Duke coach David Cutcliffe is relying on familiarity when the Blue Devils resume their season after this week’s bye.
Duke’s five remaining regular-season games are all against Coastal Division opponents, beginning with Georgia Tech (4-3, 1-3 ACC) on Saturday. Duke (3-4, 0-3) will play Coastal hopefuls (Virginia Tech, UNC and Pitt) and finish with back-to-back road games (Miami to close regular season after Pitt).
A challenge they each may be, but Cutcliffe has seen them all before.
After the Yellow Jackets, Duke will see Virginia Tech (5-2, 3-1) and then host UNC (6-2, 4-1) for a Thursday night game. The Blue Devils will wrap the rest of their ACC slate at Pitt (5-2, 3-1) and Miami (4-3, 1-3).
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Duke would have a lot left to do at this point if it wants to follow up an 8-5 season that ended with its first bowl win since 1960. The last time the Blue Devils finished below .500 was in 2012, going 6-7. They made it to the Belk Bowl that year, falling to Cincinnati, 48-34. The last time they finished with just three wins was in 2011 (3-9).
Duke enters the Georgia Tech game last in the division and in search of its first ACC win.
“I think the best thing to do when you’re not right where you want to be midseason is ... try to play one game at a time,” Cutcliffe said about the stakes that lie ahead. “These are teams we play every year, and it’s very critical, not only to this team and how we play, but it’s critical to the program.”
Each remaining opponent has a winning record, with UNC and Pitt in a race for the division that was rattled when Virginia Tech beat Miami Oct. 20. The Hokies host Pitt Thursday. And with the way this football season has been going, a lot could change between now and Duke’s finale at Miami.
“Honestly, and I’m not coach talking, until you get there, you don’t know. The whole focus for us is Georgia Tech,” Cutcliffe said. “We know the challenges all those teams provide to us every year. They’re all big games.”
Hit with the injury bug this season, Cutcliffe added Duke’s depth has kept it afloat this season.
Here’s a look at Duke’s remaining opponents:
Oct. 29: at Georgia Tech, noon
There’s been a change in Duke’s defensive personnel since the Blue Devils upset Georgia Tech in Durham last season. Linebacker Jeremy Cash had a career day. Duke snapped then-No. 20 Georgia Tech’s streak of 17 games with at least 200 rushing yards, holding the Yellow Jackets to 2.9 yards a carry, the lowest for them since 2011.
Cash has since signed with the Carolina Panthers.
This time around, Duke sophomore linebacker Ben Humphreys will be leading the defensive charge.
Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense is producing 234.4 rushing yards a game to go with 19 rushing touchdowns on the year.
Both teams will be coming off a bye. Bouncing back from a bad loss to Virginia (taking down Army in a hurricane on Oct. 8 and giving itself a chance to actually beat a high-powered Louisville team boasting a Heisman Trophy candidate on Oct. 14), Duke should be refreshed. Defensive execution was key in its win over Tech last year, and this year, the defense must limit explosive plays. The Devils gave up a couple against Louisville that could have made a difference.
Nov. 5: Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech fell out of the top 25 after its 31-17 loss to Syracuse Oct. 8. Including a 49-0 shutout of Boston College, the Hokies outscored opponents 134-20 through a three-game winning streak before the Syracuse loss. But after beating Miami on Thursday, Virginia Tech returned to the top 25 poll at No. 25. A win here could give Duke an important boost headed into UNC.
Duke’s Wallace Wade Stadium was the site of the 1942 Rose Bowl. It was the only time that game was played outside of Pasadena, Calif., because of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The game will celebrate the 75th anniversary of Duke hosting the Rose Bowl, and the team will wear commemorative helmets. Its jerseys will don an anniversary patch.
Nov. 10: UNC
Duke will welcome UNC on a two-game losing steak in the series. The Blue Devils last beat North Carolina 27-25 in 2013. The Tar Heels have outscored Duke 111-51 the last two matchups, and there’s no reason to think that they’ll slow down this year with quarterback Mitch Trubisky leading the offense.
He’s one of the ACC’s leading quarterbacks, second in passing behind Syracuse’s Eric Dungey. Trubisky will have a chance to show what he can bring to the Triangle rivalry after playing behind Marquise Williams in North Carolina’s 537-yard passing effort against Duke last season.
Nov. 19: at Pitt
Pitt has used its own defense and late rallies to stay in the race for the Coastal. Its biggest challenge before meeting Duke will be at Clemson Nov. 12, but the game with perhaps the most on the line is against Virginia Tech on Thursday. Pitt’s defense ranks sixth in rushing yards allowed and is a top 20 rushing team.
A Duke win against Pitt at this point could carry a lot of weight and give the Devils momentum going into a big Miami game.
Nov. 26: at Miami
Any utterance of “Miami” or the No. 8 probably still causes nightmares in Durham. The Hurricanes used a wacky eight-lateral, 75-yard return to upset the Blue Devils with 6 seconds left in 2015. Miami won after a controversial finish that questioned whether a Miami player’s knee was down after catching one of the laterals. The loss was the beginning of a four-game losing streak. It was just one of those days.
Miami was fine this year until it got to Florida State, a painful 20-19 loss at home that began a three-game losing streak.
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan