Cutcliffe: "UVa is the biggest challenge"

The Duke head coach met the media on Wednesday to provide a Blue Devil update

DAVID CUTCLIFFE: We're playing a Virginia team that is not only playing really well right now, they've played really well all season long. All six ballgames, and they're playing really well in all three phases. They are a very good football team defensively, very good, a very good football team in the kicking game. They're well coached in both phases. They're extremely well coached and talented, have playmakers everywhere on the offensive side of the football, so they are a huge challenge.

We've got to change gears a little bit going from playing an option offense into a completely different style of offense again, so we've worked very hard at trying to make that transition work. This is a huge challenge for us. We're going to have to play as good as we can play in all three phases to have an opportunity to win this football game.

Really have challenged our team in practice this week to work hard at that fact, and still got a lot of work left to do. With that, I'll take your questions.

Q. I know you talked so highly about Virginia in your address just now. What are some of those areas, I know you were keying in on all three phases of it, but when you were trying to go up against it in practice and trying to simulate it, what were those big things you were looking at with your team to try and excel in practice?

DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, on their offense, they've got a tremendous back, Kevin Parks, and they execute extremely well. They're big and they're good up front and work hard on the run game because it's so different than what we've seen. They run well inside, they run well outside, they execute their schemes well, their offensive line is extremely well coached, and then one of the other things, both quarterbacks are accurate. They've got a lot of playmakers. The tight ends are playmakers, the receivers are playmakers, they throw it down the field. So we've tried to use the field well against our defense and make them realize we're defending all areas of the field. They're going to throw it deep, they're going to throw it wide, they're going to run it right at your mouth, two backs, one back, very versatile team in that regard.

Their defense is hard to simulate. Their front is so explosive. They're doing a great job of taking the ball away. They've taken 10 fumbles, recovered 10 fumbles, nine interceptions. We've really geared our show team defense up. They're very physical. Their ends are extremely fast and explosive, so they've gotten a ton of sacks, 23 sacks, they've got linebackers. It's just the whole nine yards. Their safeties are great tacklers. So what they do is they cause a lot of bad down and distances, so we've worked very hard at trying to manage our technique and our execution, and in the kicking game they're a great return group. They've got an outstanding group of specialists, good snapper, outstanding placekicker and an outstanding punter. They're truly a team that's much -- I knew they had a good football team returning in the summer looking at them, so they really haven't surprised me, but I'm sure they've surprised a lot of people, but they're an outstanding team.

Q. And when you look at your squad and what you've been doing well on the other side of this, with everything that you're going up against, what can you say about where Duke is at right now compared to where you would like them to be?

DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, I think we didn't play well at Miami as a team. Parts of our team did, but we're a team that I think our people are realizing that for us to be the best we can be, we have to be a group that's cohesive with all three units. If we're doing something well, most of the time that's what we're doing. Our guys play really hard. I'm very pleased with that.

I want to see our execution in all phases take a big leap this week. Hopefully we can. We need that to happen. But overall you can't ask your young people to prepare any harder or play any harder than our guys are playing.

Q. In your preparations, do you or your defensive coaches notice much difference at all between Lambert and Johns?

DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Not really. I think they're both better runners than people might think. Lambert is just a little thicker, stronger overall, but they've both played well. They don't change systematically with either one of them because they are similar, big tall guys, and both of them are accurate. I think they're both playing very well. They've had some great moments in that regard.

I think one of the things that both of them do, they use their people well. They let Parks do his thing and the other backs, of course, playing three backs, and all those receivers, you've got playmakers out there, the big tall tight ends. I think these quarterbacks have a knack of letting them make plays in the passing game. They put the ball in good places, both of them do.

Q. Anthony Boone has a 15-1 record as a starter. Basically is that the most important thing you can say about him?

DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, there's no question he's a great leader. He's a fierce competitor. His teammates absolutely believe in him, and so does his coaching staff. He's going to bring his best, not just on Saturday. Anthony is one of those guys, the reason he's such a great leader is he brings his best starting Sunday. He's very into what we're doing, and I'm very appreciative of his contributions to this program.

Q. You guys have done a good job this year with ball security and also limiting sacks. What's kind of been a key to those things, and then as a follow-up, is this your biggest challenge yet, facing a team and a defense that is really thriving this year on takeaways and sacks?

DAVID CUTCLIFFE: No question that Virginia is the biggest challenge. 19 takeaways, leading the conference and maybe the country, I don't know who's taken it away more. But they're very successful, and it's because they're physically gifted in all aspects of their defense, and they play such an aggressive nature defense.

You've just got to play solid football. It's not that you don't make your mind up on game day. If you're going to be a team that does a good job of taking care of the football, it starts in spring practice. It's a mentality that you try to instill. Is it a guarantee? Absolutely not, but I can guarantee you this: If you don't work hard enough at it and you don't coach, you're going to struggle taking care of the football. It's always got to be an emphasis.

Q. Regarding the two quarterbacks, does it complicate your preparations at all, not really knowing which one is going to play and how much they're going to play between them, or are they similar enough that it really doesn't matter?

DAVID CUTCLIFFE: They're similar enough that I don't think it changes what they do at all. We really don't know see a big difference. One is running a little bit more than the other, but in the style of running that it is, it still doesn't change responsibilities. We'll have the same plan regardless of which quarterback is in the game.

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