No. 19 Duke working to peak at right time

Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network
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Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network
Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network

DURHAM, N.C. – Following their second consecutive road win, a 27-10 decision over the Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome on Saturday, the 19th-ranked Duke Blue Devils prepare for an important string of upcoming home games.

“Just really proud of our team traveling two significant road trips two weeks in a row,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said in a teleconference on Sunday.

“Very pleased with our team’s effort, their focus, their energy throughout the game.

Currently possessing an overall record of 8-1 and leading the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Coastal Division at 4-1, the Blue Devils have a good shot at staying on top and defending their division title.

To do so, Duke will have to earn wins over Virginia Tech (4-5, 1-4), North Carolina (4-5, 2-3) and Wake Forest (2-7, 0-5) respectively at Wallace Wade Stadium.

To help accomplish that feat, the team’s key senior players individually and in their respective units are peaking at the right time while the team is off to its best start through nine games since the 1994 season.

Coming off a thrilling finish as 51-48 double-OT winners at Pittsburgh a week ago, redshirt senior quarterback Anthony Boone extended his career regular season start success to 18-1 with Duke’s win over the Orange.

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“Our offense, on a day that it wasn’t all clicking, whether it’s just not us executing as I looked at it, we did find a way to make plays at critical times in the game to put the game finally out of doubt,” Cutcliffe noted.

Boone threw two touchdown passes against Syracuse and has made five in the last two games after having tossed just two in the previous four games combined.

Senior wide receiver/punt returner Jamison Crowder once again was an impact player for Duke, as he returned a punt 52 yards for the go-ahead touchdown giving the Blue Devils a 17-10 lead in the fourth quarter.

Against the Orange, Crowder extended his consecutive games streak with two or more receptions to 37, still holding second longest streak among active NCAA receivers.

In his last three games, he’s caught 20 passes for 322 yards after having only 10 receptions for 76 yards in two games before that.

Duke’s offensive line did not allow a sack against Syracuse, and in the past seven contests, the Blue Devils have yielded just two sacks.

Defensively, Duke has now allowed fewer than 20 points in seven of its nine games this season, including beating Syracuse by shutting them out 17-0 in the fourth quarter.

“Our defense played really well,” Cutcliffe said.

“We didn’t give up explosive plays – they averaged a little over three yards a play for the game. If it hadn’t been for about eight plays in the game, it could have been really a special, special defensive night – no points and 13 yards in the fourth quarter. Outstanding in that regard.”

Under Cutcliffe, the Blue Devils are now 22-3 when holding opponents to 20 points or fewer.

After not recording a turnover in the first two games of the season, Duke has created 15 in the last seven games.

Senior linebacker David Helton tallied seven tackles, including one assist against the Orange.

He entered the game leading the ACC in tackles per game this season with 10.88, and ranked fourth among active FBS players in career assisted tackles with 193.

“I thought our focus was kept during the ball game,” Cutcliffe continued.

“The more I look at this game, the more it was a true team victory. Outstanding play in the area of special teams – the specialists being the punter, place kicker, holder, snapper, both kickoff return men, and punt return men were all excellent. The supporting cast they had did a really, really good job.”

On special teams, Duke has posted critical results in its last two games, returning eight kickoffs for 237 yards and a touchdown after having had just one kickoff return for 20 yards in its previous two contests.

As the final three games of the season come up against opponents with losing records, Duke will work to continue peaking on an upward trend against each one because any lapses would be costly to winning another division title and returning to play in the ACC Championship game.

“It’s good to be back home for some home ball games,” Cutcliffe concluded.

“One home game in a seven-week period – I think our guys are looking forward to gettin’ back to some rather more normal routines…The immediate goal is to try to find a way to win this week and that’s sufficient for us. We’ve got three football games – three big football games left this month.”