After rough ACC start, Duke steps out to face Charlotte
As most of the country waded into the college football season a toe at a time, the Duke Blue Devils dove in headfirst as the only team to play six straight games against other Power 5 conference opponents without so much as a week off.
The resulting 1-5 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference was not what the Blue Devils had in mind, but after a much-needed bye, coach David Cutcliffe says he’s looking forward to seeing his team turn the season around.
Duke returns to action Saturday night with a nonconference game against visiting Charlotte in Durham, N.C.
“I know people are tired of me saying this,” Cutcliffe said. “We’ve got a good football team with a bad record, so what do you do about that? You assess every part of everything you’re doing.”
Charlotte (2-2) is coming off its only home game to date, a 38-28 victory against UTEP. It was the second straight triumph for the 49ers, whose schedule has been massively interrupted by COVID-19 issues. Three games were canceled or postponed.
But after opening with a loss to Appalachian State, and another three weeks later to Florida Atlantic, the 49ers routed North Texas 49-21 on Oct. 10, missed another game, and then beat UTEP.
“Kudos to our guys to find ways to win football games,” Charlotte coach Will Healy said. “(It’s) so much fun to teach after a win versus teaching after a loss. That’s progress. That’s momentum.”
Duke also hopes to get things going in the right direction.
Cutcliffe said it’s often a matter of fixing 10 plays that have proven costly and making adjustments to prevent them from happening again.
“We have to increase that focus and intensity,” he said. “(We can) come out refreshed and ready to make a run in the second half of the season.”
Duke is dealing with roster reductions, perhaps most notably cornerback Mark Gilbert’s announcement earlier this week that he’s opting out of the rest of the season to prepare for the NFL draft.
What’s more, starting center Will Taylor underwent knee surgery this week, and the Blue Devils also lost backup quarterback Chris Katrenick, who opted out since their last game, citing personal reasons.
Duke junior quarterback Chase Brice has passed for an average of 243.5 yards a game, but he has completed only 55 percent of his passes and has been intercepted 11 times.
Charlotte has forced three turnovers twice this season.
“We preach running to the ball,” 49ers defensive back Lance McMillan said.
Charlotte redshirt senior defensive back Ben DeLuca, with 300 career tackles, needs six more stops to match the school record.
Senior defensive end Victor Dimukeje needs two sacks to break the Duke career school record. He has 20 1/2, including 6 1/2 so far this season, and hopes to put extra stress on a Charlotte offensive line that includes two freshmen.
–Field Level Media