There's relative good news in that the Blue Devils have compiled a 3-2 record despite dealing with some significant injuries and adjusting to a new defensive scheme.
Now there are seven games remaining, all against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents. They took the open week on the schedule to further identify how they want to proceed the rest of the season in terms of strategy and personnel, Cutcliffe said.
"We've seen a little bit more on both sides of the ball and what we can do," he said. "What fits this team, what fits this personnel."
The Blue Devils resume play with a home matchup with Florida State.
There seems to be a foundation set with the Blue Devils. That's something that has seldom been in place at mid-October, so it's a matter of taking additional steps.
"Now it's time to pull the trigger and try to do the best we can," Cutcliffe said. "We're excited about that challenge and opportunity."
--K Will Snyderwine should be well-rested after an extended layoff. A preseason ankle injury cost him some kicking opportunities in games, but he hadn't been given a break to fully heal. Coach David Cutcliffe kept him out of kicking drills during the team's open week, meaning he had a break of eight days to rest the injury. Previously, he hadn't gone more than 2 1/2 days without kicking, Cutcliffe said, and that prevented a smooth path to a recovery.
--The Blue Devils have yielded 27 points in each of their last two games. Yet they won them both. Last year, they yielded 27 or more points in all three of their victories. So of their last six triumphs covering two seasons, only the 20-19 victory Sept. 17 at Boston College came with the opponent limited to less than 27 points.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The passing attack continues to be the priority, but there could be some confidence growing for the rushing attack. There continues to be some concerns about the health of RB Juwan Thompson and RB Desmond Scott as they've nursed injuries. QB Sean Renfree has been playing with more aggression and confidence the past couple of games and the rest of the offense tends to feed off that.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The defense has had ups-and-downs and it should be in position to start putting together some more stretches of sustained good work. S Matt Daniels has been the leader of this group and he's a player the Blue Devils are counting on for leadership. The depth has improved in the secondary in terms of the number of players who've been given a chance for some extensive minutes because backups have filled in for injured players.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "All games take on their own context. (What) they did the week before is of no bearing to me." -- Coach David Cutcliffe on facing Florida State next, as the once-nationally ranked Seminoles bring a three-game losing streak into the game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Florida State at Duke, Oct. 15 -- This is the start of a three-game homestand for Duke. The Blue Devils' next two opponents (Florida State and Wake Forest) played each other Saturday, with Wake Forest pulling out a 35-30 win.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Blue Devils could use a strong start because that might allow more doubt to creep into the minds of the Seminoles, who've lost three games in a row. The Blue Devils have won their past three games, so they're riding a wave of confidence. With QB E.J. Manuel returning from a shoulder injury to play last week against Wake Forest, there should be no question about the quarterback the Blue Devils will be facing when Florida State shows up.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
S Matt Daniels -- He has been a standout on the defensive side and that came with some undisclosed ailments prior to the team's open week on the schedule. He figures to be moving around a little better after some time to rest.
QB Sean Renfree -- He's passing the ball with more authority and looking downfield more often the past couple of games. While he's spearheads the passing attack, he might be reducing the notion that he's not a threat running the ball. The redshirt junior has three career games with two rushing touchdowns, including the most-recent home game against Tulane.
DE Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo -- A redshirt freshman, he has made good use of his time on the defensive line. He forced a fumble that set up the winning touchdown against Florida International. His ability to show speed on the pass rush is something that could continue to come in handy.
--C Brian Moore, who has been sidelined all season with an arm injury, went through all three practices on a limited basis during the team's open week. His practice role is expected to escalate and that should push him closer to playing on game days.
--RB Josh Snead has been in discussions with the coaching staff about his status regarding playing this year. He has been out all season with an injured right foot, though he has made progress on that front. He played last season as a true freshman, so there's the option of allowing him to take a redshirt season for this year.
--C Dave Harding has continued to hold down the starting center position after moving from his role at offensive guard, where he started last year as a redshirt freshman.