Duke coach David Cutcliffe knows the Blue Devils have to get more from their offense this season.
The Blue Devils are coming off a season that saw them post some of their lowest yardage totals in 12 seasons under Cutcliffe on the way to missing a bowl for only the second time in eight seasons. So the coach known for developing Peyton and Eli Manning in the college ranks has taken over play-calling duties to direct Duke’s hunt for an offensive spark.
“Offensively we’re going through some changes,” Cutcliffe said. “We’ve got a new coordinator that I hope I don’t have to fire. But we’ll see how that comes along.”
Offense generally hadn’t been a problem for the Blue Devils (5-7, 3-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) since Cutcliffe arrived in 2008, but last year’s attack ranked next to last in the league at 329.7 yards per game. That was the lowest total since Cutcliffe’s debut season, while the 179.3-yard passing average was the worst of his tenure.
It also didn’t help that Duke threw 14 interceptions, second only to Virginia’s 15 in the ACC.
Making the right call on the Blue Devils’ new starting quarterback is the most pressing concern. That battle includes Clemson graduate transfer Chase Brice, redshirt junior Chris Katrenick and redshirt sophomore Gunnar Holmberg, who missed last season with a knee injury.
Cutcliffe said he’s worked to find a balance between being a head coach and calling the offense.
“It’s a different relationship with players, meeting with the quarterbacks, spending time with the offense – and then trying to get my time in with the team,” he said. “I think I’m going to enjoy this. I better get my sleep because it’s going to be stressful and challenging physically.”
Some other things to know about Duke for the 2020 season:
Much of the attention in the quarterback battle has focused on Brice, graduated from Clemson in May. He’s best known for rallying Clemson from a fourth-quarter deficit to beat Syracuse in 2018 after starter Trevor Lawrence left with a first-half injury. Clemson went on to finish 15-0 and win a national championship.
“You’re not going to be perfect, so I learned that at an early age,” Brice said of the position battle. “So I just go out there and try to play fast. I think that’s what they’re trying to do too.”
Whoever wins the battle for starting quarterback will play behind an experienced line.
Duke has four returning starters on the line, including fifth-year senior Jack Wohlabaugh. Stanford graduate transfer Devery Hamilton arrives at tackle, which Cutcliffe said had allowed returning tackles Casey Holman and Jacob Monk experiment at the guard positions.
“I know it was a little difficult for me at first coming in being the new guy,” Hamilton said. “But since camp started … the chemistry has definitely grown. I’m excited to see what we do this year.”
Duke’s secondary looks like a strength with returning starters such as safeties Marquis Waters and Michael Carter II. The Blue Devils are hoping redshirt senior cornerback Mark Gilbert can provide another boost to that unit.
Gilbert, an Associated Press all-ACC first-team pick in 2017, suffered a season-ending hip injury after two games in 2018. He didn’t play last season while recovering from that injury, but has been practicing through preseason camp.
Linebacker Brandon Hill and long snapper Ben Wyatt had seen significant work before opting out for this season. Wyatt left after appearing in 38 games over the past three seasons while Hill had started six games last year.
The Blue Devils held three spring practices before the coronavirus pandemic shut down college and professional sports.
The Blue Devils kept a nonconference game with Charlotte, while its trip to No. 10 Notre Dame that was originally a nonconference game is now one of Duke’s 10 ACC contests as well as its season opener (Sept. 12).
The Blue Devils added matchups with Atlantic Division teams Boston College, Florida State, North Carolina State and Syracuse with the ACC going to a division-free format this season.
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