Duke head coach David Cutcliffe promises he wasn’t just spitting out cliches when discussing the Blue Devils’ next opponent, rival North Carolina.
On paper, the Tar Heels (1-7, 1-4 ACC) are struggling, having not won a game since Sept. 22. But listen to Cutcliffe talk about Saturday’s matchup and he says it’s not fair to judge the Tar Heels by their one-win record.
“If you were watching tape and you didn’t know a record,” Cutcliffe said, “you wouldn’t believe the record as it is. This isn’t coach talk, that’s the reality of what I see on the tape, a good North Carolina football team.”
Duke (6-3, 2-3) became bowl eligible on Nov. 3 with a 20-12 win at Miami, but their next task is to not overlook the Tar Heels.
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The Blue Devils started the season 4-0 but struggled in the month of October, going 1-2. Cutcliffe told his seniors that this is their last November, and they need to play well in their last stretch of the regular season.
That starts by playing for the Victory Bell, which has rested in the Duke locker room for the last two seasons. Blue Devils senior Jonathan Lloyd said somebody gave the bell a random ring on Tuesday, and the sound echoed throughout the locker room. That sound is something he wants to hear for his last few weeks as a Blue Devil. Duke first has to carry over what it did in the Miami win to its game against UNC.
”We’ve been able to execute our game plan, really,” Lloyd said. “ Against Miami we made plays when we needed and I feel like we have a good game plan this weekend. Hopefully we will be able to throw the ball a little bit more and be able to execute without the elements. Offensively, we’ve been on track and hopefully we will be able to keep that up this week.”
Quarterback Daniel Jones was limited to a season-low 130 passing yards in the pouring rain at Miami. Jones, a 6-5, 220-pound redshirt junior from Charlotte, has had success in Duke’s past two games against the Tar Heels. Last season in Chapel Hill he threw for 202 yards and one touchdown. Two years ago in Durham he torched UNC for 240 yards in the air and another 94 on the ground. Like Cutcliffe, however, Jones knows it’s important not to get too caught up on the record of their opponents.
“We could fall victim to that, but I don’t think we will,” Jones said. “When you look on film I think you see a really good football team. We are certainly aware of how talented they are.”
Jones said the UNC/Duke rivalry is one of the biggest in college sports, and he was around it a lot growing up. Lloyd said there are members of his family who still root for the Tar Heels. The schools being only about 9 miles apart means UNC and Duke players see each other around, but they are typically friendly with each other.
This week, however, Lloyd said he might give a cold shoulder to any players he sees out and about wearing that other shade of blue.
On the field, the Blue Devils will be playing a team that’s lost its last four games by a total of 26 points. Each of those four games were close in the fourth quarter. So had things gone a little differently, UNC could have a much different record. Cutcliffe knew what type of Tar Heel team he’s facing Saturday, even before looking at film.
“This is a well, well, coached football team that’s had some misfortune,” Cutcliffe said. “We’re going to have to play extremely well to play with this team. We can’t avoid to be up and down.”
Cutcliffe, a quarterbacks coach, said the Tar Heels have threats at running back and receiver, and even though UNC’s quarterback situation has been unstable, he knows the North Carolina offense can be a challenge to stop.
“It’s a balanced offense,” Cutcliffe said. “They can run it, they can throw it, they are great with different formations, shifts, motions, so you’re on your toss the entire time.”
UNC at Duke
When: 12:20 p.m., Saturday
Where: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham
TV: WRALieves bowl eligibility with win at Miami