Tri-partisan

Choices - and schedule - get tougher for Duke football

Posted October 11

One of David Cutcliffe’s favorite go-to phrases is, “If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.”

Well, Duke’s certainly not getting better. And someone has to answer for it.

For the second week in a row, Duke’s defense played well enough to win, and for a second week in a row, Duke’s offense made sure they didn’t. Head-scratching reluctance to run the ball by the coaching staff and poor performances by Daniel Jones and his receivers earned Duke a 28-21 loss in Charlottesville, dropping the Blue Devils from an ACC contender to a team that’s going to struggle to make a bowl.

At any other school, Cutcliffe, offensive coordinator Zac Roper, and star quarterback Daniel Jones would all be on the hot seat. At Duke, however, that kind of pressure is unheard of thanks to the historic failures of those who came before.

Cutcliffe built a successful program by daring to ask “Why not Duke?” It’s time for fans to ask the same question now when pondering the comfort level of the coaches and players accountable for this two-game slide.

Should Cutcliffe’s job be in jeopardy? Absolutely not. The thought alone is ridiculous. Forget the leeway that Cutcliffe has earned in building the program to a team that can even win four games in a season. There couldn’t be a better match of coach, program and institution than Duke and David Cutcliffe, and to even consider a change would be to completely sabotage any future the program has.

But that doesn’t mean that he should be immune from criticism. In reality, it would be insulting to what he’s built at Duke NOT to be critical of the job he’s done with this team and with his staff. This is the best defense he’s ever had at Duke. Jones may be the best quarterback he’s ever had at Duke. And both are being wasted. That’s on the head coach.

Even looking at the job Zac Roper has done this year, it’s foolish to think about a personnel change. We, as fans and media, get so excited by the prospect of someone losing their job, we fail to really consider if that action would fix the problem. Could Duke get someone better?

Well that’s a different question all together. Perhaps Matt Luke is a possible improvement after his interim stint at Ole Miss is done. But simply removing Roper doesn’t give Duke better wide receivers, and it doesn’t immediately fix all of Daniel Jones’ problems.

Plays are designed well enough to succeed, and while the run/pass balance needs to be less 50/50 and more 70/30, Roper has proven to be a capable coordinator. When obvious problems don’t get noticeably addressed, that once again goes back to the head coach.

With the quarterback position, however, it might not be a bad move to add in some competition. Jones’ production has dropped with each game, and it’s hard to ignore a career 2-7 record after October 1, and a career 0-9 record against ACC teams not named “North Carolina” (Daniel Jones is 2-0 against the Tar Heels).

Quentin Harris has not dropped back to throw a meaningful pass in his career, but he’s a gifted runner with a critical touchdown last weekend in Charlottesville, and is 6 for 8 passing on the season for 62 yards and a touchdown.

If Harris starts on Saturday and Duke is forced to run more often than pass, is that a bad thing? Heading into a stretch where Duke plays Florida State, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest, it’s certainly not going to get easier for Daniel Jones.

As the schedule gets tougher for Duke down the stretch, so do the choices David Cutcliffe has to make. Someone has to be held accountable. If not getting better truly is getting worse, then something must be different than it’s been over the last two games.

Is Daniel Jones to blame? No. He’s a part of it, sure. But not THE problem. But Cutcliffe has to feel enough pressure from the fans to try different levers, and the quarterback position is a great place to start.

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