Sitting in one of the stalls in Duke’s visitors locker room, quarterback Thomas Sirk was feeling better than he had in weeks.
His body had recovered from the weekly beatings and injuries that caused him to miss the Nov. 14 game against Pittsburgh. He wasn’t sick anymore, either, and had started to put back on the 12 pounds he lost during the season.
“I feel like my body, physically, is as healthy as it has been in a long time,” Sirk said. “I can definitely tell at practice, also. I feel like my body is more energized, I’m more up to speed.”
Duke (7-5) is going to need Sirk and the rest of its offense at full speed against Indiana (6-6) in the Pinstripe Bowl on Saturday.
The Hoosiers have no problems putting up points – even against a schedule that featured Michigan, Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State, Indiana averaged a Big Ten-best 36.2 points per game. That only translated into six wins, though, thanks to a porous defense, including the nation’s worst pass defense.
We just have to maintain drives and put long drives together. We can’t have any three-and-outs. And when we get a chance to score, we’re going to try and come away with seven points instead of three.
Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk
All this means is that Duke better be ready to match Indiana score for score – and then some – if the Blue Devils want to win their first bowl game since the 1961 Cotton Bowl.
“We just have to maintain drives and put long drives together,” Sirk said. “We can’t have any three-and-outs. And when we get a chance to score, we’re going to try and come away with seven points instead of three. That’s just things that we need to do better at and areas we can improve. We’re working on it, significantly, at practice.”
This is offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery’s last game at Duke, as he will leave the program to take over the head coaching position at ECU.
Making the media rounds for his new job, Montgomery has spoken at length about his offensive philosophy: throw to score, run to win. As Montgomery pointed out, Duke has scored 50 points in a game and lost (58-55 against Pitt in 2013), so it’s not only about scoring a lot. It’s about limiting an opponent’s chances to score, too, and that happens when you keep an opposing offense off the field.
“It’s like every league right now, everyone is scoring a lot of points,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “So who can get stops, who can come up with big turnovers, etcetera.”
The Hoosiers don’t turn the ball over often (just 11 times all year, compared to 18 times for Duke) and the Blue Devils haven’t done a great job of forcing turnovers this year. Indiana also doesn’t give up many sacks (a Big Ten-low 13), so Duke’s defense won’t have an easy time getting the Hoosiers off schedule offensively.
And, of course, Duke will be trying to do so without the ACC defensive player of the year, safety Jeremy Cash, who is out after having right wrist surgery.
Still, though, Sirk can hope for some help from the defense. But regardless of whether that comes or not, Duke’s offense knows it has to have a productive day.
“It could be a high-scoring game, but then again, I think our defense is going to come out ready to play this game,” Sirk said. “I’m not saying Indiana isn’t going to put up points, but when they do, we have to respond and put points right back up.”