Duke football coach David Cutcliffe says he has always embraced away games — that was his word, embraced — and it’s not coachspeak.
The Blue Devils, under Cutcliffe, have won 13 of the past 16 true road games since the start of the 2013 season. The 13 road wins are the most of any ACC school, and Duke is tied for second among Power 5 schools, trailing only Ohio State’s 15 wins.
Florida State and Clemson each have 12 road wins, and Virginia Tech 11 since 2013 (Louisville wasn’t an ACC member in 2013).
Why so good? Cutcliffe has talked this week about the lack of distractions on the road, of being isolated and together as a team, of concentrating only on football. All coaches say that, but such a record has to reflect a degree of concentration and mental toughness, and a carryover of confidence from previous road wins.
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“Honestly, I think we just play hard everywhere we go,” senior safety DeVon Edwards said. “When we hit the road we’re on a mission, and we only have one real focus, and that’s to win the game. I think it’s being focused and having that mindset.”
Does it help that Duke has dodged road games at FSU and Clemson since 2013 as a Coastal Division member? Yes, but it’s hard overlooking or downplaying a 13-3 road record, regardless of the opponents.
“It’s our mentality,” senior wide receiver Anthony Nash said. “We’re prepared. Everybody’s locked in.”
The Blue Devils, 1-1 after a 24-14 home loss to Wake Forest, will be at Northwestern on Saturday, facing a team that’s 0-2 after a 22-21 loss to Western Michigan and 9-7 loss to Illinois State on a last-second field goal. Northwestern’s Ryan Field won’t be like playing at Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium.
“This is about the same time we lost to Northwestern last year, and we learned from those mistakes last year,” Edwards said. “This is the same thing we’re trying to do now.”
The Wildcats won 19-10 at Wallace Wade Stadium last season, beating the Blue Devils with a handful of big plays – a game similar to the Deacons’ win over Duke last Saturday.
In talking about the loss to Wake Forest, Edwards said, “We have a long season ahead of us. One loss doesn’t determine the rest of the season.”
That was true last fall after the early slip against Northwestern. Road wins at Army, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest were vital in an 8-5 finish capped by Duke’s first bowl win since 1961.
Cutcliffe told a story Tuesday about his days as head coach at Ole Miss, when he enjoyed the challenge of Southeastern Conference road games. He related a conversation with the late Johnny Vaught, the Ole Miss coach for 25 years who told Cutcliffe he always wanted to play LSU in Baton Rouge.
The payday was a good one, Vaught said. He also enjoyed shushing the big crowd and saluting the LSU fans after wins in his own way.
Cutcliffe won’t do that. But he does embrace a road game and victory.
Duke at Northwestern
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill.
TV/Radio: Big Ten Network, WDNC-99.3, WDNC-620