DURHAM – There are plenty of things Duke hasn’t done in a while. The Blue Devils can take care of another one of them this week by beating Memphis.
Duke (1-0) hasn’t started a season with two straight wins since 1998.
During the past couple of years, the Blue Devils have taken care of several of those firsts-in-a-while.
“Little things like that are just showing how (coach David Cutcliffe) has changed this program so much,” tight end Braxton Deaver said Tuesday. “We’re just steadily climbing and climbing. The system is working right now.”
Last year, Duke reached its first bowl game since 1994. The current group opened the season by beating N.C. Central, 45-0, for its first shutout since 1989.
The next item on Duke’s to-do list: Its first 2-0 start since the ‘98 team opened with wins against Western Carolina and Northwestern.
“This is another thing we can try to accomplish,” cornerback Ross Cockrell said. “That’s what we’re going after.”
Duke is hitting the road to face a Memphis team playing its opener. That means the Blue Devils don’t have the luxury of seeing these Tigers – including redshirt freshman quarterback Paxton Lynch – on film.
Lynch beat out senior Jacob Karam during camp for the starting job.
“We won’t change because it’s his first start,” Memphis coach Justin Fuente said. “We just want the kid to go out and relax and play ball and run the things that he has run 8,000 times since he has been here. He is a pretty laid back kind of guy, so I don’t anticipate him being a wreck out there.”
His challenge: To find the holes in an improved Blue Devils defense that held N.C. Central of the FCS to 184 total yards and didn’t let the Eagles penetrate further than the Duke 24.
Duke was one of three Atlantic Coast Conference teams to hold its opening opponent to fewer than 200 yards and joined Georgia Tech as the only ones to post season-opening shutouts.
That performance represented a marked turnaround for a unit that allowed opponents to score at least 41 points in six of its last seven games in 2012, and lost each time that happened.
In beginning a season with a shutout for the first time since 1960, these Blue Devils have set their sights high.
They want to match the accomplishment of the storied 1938 “Iron Dukes” team that went an entire season unbeaten, untied and unscored upon.
“We’re going to see how long we can carry it out,” Cockrell said with a smile.
Added defensive end Kenny Anunike: “That’s definitely a goal for us. Why wouldn’t it be? ... Hey, we’re on our way now, but we’ve got to keep working.”