Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 26, 2016

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 34 of 55 SEPT. 26, 2016 35 BY MATT JONES O nce the doormat of the Atlan- tic Coast Conference, the Duke football program has blos- somed under head coach Da- vid Cutcliffe. Cutcliffe, who made his name as a University of Tennessee assistant be- fore a stint as head coach at Ole Miss, has 49 victories in his eight-plus years at Duke, which are 39 more than the Blue Devils had in the eight years before his arrival. After winning 20 games in his first five years, Cutcliffe won 27 in the last three. After finishing the 2015 season 8-5 and winning the school's first bowl game since 1960, the Durham, N.C., university is clearly moving in a posi- tive direction. That being said, 2016 was seen by many close to the pro- gram as a rebuilding year. "Generally speaking, I think the real surprise early on is how big of a step backwards this Duke team might have made this season," said Brian McLawhorn, who writes for DevilsIl-, the Duke site in the Ri- vals network. "It's obviously early, so making that judgment would be unfair, but the possibility has presented itself." A 24-14 loss to ACC bottom-feeder Wake Forest Sept. 10 did not help mat- ters. A week after accumulating 308 rushing yards against Football Cham- pionship Subdivision foe North Caro- lina Central, the Blue Devils rushed for just 37 yards on 30 carries against the Demon Deacons in an embarrassing home loss. Duke drew merely 21,007 fans for the conference contest at newly reno- vated Wallace Wade Stadium, though McLawhorn said that attendance mark was likely inflated. "The consensus leading up to the start of the season was that Duke would be lucky to reach the six-win threshold to become bowl eligible," McLawhorn said. "The most common scenario had the Blue Devils winning five, with the Wake Forest game ex- pected to be one of those victories. When the Demon Deacons left Wal- lace Wade Stadium with the victory, the tone quickly changed." Duke's administration has poured resources into its football program in recent years. Remodeling the stadium and adding an indoor practice facility, along with the Blue Devils' on-field success, finally impacted recruiting — Duke's effort in 2016 was ranked No. 33 by Rivals, a jump of 30 spots over the 2015 class of signees and by far the best group of the Cutcliffe era (the previous highest ranking was No. 55 in 2009). "There is definitely momentum in that regard. The talent pool coming to Durham improves each year, and as a result David Cutcliffe has been able to target more prominent recruits with- out being laughed out of the door," McLawhorn said. "All of that has re- sulted in more success on the field. "Unfortunately, it has not translated to the stands. Even with the stadium renovations, which are beautiful, Duke is struggling to put fans in the seats. … Ultimately, Duke has to find a way to get fans in the stadium — and it's not that they haven't been trying. "If they don't, all the hard work put in by the administration, coaches, cur- rent and past classes will go to waste, and it will become more and more dif- ficult to lure top talent to Durham. I'm sure it's disheartening for those Blue Devils to run out of the tunnel on game day to see more empty seats than not." This season, Cutcliffe's ninth in Durham, features a reshuffled coach- ing staff. One longtime assistant re- tired (offensive line coach John La- tina), one moved to an administrative role (outside linebackers and defen- sive ends coach Jim Collins) and a third, offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery, became the head coach at East Carolina. Cutcliffe, who mentored both Eli and Peyton Manning at Ole Miss and Ten- nessee, respectively, promoted special teams coordinator Zac Roper to offen- sive coordinator. Roper, whose brother, Kurt, is the co-offensive coordinator at South Carolina, thought he'd be inher- iting veteran quarterback Thomas Sirk — but the fifth-year senior re-injured GAME PREVIEW: DUKE Resurgence On Pause? The Blue Devils achieved unprecedented success in recent years, but have hit a rough patch this season Facts & Figures DUKE VS. NOTRE DAME Game Info Date: Sept. 24, 2016. Site: Notre Dame Stadium (80,795). Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Television: NBC. Radio: This broadcast can be heard live on SIRIUS Satellite Radio (channel 129). Series Facts: This is the fifth meeting be‑ tween Duke and Notre Dame. Notre Dame has a 3‑1 all‑time record against the Blue Devils. The two teams last played in 2007, a 28‑7 Irish win. Coaches: Duke — David Cutcliffe (49‑55, ninth season); Notre Dame — Brian Kelly (56‑25, seventh season). Noting Duke: Cutcliffe, the 2013 National Coach of the Year, has earned both ACC and SEC Coach of the Year honors during his career … Duke went 3‑4 over its final seven games in 2015 and allowed 39.1 points per game during that stretch … Between 1961 and 2011, Duke played in just two bowl games. A bowl appear‑ ance in 2016 would be the Blue Devils' fifth straight … Notre Dame played Duke in 1966 when the Irish were ranked No. 1 in the coun‑ try (Notre Dame won that game 64‑0). After losing fifth-year senior Thomas Sirk to an Achilles injury in August, freshman Daniel Jones (No. 17) has taken over at quarterback. PHOTO COURTESY DUKE PHOTOGRAPHY

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