Notre Dame, Cutcliffe said said he told the quarterback there’s a difference in trying to make plays instead of executing them.
“I would hope this would be one of the most meaningful circumstances he ever faces as a player,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s happened to a lot of really fine football players. It’s about the response. What did you learn?”
Cutcliffe then showed what was said to be a rare display of temper when asked by a reporter from The Chronicle, Duke’s student newspaper, if he considered bringing backup quarterback Parker Boehme into the game.
“No, I didn’t,” Cutcliffe said, his voice rising. “If I would have considered it I would have done it. OK? You got that?”
After a brief staredown, Cutcliffe moved on to other things. The Blue Devils, who host Army next week, now are 0-2 in the ACC and 2-3 overall. The momentum and juice from the 38-35 win at Notre Dame, perhaps Cutcliffe’s best in nine years at Duke, didn’t last long.
“I’m sure there are some shattered feelings,” Cutcliffe said.
Humphreys, a sophomore linebacker, was more mad than shattered. The Cavaliers (2-3, 1-0 ACC) burned the Blue Devils with the “explosive” plays the Duke defense was determined to minimize this season.
The biggest was an 84-yard third-down throw from Benkert to receiver David Eldridge that set up the Cavs’ go-ahead score in the second quarter. Virginia converted 11 of 21 third-down plays in the game, often with the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Benkert extending plays, and had 11 players catch passes.
Duke was playing its first full game without senior safety DeVon Edwards, lost for the season with a knee injury. The Blue Devils made some secondary changes, but Benkert was sharp and the Cavs led 27-13 after three quarters.
“We should have won this game and it’s on the defense. I put it on myself,” said Humphreys, who had a team-high 13 tackles.
Duke’s defense was better in the fourth quarter, when the Blue Devils pulled within 27-20 on Joseph Ajeigbe’s short touchdown run. Humphreys picked off a pass, but Duke failed on a fourth-down play at the Virginia 31, the Cavs’ Nicholas Conte later punted to the Duke 2, and Jones was sacked and fumbled in the end zone.
“We need to play full games,” Humphreys said. “You can’t take quarters off, take possessions off. That can’t happen in ACC play. We’re 0-2.
“I hate losing. I’m a really competitive kid.”
And this Saturday, a very frustrated one.