DURHAM – After losses in its first two games, Duke coach David Cutcliffe described the outlook for his team as “oh-so-close-yet-so-far-away,” given that his players showed signs of improvement against Richmond and No. 6 Stanford, but couldn’t turn progress into victories.
The Blue Devils, as he said, look to “turn-that-worm” against Boston College on Saturday, hoping to secure their first win in their ACC-opener at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Frustration levels have elevated among some Duke players, who find themselves making plays – Lee Butler, for example, retuning an interception 76 yards for a touchdown against Stanford – though not enough to propel them to wins. The Devils are just 10 of 30 on third-down conversions and 3 of 7 on redzone – inside the 20-yardline – possessions.
“That frustration is hard to explain,” Duke quarterback Sean Renfree said. “But the people to be frustrated at is ourselves for letting it get like that. We get close, then we don’t pull it out. That’s kind of the most frustrating thing.”
Cutcliffe, in his fourth season, said his staff has spent time identifying solutions, rather than simply criticizing. He said they are concentrating on fundamental developments over schematic changes.
He wrote a list of 30 fundamental items the team needed to improve, saying, “The fastest way to get better, still, is great stance, great alignment, solid with your assignments, pad leverage, footwork, etc., etc., etc. ... Teams that forget fundamental work as the season goes on have a difficult time improving.”
Time will tell how much the team improves.
“We’re not just sitting still, hoping we play better,” Cutcliffe said. “I don’t want to be that kind of coach. ... Hopefully we should be a much better team when we kickoff in Chestnut Hill on Saturday.”
Boston College opened its season 0-2 and coach Frank Spaziani’s team expects for a different outcome this weekend. The Eagles have been without one of the league’s top running backs, Montel Harris, who was named the ACC preseason player of the year. He is recovering from a knee injury.
Duke has dropped four consecutive games to the Eagles, including a 21-16 loss last season.
As if they needed more motivation, the prospect of starting this season 0-3 has jolted Duke players. “It’s a very important game, especially because it’s the start of our ACC play,” Duke left tackle Kyle Hill said. “And we want to start off right. This is a great game to rebound on.”
Renfree, who completed 42 of 60 pass attempts – 70 percent – said practicing the way they want to play should help them work through the frustration.
“There’s no doubt we’re fighting an uphill battle right now,” Renfree said. “You start the season 0-2, it’s not a great situation to be in. We have 10 games on the schedule. We have 10 opportunities to go win games.”