Cutcliffe: Duke is better than a year ago

Head coach David Cutcliffe met the media for the ACC Coaches' Weekly teleconference this week. He touched on a number of subjects including injuries, what his team needs to do to take the next step against Memphis, and the culture of Duke football.

COACH CUTCLIFFE: All right. It's always interesting to be basically playing another opening game. No current tape on Memphis. I can say this: they really did a great job of coaching a year ago, a much better team at the end of the season than they were early. They've got a lot of experienced, physical people back. They have a lot of people back that can run. They obviously felt very good about a young quarterback for him to beat out a returning starter that played well.

Always a challenge to go on the road. We're looking forward to seeing how we handle that test, certainly how we handle playing a really good football team, a much better football team in Memphis.

With that I'll take your questions.

Q. Coach, a year ago you guys defensively dominated Memphis. They seemed to really improve later in the season. What did you see over the course of the year that made them better at the end of the year?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: I think the biggest difference was their commitment to the run game. They're physical. They've got some backs that are good backs, strong, but really quick. They got the ball outside effectively. They developed a power game inside. I think it made them a better team.

The other part of it is their kicking game and field position came into play. They played the kicking game well down the stretch. Made the offense a little more short field to work with than it had. We won the field position game a year ago, and that certainly helped us defensively.

Q. Speaking of field position, because of situational punting, the numbers don't look real good in terms of a 32-yard average. Placed one inside the 5, one inside the 15. Can you talk about the job he did in his first game back.

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Will is a special talent. Hope we don't keep him as busy as we did last year really. But he is really a consistent punter. He gets outstanding hang time. I thought it was a really good start.

One that gave him successful roll, but didn't have much field to work with. The key is to get inside the 20s. He did that two on of his three punts.

Q. David, what is the dynamic like in practice when you're around the team with Anthony Boone, Brandon Braxton, (indiscernible), the guys that have known each other a long time.

COACH CUTCLIFFE: They have fun. I like it about all three of them. They're all energized, spirited, competitive. They do enjoy being around each other. So it is unique that they get to be on the same field, same practice field.

But they're always into what they're doing. They work hard and have fun. That's the key. I love these guys that can have fun because they are working hard.

I think they help push each other. It's really great to have all three of those guys around.

Q. You mentioned Memphis committed to the run more later in the season and that's what they got better. How did your defensive line do in their one-on-one battle?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Played better than we played against Central a year ago by a longshot. That's all you really have to compare it to because of being similar opponents.

I liked what we did. I liked what our backups do. Do we have a lot of work to do? Yes. This is a different offensive line and also a different style of running game. A little bit more two-back run game with some one-back run game mixed in. Be interested to see how we handle more of a power run game than what Central runs.

Q. About Justin Foxx, his first game after the injury, how he came out of that.

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Thought he played well. He had 26 or 28 snaps, something like that. He looked good. Felt good on Sunday. He played a lot of football. He didn't show any ill effects from the injury at all.

Q. Dave, given that you open up against an FCS team, was there anything you were able to learn about your team from that game?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Sure. We played a clean game, which doesn't matter who your opponent is. When you know what to do, you're not sloppy, you don't have sloppy penalties. We managed our offense well. We managed defensively really well, being where we were supposed to be. We lined up well. We tackled better than we had. We played the kicking game exceptionally well. We played with a lot of energy, played faster than we've played.

There were a lot of positives coming out of it. You always find things you know you're going to have to work on. We found a lot of those. I think we've improved over the last two days of practice. That's the key to all of this. This same thing has to keep repeating itself every week. We have a lot of getting better to do. We have to make sure we take the opportunity of every Tuesday and Wednesday practice we get.

Q. What would it mean to have a better conference record, going .500 or better?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, that's the key to all of this as long as I've been in college football, is the first thing you're doing is you're competing in your league. The only way to compete well in your league is to win more conference games than you lose. If you put yourself in a position in November to have a chance to compete for a division championship in our ACC league, that's what everybody's trying to accomplish.

Last year we had one of those golden opportunities. We hadn't been great, but we were good. In November, we put ourselves in a position if we win some games, we have a chance.

Now you have to take the next step. That's what the goal is. They've got to believe it. The most important who believes it is the players. I certainly do. That's where our thought process is. To play well in the ACC, we've got to play well right now in non-conference games.

Obviously we start the next two weeks with two coastal division opponents. If we think we've got a chance to win either one of those games, we've got to get better this week. That's why this week is such a big test.

That's where our minds are as to competing in the ACC.

Q. Do you still feel there needs to be a culture change that needs to be put into effect to get to the next level you want to get to?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: I see us every day in practice, I know who we recruited. We've continued to get better each year we've been here. Sometimes you're not fortunate with a ball bounce or injury, et cetera, et cetera. There's no question we've gone a lot of levels, we've taken a lot of steps. Obviously now at this point there's some that we talk about that are important to us.

This team is a better football team than we were a year ago, and that's at this moment. At points throughout the season you have to be able to say that. I think this team likes to work. I think that's one of the things that makes them most opportunistic as far as making those levels, those strides. We'll see if we can do it. That's the fun of it, finding out.

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