Duke CB Tim Burton and the rest of the defense will have to tackle better if they want to hang with Stanford. Credit: CHRIS SEWARDfirstname.lastname@example.org
DURHAM—Imagine being David Cutcliffe or defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. It's the preseason, and you've got a unit that is down three projected starters in LB Kelby Brown, S Jordon Byas and NG Jamal Bruce. CB Jared Boyd, LB Britton Grier and DE Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo are also unavailable to due injuries. So, what do you do?
Well, out of necessity, you don’t do much tackling and risk further injury. And both Cutcliffe and Knowles thought the lack of preseason contact was noticeable in the opening against FIU.
“We didn’t tackle well early, and that didn’t surprise me,” Cutcliffe said. “We’ve been rolling the dice a little bit and probably haven’t had as much live work and live tackling as we would have liked to have in camp. Everybody was well aware of our numbers. We didn’t have a choice. I kept telling Jim Knowles on the sideline in the first quarter, ‘I guarantee you we will tackle better as it goes.’ And we did.”
According to Cutcliffe, the area where the weak tackling hurt Duke the most was on plays where Golden Panthers QB Jake Medlock scrambled. By the Blue Devils’ count, Medlock was 13-for-17 for 237 yards in when he was forced to scramble.
“Big, huge issue,” Cutcliffe said.
The lack of quality tackling also caused Duke to remain on the field longer the necessary. The Blue Devils played 91 total snaps of defense against FIU—the seventh-most in the country.
Now, since the game was over with 10 minutes left in the third quarter and Duke up 44-14, to quote Cutcliffe, the Blue Devils began playing backups in order to keep the starters fresh for this week’s Stanford game. The Cardinal are known for their physical, power run game, and Cutcliffe said that they will be the most physical team Duke faces this year.
So, with no changes to the injury list for this week’s game, the same question from the preseason: how do you balance preparation with injury protection?
“We actually probably were more physical Tuesday and Wednesday than we have been in years past,” Cutcliffe said. “Some of those guys that were beat up a little bit, I thought they and the coaches did a good job of taking some of the hits off of them in individual work and not overdoing it.”
Cutcliffe signaled out the defensive line, composed of Justin Foxx, Jamal Wallace, Kenny Anunike and Syndey Sarmiento, as the unit that was feeling the most bumps and bruises. Duke will need that group to contain Stanford’s run game—and likely have the defense give up fewer than 513 yards—if it hopes to be successful on The Farm.