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Duke showing defensive improvement

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

When it comes to Duke football, the progress can't always be measured in wins and losses. Even a quick glance at the conference statistics might not show it.

But it's there.

Duke's scoring defense, although still one of the statistically worst in the league, is still better than it was a year ago. The Blue Devils are allowing 23.1 points per game, 10 points better than their average of 33.1 a season ago.

Only Florida, FIU, Boise State, Navy and Northwestern have trimmed more points off their respective scoring defense averages this season.

Over the past two seasons, Duke's improvement in scoring defense ranks third in the country behind Temple (-21.5) and Louisiana Tech (-20.1).

Duke coach David Cutcliffe said one of the biggest differences is that his team is much quicker on defense than it was a year ago.

"Our defense, we've got a little bit more speed on the field," Cutcliffe said. "We're much more conditioned than we have been. Certainly our defensive staff has done a tremendous job from a scheme standpoint, but also in fundamentals, consistency and competitiveness. All of those things, it's a huge combination of things that has made us a better football team."

Another reason is senior linebacker Michael Tauiliili, who leads the ACC and is tied for fifth nationally with 11 tackles per game. His current career totals of 393 tackles and 41 tackles for loss are the most among active players in the ACC.

Still, the Blue Devils will have their hands full this weekend against Clemson in Death Valley.

Duke's hot streak to start the season has since faded, and the Blue Devils are 0-2 in November, the month Cutcliffe said would define his team.

"To this point we're 0-2 and that's because we've earned 0-2," Cutcliffe said. "We're certainly playing in my opinion the most physical team we've seen by far to date. They can run, they will hit you and we have to bring our "A" game. It should be a big challenge for us."