Duke has lost two of its past four season openers under coach David Cutcliffe -- both to Richmond -- and last season’s 23-21 loss to the Spiders was particularly devastating. It was Cutcliffe’s fourth season, and expectations were much higher than an 0-1 start against an FCS program.
Cutcliffe has made a few tweaks to his preseason philosophy to better prepare his players for this year’s opener against Florida International. He said this week that the Blue Devils will put a greater emphasis on individual teaching with less of an emphasis on team drills, schemes and scrimmaging in the early summer sessions. The players won’t begin their game preparation for FIU until the Wednesday before game week – a little later than usual. Instead of focusing on FIU, Cutcliffe said, he wants to focus on Duke first.
“I don’t think I’m going to be in as big of a hurry,” Cutcliffe said. “I think we’ve peaked our team some earlier in August and not played well in openers. We have our toughest opener since we’ve been here [against] a very talented FIU team. And if you know football and the business, you know that’s not just coach talk. They’re really good.
“I’m going to give our coaches the time and expect from them a great job on coaching technique, a great job of getting it done the way we expect it to be done,” he said. “I want our squad to be the best fundamental team in all of college football.”
There is still a good deal of instruction that needs to be done in Durham, as 55 of the 85 scholarship players are freshmen and sophomores. Duke has 17 starters returning, but the biggest question marks will be two freshmen specialists and how numerous key players recover from injuries.
Despite the emphasis on fundamentals this summer, Cutcliffe said his program isn’t far from where he wants it to be in his fifth season.
“I think we’re close,” he said. “I think we’ve got a good football team. I expect this team to win, to be real honest with you.”