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Coach Cutcliffe Weekly Teleconference

Duke head coach David Cutcliffe met the media this week as part of the weekly ACC Coaches' Teleconference.

DAVID CUTCLIFFE: We're up against a very good opponent. Tulane is a veteran team with a lot of people back. They'll have the comfort of being at home. I'm excited to see what we look like. All of us have these first-game jitters in college football. We haven't seen ourselves against anyone else. I know our players are excited about this. 

We're relatively healthy coming out of camp. We had a couple of tough losses, but we're going to focus on who we've got ready to go and hopefully play at a very high level and travel well. This is a good experience for all of our younger players to be put on the road right off the bat. 

Anxious to see how we handle all of this environment.

Q. Your quarterback obviously heading into the season, we talked a little bit about it at Pinehurst, but Thomas Sirk, just what you can say about his growth through the fall and what he's looking like heading into this first game.

DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, he's going into his fourth year in our system. He had a setback young with the Achilles tear, but he is really, I consider, an experienced player. He's played when the game is on the line and played a role for us a year ago, an important role. But he's ready to play. He's performed well not only this fall, but he had a tremendous spring. He's an accurate passer. He's got great vision. He's a big guy. I think our team is very confident in Thomas. I think they're certainly confident in our backup Parker Boehme, who's performed well, but I think right now our team is at a very high level of confidence in what Thomas is doing, and rightfully so. He's performed at a high level for us in all of our practices.

Q. With all the work that you've done with the quarterbacks that you've had as well as with the quarterbacks in the NFL and helping to grow that, what can you say-- I know you always give the credit to somebody else, but to give some credit to yourself, what can you say about any work you've done with Thomas or anything, any type of knowledge you maybe try to impart on him?

DAVID CUTCLIFFE: I think to answer the question in totality is that it is a tribute to our system. I'm a product of a lot of people and a lot of learning, and I think our system prepares quarterbacks extremely well.

I think if nothing else, I think we understand the quality of a rep, and whether we're at practice or whether we're in the off-season, whether they're working on their own, and we've had a great staff here buy into all of that, as well. Scottie Montgomery has done a tremendous job of coaching our quarterbacks the last two years. But certainly I would attribute it to the system itself that we have in place to prepare hopefully all positions, but I certainly believe very strongly we prepare quarterbacks as well as anybody in the country.

Q. I wanted to ask you about the practices you've had since we talked to you on Sunday and how your running backs look, particularly Shaun (Wilson) and Joseph Ajeigbe who were kind of banged up in camp?

DAVID CUTCLIFFE: I think we've had really good work. Our Monday work may have been our best work in all three phases, which is what you hope happened, and we looked like we're ready to play.

Today they looked anxious. It was interesting, but Shaun, we've opened him up, and he's running full speed, and Joe is close. You haven't had Joe get hit, and when you load an ankle with real contact, you don't know for sure, but there's no real doubt in my mind that Shaun Wilson is ready to play and looks ready to play as well as, of course, Shaquille (Powell).

Q. Obviously you lose Jamison Crowder, but who do you think will step up as wide receiver tomorrow night?

DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, Max McCaffrey has been a starter for us for a couple years, a fourth-year senior, had his best spring in camp, and he is a top-level receiver. Johnell Barnes, who has started for us, also, in the past has had a tremendous camp. I think we have a couple youngsters that haven't played, redshirt freshman Chris Taylor and freshman T.J. Rahming and Ryan Smith and then we're getting Anthony Nash back, who's a fourth-year junior from -- been out most of camp, but he's a big guy that can run. What I really believe, it's very difficult to replace a Jamison Crowder. What we have is an opportunity to have a really good receiving corps, and that's what we're looking for going into this game, led by Max and Johnell.

Q. I realize coaches have many concerns, do you have any particular concerns on the defensive side of things, of the ball?

DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, obviously when you've got two new starters at linebacker and a new starter at corner that was just thrust into that position with Ryan's injury, you know, you're anxious to see how they're going to play against other competition, and Tulane has got a great quarterback and a great receiving corps and tight ends. It's a big-time match-up. It's going to be a challenge, but it's an opportunity for us to learn a lot about ourselves because Tulane is a good football team, much better than people think. So that's probably the biggest area of concern.

I mentioned a second ago, the receivers have to step up as a group, replace a guy like Jamison Crowder, and how is your offensive line going to gel. You take a four-year starter Laken Tomlinson out of the mix and Takoby Cofield. All that first-game jitters is working pretty well on me right now.

Q. What kind of challenge does that Tulane running game pose for you this week?

DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, they ran the football very well on us a year ago. We're going to play a lot of people. I think we have more people in our defensive front than we've had. I think we have more quickness. Again, you don't know about that match-up. I know Tulane's offensive line is big, same group, four of the five back. I know they're very talented. I know the backs are extremely talented, and when you're having to defend that and defend a quarterback with the kind of arm they have in Tanner, then you've really got a test defensively.

A little unique to come in, they're going to play a lot of two-back offense, things we don't see as much of, a lot of power offense, and our offense is not that similar to Tulane. Going to be a great challenge for us and one I hope we step up and accomplish well.

Q. I know we talked about this earlier last month, but how much more comfortable are you right now with Nico Pierre going into the game situation given the rust he's got in the backfield?

DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Coach Montgomery and I had that discussion early this morning, just about game-ready people, and Nico is ready. We need to do it. He's a talent. He has done a great job, knock on wood, taking care of the football. He's just gotten better every single day. He's earned the opportunity to get out there and go play some football, and I know he's anxious. He's a redshirt freshman. It's been a long time since he's competed, and he'll certainly be hungry. So somewhere in there he's going to get some reps in the first half.

Q. You keep talking about first-game jitters. Is part of the jitters the perception of Tulane? I know they only won three games last year and you beat them by a score that looked lopsided but it was basically a few big turnover plays that broke the game open. Do you think the perception of Tulane is not up to the level of where they might be as a threat?

DAVID CUTCLIFFE: No, I don't think that's the jitters I have at all. I think our players, they've talked a lot themselves, they know how good Tulane is, and that's the ones that matter most.

I think it's just simply college football. We haven't played since December 2014. You've got new faces here and there. It's been a long time since you've really played a ballgame. I was glad we took the trip to Washington and let them see the game live. They don't even see football live really other than a scrimmage, which is not the same, so I just commonly have them in first games. I'm excited. There's excitement there, but there's always going to be concern. When I say jitters, it's just kind of butterflies; here we go, you know.

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