Win at Wake Cutcliffe's most impressive yet
Posted November 25, 2013
David Cutcliffe, Duke, A: Sounds strange, but the 28-21 win at Wake Forest probably rates as the most impressive performance yet by Cutcliffe and his staff.
Coming on the heels of the startling show against Miami, the trip to Winston was an obvious trap game that soon become even more of a challenge when the desperate Deacons (coming off a bye week) jumped to a 14-0 lead.
A Duke football team probably hadn’t been under such pressure since a late-season 35-26 win over N.C. State in 1989.
It was just another remarkable job of button-pushing and game management by Cutcliffe, allowing the Devils to go to UNC this week with a chance to extend the dream.
Previous grades: Five As, 3 Bs, one C, one D.
Ruffin McNeill, ECU, A: Tulane’s Curtis Johnson is likely to edge McNeill, Marshall’s Doc Holliday and Rice’s Dave Bailiff in the Conference USA coach of the year race, but McNeill would be a deserving winner regardless of what happens Friday (noon) at Marshall.
The 42-21 win at N.C. State got skewed to some extent late but was another example of how much McNeill’s decision to bring in defensive coordinator Rick Smith has improved the program.
Marshall (6-1, 8-3) will enter the East Division title game with a quarterback in stride with ECU’s prolific Shane Carden, who has passed for 3,575 yards and 32 touchdowns with seven interceptions. The Herd’s Rakeem Cato has passed for 3,042 yards and 32 TDs with seven picks.
The Friday weather forecast for Huntington (W.Va.) is for a high of 40 degrees and clear skies, meaning it will be the first abnormally cold game for ECU all season. Marshall is an early 3-point favorite.
Previous grades: Five As, three Bs, one C, one D.
Dave Doeren, NCSU, C: It’s all basically irrelevant at this point, but most 3-7 teams would have completely bagged it if an in-state rival invaded, gobbled up tickets and thoroughly dominated the game for three quarters.
The Wolfpack didn’t and was able to make it reasonably respectable by scoring three touchdowns in the fourth quarter against the Pirates.
Previous grades: Three Bs, one C, six Ds.
Larry Fedora, UNC, A: The 80-20 win over Old Dominion was much like the wins over Elon (62-0) and Idaho (66-0) in 2012 – good for morale, great for the stat sheets but difficult to put into any significant context.
It is clear that the offense has made the adjustment from Bryn Renner to Marquise Williams at quarterback and freshmen T.J. Logan and Ryan Switzer are going to be genuine standouts.
Yet, the defense is still something of a mystery even after 11 games.
ODU’s Gerard Johnson quietly rushed for 143 yards on nine carriers and teammate Colby Goodwyn added 57 more on 10 attempts.
It’s just been a strange season. On one hand, the Heels held Boston College’s Andre Williams to 55 yards in an easy 34-10 win on Oct. 26 but then gave up 212 yards rushing at N.C. State a week later in a 27-19 win. But add it all up and Fedora’s second team is 6-5 with five-game win streak that began after four straight losses.
Previous grades: Four As, one B, one C, four Ds.
Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers, B: The Panthers were hardly sharp offensively but at least got it together in the final minutes and escaped Miami with a 20-16 win.
Among the primary running backs, only Mike Tolbert (23 yards on four carries) seemed to be on key.
An unlikely 4th-and-10 late-game conversion made the win possible and now, there’s no compelling reason to predict the seven-game win streak will be halted by Tampa Bay and Mike Glennon this week in Charlotte.
At 8-3, a playoff berth is almost at hand, but the games against New Orleans (in Charlotte Dec. 8) and at the Saints (Dec. 22) are probably going to determine when and where the postseason schedule will start.
Previous grades: Six As, one B, one C, one D, one F.