For all the credit Duke coach David Cutcliffe has received during his effort to build the Blue Devils into a competitive program, one has gone somewhat unheralded.
Cutcliffe completely reinvented his offensive philosophy on behalf of Duke.
The constant for Cutcliffe’s teams, whether as an offensive coordinator or a head coach, was an offense that gave the team a chance to win every week. Duke, after much painful waiting, has one of those offenses, but it’s totally different from any Cutcliffe oversaw at Tennessee or Mississippi.
At Duke, it had to be different, and Cutcliffe adapted.
Cutcliffe’s teams at Tennessee and Mississippi lived off seven-step drops, quarterback accuracy and straight-ahead running, with schemes that very much paralleled the pro systems of the day.
That wouldn’t work at a school like Duke – also, the Mannings ran out of kids, which made Cutcliffe’s life a lot less easy – so the Blue Devils went a completely different route.
Duke’s current scheme is a Buckshot Offense – the Blue Devils try everything until something works.
Duke seems to have only one philosophy when it comes to offense: Put as many talented players on the field at once, regardless of position. For the most part, it has worked for 5-2 Duke.
Cutcliffe and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper have devised a system that outright ignores much of the long-believed adages of offense.
It used to be that “if you have two quarterbacks, you have none,” but Duke has two quarterbacks, so it has ... two quarterbacks. Both Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette add something to the offense. Both can pass. Both can run. Both can lead the offense. So they both play.
Duke even has a set with both on the field at the same time, and it’s arguably its most dangerous formation.
An offense is supposed to have an identity, but Duke’s identity is that it doesn’t really have an identity. Duke does everything. In the span of a single quarter, Duke’s hurry-up can morph into possession football. Wide receiver screens will turn into intermediate routes and deep chances. Jet sweeps and read options can become straight power running for multiple series at a time.
Duke has an offensive line versatile enough to play this type of offense, and the signs are there that it can work long term.
The Blue Devils have converted nearly 45 percent of third downs, a sign they’re putting themselves in good spots.
No team in the ACC has allowed fewer tackles for loss, a sign the offensive line is keeping opponents out of the backfield and the quarterbacks are recognizing blitzes.
Duke has averaged 182 yards rushing and 269 yards passing – not to mention almost 36 points – a sign of balance.
Whether this unconventional offense leads to ACC success remains to be seen.
Through some reinvention, though, Duke is better prepared for its conference foes than at any point in the past two decades.
It’s not a secret why.