Deacons Prove Cutcliffe Right

David Cutcliffe saw the same thing I saw from Wake Forest in the first half, which is why the Duke coach predicted it would be his team celebrating at the end of today’s regular-season finale at BB&T Field.

I’ve always chuckled when I hear how there’s no margin of error at Wake. There was plenty of margin of error in Dave Clawson’s first two seasons as head coach, which is why the Deacons went 3-9 both years.

The correct way of saying it is that there’s no margin of error if the Deacons hope to win. And we saw that again today when Duke showed more grit, determination and effort en route to the 31-23 win the Blue Devils needed to secure a sixth victory and bowl eligibility.

John Wolford, one of the most heart-warming stories in football I can remember, has had a magical senior season. But when he fumbled on his first carry, one had to wonder if this was going to be his day.

Yeah, I know Scottie Washington recovered the fumble, so no harm, no foul. But as impressed as I’ve been over what Wolford has done this season, I’ve been even more impressed with what he hasn’t.

He’s a quarterback who over his first 10 games just didn’t screw up. Today he did, missing open receivers and throwing two interceptions. You could tell he was off-kilter, long before he limped off the field on a bad ankle and had to miss a possession.

But by then the Blue Devils were clearly dominating the line of scrimmage, both when they had the ball and when they didn’t. When Duke needed the big play, be it on third down or fourth, the Blue Devils got it. When a key stop was required, the Deacons were stopped.

Wake’s best chance – and perhaps only chance – was to make serious hay in the first half before the Blue Devils got around to doing what they had driven over from Durham to do. That the Deacons led 17-10 at halftime had far more to do with the educated right toe of Dom Maggio and the punt cover team than any spark from the offense or defense.

Hence, Cutcliffe’s confidence at halftime.

He knew the Wake team he had just watched for 30 minutes bore scant resemblance to the same team that stunned both Louisville and N.C. State. Maybe Wake was overconfident. Maybe, despite the presence of Duke Ejiofor and Jessie Bates back in the defensive lineup, the long string of injuries finally caught up with the Deacons.

Not being in the locker room before the game, I don’t know exactly what it was that was missing. The Deacons were, after all, playing a long-time rival, one that had beaten Wake four of the last five times. Wake also had a shot at winning an eighth regular-season game for only the third time since the beginning of the ACC in 1953.

Clawson was brutally candid in saying all the right things in defeat, and I couldn’t disagree with anything he said. Duke did out-prepare, out-coach, out-play and out-execute Wake, and thus deserved to win.

In searching for reasons, Clawson came close once.

“Today we got outplayed,’’ Clawson said. “I was concerned about it. The last two weeks there was such an emotional high for us. To come from behind at Syracuse and you beat N.C. State the way we did, and you hope there’s enough gas in the tank, and you hope there’s enough to play for.

“I think there was. I think our guys were ready. We just didn’t play well.’’

One thought on “Deacons Prove Cutcliffe Right

  1. Bingo. Dead on. I thought Clawson, as you note, was so honest, it took away much of my frustration. He even noted “John did not have his best day.” My football eye knew we had trouble midway thru the second. And if you go back and look at the entire day’s drive chart, there were none – none- that resembled anything that we had see, in every game, going back to the App State game…long, crisp, dazzling. And I wondered, “where is the short, controlled pass game? The slants? Then I saw it. Duke was daring Wake to throw deep by bottling up the short seams and zones. Using a single deep safety. Simple 4-man rushes. 6 men in medium pass coverage. And – we could. not. run. the. ball. Period. So often this modern game still comes back to the basics. If you don’t block and tackle better than the others guys – you lose. We tackled pretty well through the first half. Then game the deflating allowance of big plays that was the norm all season long for the D. At the same time we reverted to our odd habit of running sideways, and up the middle with little gain, and often losses, putting the pass game under pressure. And Coach Clawson saw it. I could tell from his face. We are “getting there” – but as often as the players like to be quoted about “not letting down” – they did. At least on this day. That mental toughness, that Duke demonstrated, is the next step in the program. And – I’m sure
    Coach and his staff don’t need me to tell them. They know it. They’ll get that right as well. Hopefully, beginning with the bowl game, a new and better season begins.

    Liked by 1 person

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