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James Alverson

Devils have to sweat the small stuff

Posted September 16, 2012

Duke had no major problems with North Carolina Central on Saturday night at Wallace Wade, but not many people really expected them to either. The Blue Devils got another solid night out of Sean Renfree, who didn't turn it over, and took it to Central 54-17.

In the five years David Cutcliffe has been at the helm of this Duke program, I'd have to say this is his most talented team to date. Renfree shows signs of brilliance in each game, Stanford was a tough test for sure, even Matt Barkley at USC found that out the hard way this week, but Renfree has been very respectable in the other two games the Devils have played this season. I'm not sure he'll face another defense as good as Stanford's this season, which comes as good news to him and Coach Cutcliffe as well.

The Blue Devils made some off-season position changes to move some guys around and get their best athletes on the field more. That included moving multi-talent guys like Brandon Connette to a wide receiver spot as well as placing him in the wildcat package at the quarterback role, moving him around, finding different ways to get the ball in his hands. He even played a little safety for Duke in the second half, a position that he's learning as he goes.

Connette is maybe the most notable example of an off-season position change working out for the better, but other guys like Desmond Scott's transition from running back to slot receiver have been just as critical to the Devils early season success. Scott snagged 5 passes for 56 yards Saturday night in the Bull City Classic, including a flashy quick hitch that he turned into a 31 yard gain setting up Josh Snead's 5 yard TD run in the third quarter.

It's the little things for Duke right now that are making a big difference in the outcome Cutcliffe and his team see on Saturdays. All of that said, Duke has a tough road ahead of them as they hope to arrive at the goal of bowl eligibility.

It's hard to nit-pick a game in which Duke dominated the scoreboard so heavily, but if this Blue Devils team is going to make a bowl, they're going to have to sweat the small stuff.  They have to pay attention to their assignments, play disciplined football defensively, and not turn it over on offense to win consistently this season.  There is just not much margin for error built in to this Duke team right now.

Ross Cockrell was a real bright spot for the Devils in the secondary on Saturday night. He picked off two passes and ran one of them back for a touchdown, his second score of the year.  Even after the game he wasn't satisfied with his performance, he felt good about it, but he knew that he was going to have to focus on executing every play. Cockrell pointed out one play where he made a mistake in coverage, jumping a hook route while the Eagles ran a wheel route behind him, a no-no for any safety almost 100% of the time.  He wanted to make the play, wanted to get that third interception. But he came off his discipline and Central came up with a big play.

No doubt there are always times in a game where guys make mistakes and no player is going to be perfect on 100% of the snaps they take, but for a team like Duke that doesn't have the luxury of depth other ACC teams have, they have to execute to perfection to be successful in the conference.

They are as fast as they've ever been in the Cutcliffe era, they are as explosive as they have ever been under Cutcliffe, and they are as talented as they've ever been under David Cutcliffe, but they also may have the toughest schedule yet under David Cutcliffe. Those are just the facts. They also don't have the depth that most of their ACC rivals do, and come late-October or November that can play a critical role in how successful your team can really be.

Sunday, Duke and Coach Cutcliffe will head back to the film room and take a look at the tape from Saturday's win against NC Central, they'll have a lot of good things to see, they'll have some things they want to fix, but if they focus on execution and avoid giving up the big plays that have plagued them over the past few years, this is a team that can get to the magic 6 win mark and be bowl bound.

That said, bowl eligibility is an uphill battle for Duke this season in my estimation, but this is a team that knows a little something about uphill battles. They are seeing one of their teammates Blair Holliday show them how to fight an uphill battle. Blair has been an inspiration to many in the Duke locker room, in the press box, and in the community as he's battled his way back from a broken neck.  He had to re-learn how to walk and talk, but after that battle over the past several months, number 8, Blair Holliday WALKED out on to the field at Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday night as an honorary captain of his Blue Devil football team.  That's something we can all cheer for, and that's a guy that's leading by example in showing his teammates and the world how to fight.

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