Duke’s Cutcliffe: ‘If it can kind of go wrong, it has gone wrong’

Duke Coach David Cutcliffe has announced staffing changes, promoting Zac Roper to associate head coach and offensive coordinator.
Duke Coach David Cutcliffe has announced staffing changes, promoting Zac Roper to associate head coach and offensive coordinator. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Duke coach David Cutcliffe reiterated Sunday that it didn’t take film to see the Blue Devils’ breakdowns in their 42-34 loss Saturday to Virginia.

“We’re just doing too many things that winning football teams don’t do,” he said.

The breakdowns happened early and often as Duke was down 21-0 in the first quarter Saturday. Although the Blue Devils rallied and were in position near the end of the game to tie it, the mistakes sum up the second half of what initially looked like another winning season for the Blue Devils.

Now that winning season is all in jeopardy with one game left.

Saturday’s loss was Duke’s (6-5, 3-4 ACC) fourth straight, and against a Cavaliers (4-7, 3-4) team that’s been below average all season.

Against Duke, the Cavaliers gained 502 yards in total offense, racking up 194 yards – including 140 passing yards from quarterback Matt Johns – in the first quarter alone. Johns finished with two touchdown passes and a career-high 344 passing yards.

In its first six games, Duke’s defense was among the stingiest in the country, giving up 9.3 points per game.

Duke’s defense started to unravel on Oct. 24, when it took four overtimes to beat Virginia Tech. Since then it has continued into a downward spiral.

In the past five games, the Blue Devils are 1-4 and the defense has given up 42.4 points per game.

“If it can kind of go wrong, it has gone wrong,” Cutcliffe said. “We just haven’t played consistent, we haven’t been playing as well as we had been playing. Just team defense.”

Cutcliffe shrugged off the notion that the Miami loss alone had much to do with the team’s struggles.

“I just think it is a combination of when you get people banged up, week to week things change, you’re playing different teams, different types of teams and maybe we haven’t matched up as well at times,” Cutcliffe said. “We’ve had to move on from the Miami ending.

“It’s just part of football and it’s a long season and you’ve got to play well in November regardless.”

Cutciffe said three things must happen for Duke to get better.

“We’ve got to first of all take care of the ball on offense,” he said. “We can’t continue to turn the ball over. We’re going to certainly have to avoid giving up explosive plays and that is something that has haunted us.”

“There are a lot of ways to do that, but we’ve got to play better coverage, rush the passer better, but also tackle better.”

He said the third thing that must happen is to put a “complete kicking game on the field,” so that the Blue Devils remain consistent. Twice they gave the Cavaliers short field position.

Cutcliffe said he noticed his team appears attentive, ready to bounce back from their previous losses. A win in Duke’s final game Saturday at Wake Forest (3-8, 1-6), heading into bowl season would be ideal.

“Our team is disappointed,” Cutcliffe said. “We’re going to go out and have great work just in a short order. I believe that. I believe our seniors are highly motivated. We know we’ve got a lot of work to do on Duke as well as Wake Forest. ACC football is winding down so the opportunities for seniors get fewer and fewer.”

Jonathan M. Alexander: 919-829-4822, @GarnerCleveland