After reviewing the tape from his team’s 66-31 loss to UNC, Duke coach David Cutcliffe was concerned with the basics of the Blue Devils’ defense: alignment and assignment.
And those are the issues that arose before the snapping of the ball.
“It gives us something concrete to work on, which we will,” he said.
The numbers were ugly, as the Tar Heels set school records for points scored in an ACC game, points scored in one half (38) and passing yards by one quarterback (459 by Marquise Williams in less than three quarters), just to name a few.
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And once mistakes started to snowball on the Blue Devils, they couldn’t halt the roll.
“I kept telling them all week – and telling isn’t enough, I need to do a better job of teaching – that you’ve got to play this one play at a time on both sides of the ball,” Cutcliffe said. “They’re going to make plays. They’re good. You just have to keep doing what you do. Don’t overreact. I think players can be guilty of that. I certainly think we as coaches can be guilty of overreacting to things.
“We’ll get better from this. I hope it’s immediately.”
That will be extra challenging given the injuries and just generally tired bodies typical of football players late in the season. During the previous week’s practices, Cutcliffe had concerns about Duke’s ability to keep up with UNC’s speedy receivers.
Banged-up defenders don’t move as fast in November as they do with fresher legs earlier in the season. Still, though, Cutcliffe didn’t expect the Tar Heels to have that much success throwing the ball downfield, as nine passes went for 20 or more yards.
“We certainly had issues with the ball being thrown over our head 1-on-1, and we can’t let that continue to happen, or you won’t be in games, period,” Cutcliffe said Saturday.
The challenge this week is to balance the need to get back to work fixing mistakes with the need for rest and recovery.
It’s a fine line, and the Blue Devils certainly don’t want to head into their game against Pittsburgh on Saturday at noon overtired. At the same time, though, the only way to improve is to work at it. As Cutcliffe often says, coaches can’t talk teams into improving.
“Oh, we’re definitely frustrated,” cornerback Breon Borders said after the game. “It’s not a good feeling, getting blown out by your archival and giving up that many points. We’re known as a pretty good defense.
“We’ll sleep on it tonight and come back (Sunday). Our coaches, they do a real good job of preparing us, and we’re going to be ready.”