DURHAM – Since Duke’s program-defining victory against North Carolina last October, the Blue Devils’ games haven’t been filled with much wonderment.
Since that moment when Jamison Crowder caught a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds to beat the Tar Heels, the Blue Devils are 2-5, and they haven’t won an Atlantic Coast Conference game.
Duke has allowed at least 30 points in eight consecutive ACC games, including 58 points in Saturday’s 58-55 home loss to Pittsburgh, which set a school record for most points scored in a defeat.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe, however, said Saturday that his confidence in Duke has not wavered.
“I like this team,” he said. “I’ve liked this team since January. I’m not going to change my tune.”
Duke (2-2, 0-2) already might be lost in the ACC’s Coastal Division. With No. 15 Miami the runaway favorite to win the division, Duke is behind the pack with all four of its conference road games remaining.
Despite allowing 37 points and 468 yards in the first half Saturday, Duke twice was able to fight to within 10 points in the second half, even cutting the lead to three before Pittsburgh ran out the clock. Though the rally fell short and Duke has much to correct, the Blue Devils believe they have the correct mentality to alter their season’s course.
“With previous Duke teams, this battling back and bringing the score where it happened to be this time probably wouldn’t have happened,” Duke defensive end Kenny Anunike said. “But this is the new Duke. We’re getting better.”
Even when Pittsburgh was dominating the game – it’s offensive line manhandled Duke in the first half – Cutcliffe said the Blue Devils never were out of the game.
Even after Panthers quarterback Tom Savage threw his sixth touchdown pass, five of which went to receivers Tyler Boyd and Devin Street, Duke stuck to its plan.
Even after Duke backup quarterback Brandon Connette threw his fourth interception, the last of which was returned for touchdown, Cutcliffe said he was proud of his team’s willingness to keep playing.
“Not much negative happened to (Pittsburgh). They didn’t have to overcome a whole lot of anything,” Cutcliffe said. “We took everything we got. We gave a lot to them, but the stuff we got, we took it.”
The Blue Devils’ pass defense was shredded – Duke’s best cornerback, Ross Cockrell, blamed himself – and both sides of the ball suffered in areas of execution.
Cutcliffe said he isn’t worried about mental preparedness. He knows Duke has that.
Duke’s sixth-year coach said he is concerned about his team’s preparation not showing up on Saturdays, and for that, he blamed himself.
“The parts that hurt, and the parts that you can’t quite put your finger on is why we struggle in areas of execution that have kind of just crept in, and that’s my responsibility,” Cutcliffe said.
Cutcliffe was sure of one thing.
He said he’s positive that Duke will be around at the end of the season.
“You just have to make decisions and move forward. It’s not for the weak,” Cutcliffe said. “I can promise you we’re not going away. This team is not about to go away.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or firstname.lastname@example.org