From where he watches tape on Sundays, under the stairs to Duke’s weight room, coach David Cutcliffe says he can get a pretty good sense of how his team feels based solely on listening to their feet hit the steps.
“It’s remarkable what you can tell sometimes by the sound of steps, whether they’re bouncing a little bit or whether they’re moving a little slow,” Cutcliffe said Tuesday.
Only hours after one of the most ridiculous losses in the history of college football, Cutcliffe liked what he heard.
There’s a lot of climbing left for the Blue Devils this week. Even if last week’s travesty of a finish against Miami wasn’t still hanging over them, they couldn’t prepare for North Carolina without remembering what the Tar Heels did to them a year ago in Durham.
And if it wasn’t enough merely to shed all of that baggage before arriving in Chapel Hill on Saturday, the Miami loss put the Blue Devils into a must-win position if they hope to win the Coastal Division, a title most likely headed to North Carolina at the moment after the Tar Heels’ win in Pittsburgh last Thursday.
Still, if Duke had to play anyone after what happened against Miami, it might as well be North Carolina.
“One hundred percent,” tight end Braxton Deaver said.
Duke defensive back Dwayne Norman said “It’s been a normal week,” and then quickly acknowledged that it has been anything but, given the circumstances. The Blue Devils said all the right things Tuesday, even the ones who were angriest Saturday night, but getting past what happened against Miami and getting past what happened last year against North Carolina is the epitome of “easier said than done.”
“Every time you turn on the TV, radio, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, everything, you’re seeing something about the game,” Duke center Matt Skura said. “I just had to cut it all off. I couldn’t go on social media a lot after that game. Even a few days ago I couldn’t watch TV because it was still being talked about. We had to move on as a team. We’ve got a huge game on Saturday and that’s what we need to prepare for.”
Even if Duke had beaten Miami, or lost in a somewhat less bizarre and controversial fashion, last year’s game with North Carolina would still loom over this one, a 45-20 loss in a Thursday night game where North Carolina outplayed Duke in every respect.
The result was overshadowed by North Carolina’s postgame celebration with the Victory Bell that resulted in spray-paint damage to the field and visiting locker room, a comedy of errors that climaxed in the personal checks written to Duke by North Carolina coach Larry Fedora and athletics director Bubba Cunningham to cover the hefty repair bill Duke sent down U.S. 15-501.
For Duke’s players, memories of last year’s game are less about paint than pain.
“We don’t really take that into account,” defensive lineman A.J. Wolf said. “What does stick is how bad they beat us.”
Two years ago, Duke won in Chapel Hill to clinch the Coastal title on enemy territory. If Duke must look back, that’s what Braxton Deaver wants to be thinking about, not last week or last year.
“That was such a paramount win for us,” said Deaver, who missed last season with a knee injury. “We went to UNC. We won the Coastal Division at UNC. We were ringing the bell and singing. It was an experience like I’ve never had before.”
This is a week where Duke needs to be looking forward, not looking back. There’s so much still ahead of the Blue Devils, potentially. But there’s also so much behind, whether it presses them forward or slows them down. The Blue Devils need to get past all of it, or their Coastal hopes will be a memory, too.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock