Somehow we were fortunate enough to be put in touch with a Duke blog that talks more than just basketball. Patrick Cacchio of Blue Devil Nation answered our questions and was a great opponent to talk football. We traded some questions with them in order to learn more about the opposition. A link to our responses will be forthcoming.
1. Looking at the Blue Devils statistically, we see very little commitment to the run. Is this a Cutcliffe-ism or merely a lack of talent at the running back position?
In 2009, Duke ranked dead last in all of the FBS in rushing, averaging just 2.2 yards per carry as a team, so they've had nowhere to go but up. This year, Duke has three players who average at least 4 yards per carry in Desmond Scott, Josh Snead, and Brandon Connette. A year ago, Duke rushed for 6 touchdowns all season; through the first 10 games of 2010, Duke has already rushed for 17 touchdowns (and thrown for just 12). Overall, the Blue Devils have rushed the ball 342 times in 2010, while attempting 406 passes. Many game situations have forced the Blue Devils to abandon the run, but in general, Duke has rushed more often and more effectively than in Cutcliffe's first two seasons in Durham. Under Cutcliffe, Duke will probably never be a run-first offense, but there has been substantial improvement this season and plenty of reason for optimism, as Duke's top 3 rushers are all underclassmen.
2. What does the Duke base feel about David Cutcliffe? Is there a timetable for him to get the team to a specific level of success? What's the peak of Blue Devil success?
Coach Cutcliffe has energized the Duke football fan base, and the vast majority believe that he is the right man to turn this program around. By turning down Tennessee last offseason, Cutcliffe reaffirmed his commitment to the Duke program and further endeared himself to Duke fans. Within the next year or two, most expect Cutcliffe to get the Blue Devils to their first bowl game since 1994. The expectation is that Duke can become a program that will consistently compete for a bowl game, and eventually, even an ACC championship. Cutcliffe and his staff have slowly changed the culture around the Duke program and have filled the roster with FBS-caliber athletes. The rebuilding project still has a ways to go, and will likely face some setbacks along the way, but Coach Cutcliffe has taken a nearly winless program and already has won 12 games in his first 3 seasons. He hasn't earned himself a blank check, but I think most Duke fans will be patient and are generally pleased with the direction the program is headed.
3. We heard the infamous Duke Tailgate got banned. Winfield is really sad. Who in the Hell living South of the Mason Dixon Line thought that banning tailgating was a good idea? Will it even affect your football attendance?
After the Virginia game on November 6, the Duke administration announced that the university-sanctioned student tailgate would be canceled for the final two home games. This was the culmination of a slow deterioration of student support for the football program. The failures on the gridiron, perhaps coupled with successes on the hardwood, resulted in complete student disinterest in Duke football. The university-sanctioned tailgate evolved into a Saturday morning/afternoon party, which had nothing to do with football. Most of the students who attended the tailgate never even made it to the football game. At most games this season, the student section has been empty, with the exception of a small group of about 50-100 dedicated and enthusiastic fans. Banning the university-sanctioned tailgate was a necessary decision, first and foremost for student safety/liability concerns, but also to change the student culture on football gamedays. The players and coaching staff have worked hard to turn things around at Duke, and the deserve the support of the student body. For a school that is known for its creative and enthusiastic basketball fans, the atmosphere in Wallace Wade Stadium has been lacking. The university will work with the students during this offseason to create a new event that is centered on football and still unique to Duke.
One of the changes Coach Cutcliffe has made at Duke is to enhance the campuswide gameday experience. He has introduced a pre-game Blue Devil Walk and designated an area outside the stadium as Blue Devil Alley, with pre-game concessions, music, and games. The university's cancelation of the student tailgate has not had an effect on traditional tailgating for fans and alumni. In fact, traditional football tailgating at Duke has increased during Cutcliffe's tenure and I would expect it to continue to improve as additional improvements are made. Overall, attendance has been down somewhat this season, but I attribute that mostly to the team's early season struggles.
4. We estimate there are probably around 70,000-75,000 true Georgia Tech football fans based on stadium attendance and bowl attendances over the past couple years. How many Duke football fans do you believe there are?
Duke basketball obviously has a very large fan base, but the football fan base is a much smaller, but growing, group. Unfortunately for Duke, most alumni do not live within driving distance of the campus, which can make gameday attendance a challenge. Based on attendance figures, I would estimate Duke has built a solid local fan base of about 20,000 fans over the past few years. Coach Cutcliffe and his staff have focused some of their recruiting efforts within the state of North Carolina, and I believe those relationships have helped to improve Duke's local support. There are likely many more Duke football fans around the country, and I expect that if Duke is able to make a bowl game and more consistently win games, the fan support will continue to grow. At Blue Devil Nation, we've noticed an increased interest in Duke football over the past three years, but Duke basketball is still king.
5. Please rank your North Carolina rivalries based on their importance to the Duke fanbase for football (rather than hoops). Is there anyone else Duke fans love to beat in football?
1. North Carolina: beating UNC in anything feels good for a Duke fan. The Tar Heels have had the Blue Devils' number over the past decade or so, but the rivalry has still produced some memorable games. It will be interesting to see how the NCAA investigation plays out in Chapel Hill and whether that will hinder the progress they've made with their program under Butch Davis.
2. Wake Forest: Jim Grobe has never lost to Duke, so it's hard to call this a rivalry, but this is an important matchup for Duke. Duke has competed with the Demon Deacons the past few years, but have failed to make plays down the stretch to win. The loss to Wake Forest this season sent the Blue Devils into a tailspin, while a win would have given them a huge boost in confidence and in the ACC. Simply put, Duke has to beat teams like Wake Forest if they want to get to the next level.
3. NC State: sadly, with the ACC expansion, Duke and NC State no longer play each other every year. Last season's 49-28 victory in Raleigh was a landmark win for Coach Cutcliffe and his program. Historically, this has been a great rivalry and fans would really like to see the schedule change so that these teams could play every year.
Duke, UNC, Wake Forest, and NC State also compete on the recruiting trail, so victories on the field can be for more than just bragging rights.
6. Since hoops is starting soon, please tell us that Duke plans on buying out Paul Hewitt's contract this season and hiring him as a recruiting coordinator.
Unfortunately, there isn't any room on the Duke staff at present. However, with Duke's recent successes on the court and on the recruiting trail, I wouldn't be surprised to see an assistant leave for the right situation. If anything opens up, we'll let you know.
In all seriousness, though, Hewitt has done a nice job of recruiting, but has struggled to consistently translate talent into wins. It's tough to be consistent in the era of one-and-dones, but the ACC needs Georgia Tech to be a top-25 program. Although things look bleak this season, with the recently-announced renovations to the Thriller Dome, hopefully things will turnaround for the Jackets.
BlueDevilNation is a comprehensive Duke blog. Big thanks to their Patrick of the BDN and good luck them...but not too much luck!