Duke's shutout win marks change fans can believe in
Posted August 31, 2013
Updated September 1, 2013
Durham, N.C. — For Duke, Saturday’s win over North Carolina Central was a big deal. It was more than a blowout win over an FCS opponent; it was a symbol of change – a change Blue Devils fans can believe in.
Back in 2008, the President of the United States was running on a platform of change and uniting the masses to say, “Yes we can.” At that exact same time, the new head coach at Duke University was preaching change to a down-trodden football program and had the fan base saying … well, there wasn’t much of a fan base.
Saturday marked Duke’s first game since the Belk Bowl in 2012 against Cincinnati. It was game No. 1 of a season that has the potential to propel Duke into uncharted territory as they seek their first ever back-to-back bowl appearance. And after a 45-0 shutout win, the 22,500-plus that filtered out of Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday may very well have been saying unto each other, “yes we can.”
“The shutout is something we take pride in,” said junior linebacker Kelby Brown who led the Blue Devils defense against NCCU with seven tackles. “That represents change. That was a program win.”
It was the program’s first shutout win since defeating North Carolina 41-0 in 1989. Since that season, Duke has had more winless seasons (4), than winning seasons (1).
It was their first home shutout since a 3-0 win over Wake Forest in 1978. Since that game, they have been shutout on their own home field eight times.
And you really want change? The last time Duke posted a shutout win by a greater margin was back in 1962 (50-0 over Wake Forest) when the school was still segregated**.
“It was nice to see a shutout,” Cutcliffe, who now has four such games in his career (three while at Ole Miss) said. “In this modern era, it’s difficult to get a shutout and it wasn’t a fluke.”
While NC Central was a lesser opponent to the Blue Devils on paper, and is in the middle of an internal overhaul, they entered the game with a 0-0 mark on both the scoreboard and the standings. (Laugh you might, but just this weekend eight – count them 8 – FCS programs beat FBS schools.)
Physical sign of change: Duke came out in an up-tempo, run-you-ragged style of offense and embraced the role of favorite.
“You could tell they were worn down,” said Brandon Connette, who was 5-for-8 passing for 55 yards and two touchdowns and added 22 yards and a score on the ground.
“I was pleased with our tempo but we were able to slow down when we wanted to, too,” Cutcliffe said, describing the Blue Devils’ ability to dictate the pace of the game for the full 60 minutes.
Duke got touchdowns from six different players Saturday, played five true freshman and out-gained the Eagles by 304 yards on offense (Duke didn’t even gain 304 total yards on offense in two of their games last year). More, Duke showed unprecedented depth for the 101-year-old program and played three deep at some positions – many of which by design regardless of the score.
“We played a lot of people in the first half, which was our intent,” said Cutcliffe whose team entered intermission with a 28-0 lead. “It was really good to see us playing so many in the secondary.”
Speaking of secondary, true freshman Breon Borders hauled in an interception in his first ever game and transfer Jeremy Cash recorded six tackles in his first game as a Blue Devil.
“I was a little anxious, but you can’t get overzealous,” said Cash after the performance.
“He had fun, he was chomping at the bit,” said Cutcliffe shining a little more light on the redshirt junior’s emotional state.
It was just one game, but Duke showed Saturday that last year’s bowl berth was real progress. Eleven games remain to have the faithful believing in real change.
**According to University Archives, Duke University admitted the first six graduate and professional school students in 1961. The first five undergraduates to register for Duke took place in Sept. 1963.