David Cutcliffe has turned the Duke Blue Devils into a consistent winning program. I know that doesn’t sound like quite the accomplishment when you look at Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney, and Urban Meyer’s records of conference and national championships- but this is Duke. The Blue Devils have finished .500 or better in five of the past six seasons under Coach Cut. That’s an even larger feat when you look at how Coach Cutcliffe is the only double-digit game winning head coach in Duke’s history.
Many have tried but most have failed to win at Duke. Since Steve Spurrier’s 1989 eight-win-run, the Devils had only one winning season prior to Coach Cutcliffe’s tenure. That season was an eight win campaign in 1994. It took Duke 19 years to follow up on Fred Goldsmith’s ‘94 campaign. What happened in ‘94 you ask? Tonya Harding had Nancy Kerrigan whacked in the knee, the Chunnel opened between England and France, OJ and the Bronco, MLB went on strike, The Lion King came out in theaters, and Lisa Marie married Michael Jackson.
The S&P+ has Duke ranked as the 65th best program in college football heading into the 2019 season, after wrapping up 2018 ranked 51st with an 8-5 record. Duke did what Duke does, made a bowl game, but they also lost to Wake Forest in an embarrassing fashion after beating good programs like Army West Point and Northwestern, and rising Baylor early on.
Scheme and Personnel
Duke quarterback Daniel Jones left early for the NFL and will be the New York Giants quarterback of the future. Jones threw 22 touchdowns with nine interceptions while averaging only 6.8 yards per attempt his junior season. Will the new starting QB be Quentin Harris? Harris is a senior who has waited behind Jones for his chance to start- and torched Baylor and NC Central when starting in place of an injured Jones.
Harris is a dual-threat type, even more so than Jones, and Coach Cutcliffe will adjust accordingly. As Miami fans are excited about Dan Enos’ ability to adjust to his quarterbacks so Duke fans have become accustomed to the same from Coach Cutcliffe. When Duke has had a stronger passing quarterback they sling the ball, when their running game is on they’ll rely on it like in 2018.
A common personnel grouping for Duke is common to most of the NCAA, 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end). Duke uses some motion but a lot of formationing to keep defenses guessing. That tight end will line up all over the field for Duke from the backfield as a fullback, to the nest (inside the tackle and guard), the wing, and inline with his hand down. In 2018, senior tight end Davis Koppenhaver caught 14 balls and seven were for touchdowns.
Running back Deon Jackson returns after a strong 2018 season. Jackson ran for 847 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns while hauling in another two touchdowns through the air. He also averaged 21.8 yards per kickoff return but we’ll see about those duties in 2019.
Dissecting the offense
If this is a pass-run option, like the swing-draw I think it is, Harris should’ve thrown the football. He has a man advantage on the outside for the swing and the weak side linebacker should’ve been the read. If the linebacker runs the flat, Harris runs the ball. If the linebacker blitzes or sits, he should throw the swing. Here the linebacker blitzes so Harris should’ve thrown the swing. Because of his athleticism it works out, anyway. If the play was only a lead draw just ignore all the things I’ve said above.
Any solid running game has a good play-action passing game as well. One of those seven touchdowns from Koppenhaver came in the GIF below, when Harris was starting against NC Central. Duke gets a nice flow going from the backs and Koppenhaver is able to slip out of the backfield on the wheel route and beat his man down field. This ball was placed perfectly at the back pylon where it was a touchdown or out of bounds and not an interception.
QB run game
With Harris in the game the run from the QB is always an option. Here, Harris fakes a pitch to the running back and keeps the ball himself. The guard pulls to give Duke an extra blocker inside to the run side.
A good QB run game sets up other plays, as Miami saw in their matchup against Duke. The Blue Devils broke out the Tim Tebow jump pass against Miami in the end zone. Touchdowns like these can be back breakers and Duke prevailed 20-12 in Miami Gardens.
Miami and Duke don’t play until November 30th in Durham. It’s a Thanksgiving weekend game and it will more than likely be cold in The Triangle. ESPN has Miami as just under a 65% win prediction while Bill Connelly’s S&P+ has Miami with a 69% win probability over the Blue Devils. Will Jarren Williams still be the starting quarterback of the Hurricanes by Turkey Day? We’ll find out!
You can check out Mr. Harris’ “highlight tape” from 2018 below.
Prediction: Miami by 3