Talking Points: Crown Cutcliffe as Coach of the Year
Posted December 1, 2013
1. Duke wrapped up the first 10-win season in school history and claimed the Coastal Division with a 27-25 win over North Carolina. Like so many times in their eight-game winning streak to close out the regular season, the Blue Devils earned a trip to the ACC Championship by being the better team in the second half.
Duke's gut-wrenching victories included 35 unanswered points against Virginia, keeping Virginia Tech out of the end zone, a 17-point fourth quarter against Miami and game-breaking interceptions in the fourth quarter against NC State and Wake Forest. Going into their contest against North Carolina, the Blue Devils had given up only 34 points in the fourth quarter. When kicker Thomas Moore gave the Tar Heels a 25-24 lead early in the final quarter of Saturday's contest, it was the first points Duke had allowed in the fourth quarter since the NC State game on November 9th.
The word "clutch" gets tossed out there way too often in sports punditry, but there really is no other way to describe Duke at this point.
While everyone else used last season's post-bowl eligibility collapse and brutal loss to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl to assume more of the same this year, the Blue Devils used it as motivation to never have that sour taste in their mouths again.
2. The argument for David Cutcliffe to win ACC Coach of the Year is simple enough. The head coach guided Duke to 10 wins.
Sure, Jimbo Fisher oversaw an undefeated regular season at Florida State. And yes, the Seminoles absolutely destroyed their ACC competition. However, it could be argued their success came from the emergence of quarterback Jameis Winston and not from the guy wearing a headset on the sideline.
While saying "10 wins at Duke" should be the "drops microphone" moment in any ACC Coach of the Year debate, it's important to note how Cutcliffe had his team truly believing in the process and watched them grow more confident as the season progressed. The Blue Devils lived in the fourth quarter because of that confidence. It's a testament to great coaching.
Attempts have been made to cover Duke's winning streak with shade. Skeptics immediately point out the poor records or glaring deficiencies of the competition in the Blue Devils' path to Charlotte. It's unfortunate and misses the real success of Cutcliffe's season at Duke.
The Blue Devils cashed in opportunities while the rest of the conference ate itself.
It's what Wake Forest did in 2006 when Florida State was in the twilight years of Bobby Bowden and Clemson couldn't get out of its own way under Tommy Bowden. It's what NC State failed to do in 2010 when a win over Maryland at the end of the season would have locked up a trip the ACC Championship. It's what North Carolina could have done this season had there not been a 1-5 start thanks in large part to self-inflicted damage.
3. Now that we're done praising Duke for their historic season, time for a splash of cold water to the face.
4. Credit to North Carolina for stabilizing their year and finishing with a 6-6 record. However, it's tough to shake the feeling the Tar Heels could have accomplished more than just a lower-tier bowl this season.
A few missed opportunities and mistakes loomed large throughout the game. Quarterback Marquise Williams threw an interception to start the second half, which lead to a Duke touchdown. On the following drive, wide receiver T.J. Logan dropped what would have been a touchdown. The Tar Heels had to settle for a 25-24 lead after a field goal following Russell Bodine's 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
While North Carolina was 3-for-4 on fourth down conversions, they were 2-for-12 on third down conversions. The Tar Heels did not convert a third down on their first eight opportunities.
Then came the final drive of the game, where UNC had 2:22 left on the clock and two timeouts remaining. The Tar Heels never looked comfortable executing and Williams eventually threw an interception to Duke's DeVon Edwards to ice the game.
5. NC State ended their forgettable 2013 campaign with an eight-game losing streak and couldn't avoid going winless in conference play for the first time since 1959. There is a list of issues facing head coach Dave Doeren, most importantly at quarterback, but that's another set of talking points for another day. When a program goes in a totally new direction with its coaching staff, this was a potential blunder along the way.
...so you're saying there's a chance?