As poor as its last performance was, the only thing Duke’s football team can do is make sure it’s not repeated on Dec. 27.
That’s the day the Blue Devils play Temple at Shreveport, La., in the Independence Bowl, the program’s sixth bowl appearance in the last seven seasons.
Duke last played a game on Nov. 24. Wake Forest blasted the Blue Devils 59-7 that day, handing Duke’s David Cutcliffe the most lopsided defeat of his 17 seasons as a head coach.
Duke’s coaches and players had to live with that performance for nearly two weeks before gathering again on a football field.
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Last Friday, they held the first of 15 practices allowed in preparation for their bowl game.
“They are anxious,” Cutcliffe said. “They wanted to get back out. This is good healing.”
Duke won seven of its first 10 games this season to earn another bowl trip. But it lost 35-6 at No. 2 Clemson before the Wake Forest debacle. The players certainly believe the push to put on a better performance will drive them between now and Dec. 27.
“That definitely adds to the hunger,” Blue Devils junior defensive end Tre Hornbuckle said. “I feel like we are ready to respond the right way to that loss. We are going to come out here the next month and work, work to create a good response, set the tone right for the next offseason and the next season.”
The Blue Devils have not only become regular bowl participants, they’ve also become bowl winners of late.
After losing bowl games in 2012, 2013 and 2014 under Cutcliffe, the Blue Devils won the 2015 Pinstripe Bowl for their first bowl win since the 1961 Cotton Bowl. The 2016 Blue Devils went 4-8 to miss the postseason but responded with a 36-14 win over Northern Illinois in last year’s Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit to finish 7-6.
That win allowed Duke to carry a three-game winning streak into this season. But if things go poorly at the Independence Bowl, Duke would be saddled with a three-game losing streak entering 2019.
“We’ve turned the program around,” Duke redshirt senior wide receiver Johnathan Lloyd said. “That’s not what we expect. We don’t expect to lose three in a row. We definitely have to win, to turn it around. To fix it.”
Lloyd said the players, coaches and support staff all feel responsibility for what happened against Wake Forest. He said that ugly day has been addressed and the team is moving forward.
“We (are) all in this together,” Lloyd said. “We watched the tape. We saw what we did poorly and it ended up in a big-time loss. So we just have to own those. We have to correct it. We put it on tape so we have to fix it and keep moving forward.”
While healing their emotional wounds, the Blue Devils also have a chance to be physically stronger when they face Temple (8-4). Duke has lost eight players for the season who needed surgeries for their injuries. Those players, like cornerback Mark Gilbert (hip), defensive tackle Edgar Cerenord (Achilles tendon) and safety Dylan Singleton (ankle), won’t play in the bowl game.
Linebackers Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris both suffered knee injuries in November that sidelined them and there’s hope they’ll be healthy enough to play in the bowl game.
Running back Brittain Brown is getting healthier after missing most of the season’s final two months with a leg injury.
“Some people feel better physically than they have in quite some time,” Cutcliffe said. “We are going to make sure that we can continue that trend.”