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Cutcliffe: "We've focused a lot on Duke"

Blue Devil head coach David Cutcliffe met the media ahead of his team's game against Georgia Tech on Saturday in Wallace Wade Stadium

COACH CUTCLIFFE: We've had a busy week of work, a lot of work to do coming out of a loss, particularly one where we struggled so much offensively and struggled in the kicking game. So we have had a lot of focus on Duke. 

Obviously what compounds it all is you're playing an outstanding Georgia Tech team that every year, they're outstanding in all phases. Paul Johnson does a great job with their offense, but they're a very balanced team. They're dangerous in the kicking game. They're aggressive and outstanding on defense. I think they have one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and a great offensive football team. So a huge challenge for us this week. 

THE MODERATOR: Questions for coach. 

Q. You talked about offense in the last game. Three of 17 on third downs. Obviously a lot of punts in the first half of the game. What can you say about going back to the film and moving the ball forward, what you've tried to key in on at this point? 

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Just inconsistencies were awful for us. A good play, two good plays, then an horrific play, which is not typical of what we do. We stopped ourselves with bad-down-and-distance, some lost-yardage plays. 

You certainly have to give Northwestern credit. They tackled us well. They're good on defense, really good. They play fierce. That was another part of it. I don't think we played fierce enough to consistently move the ball. 

It was a multitude of things that we've tried to address this week. We've got to get better. The third downs you mentioned. But not just third downs, we had some bad first-down plays and some bad second-down plays that led to long third-down conversions. It's hard to be very successful when you have a bunch of long third-down conversions to make. 

Q. Keeping with the offense. How have you seen Thomas Sirk respond to a game like that where there were a lot of inconsistencies, how has he taken it moving forward? 

COACH CUTCLIFFE: He's been good. I think our team realized, the quarterback gets too much credit when things go well and certainly too much credit when it doesn't. 

He did some good things in the game, trying to take care of the football, et cetera. What he did was lay the ball off a lot. I think we can be a little more aggressive than what we were. 

But Thomas is on track. He's played well enough to win. If we just take care of the ball. He had the one turnover, a little freakish. If we take care of the ball a little better, we may win that game. Certainly if we played better in the kicking game. 

I'm looking forward to seeing Thomas continue to compete. 

Q. One thing I've noticed this year in college football is there's been a rash of targeting ejections. Do you think the rule is designed that way or do you think there's a flaw in how players are getting taught? 

COACH CUTCLIFFE: No, I don't think there's a flaw in how people are being taught actually. I haven't had a meeting yet in the circumstance with the Rules Committee, but I'm looking forward to it. 

I think we're certainly trying to do two things in college football with the targeting issue. First and foremost is player safety. You can tell if you're a player, coach or an official when somebody's taken a cheap shot at a player. When that occurs, I think ejection is appropriate.
. I think there are other penalties that fall in the category of unsportsmanlike, it just kind of happens, bang, bang, a guy is competing. We still have to have player safety in mind. But you can tell again if a guy is competing, it just happens to be a tough contact, let's call a 15-yard penalty, unsportsmanlike penalty, tell the player, If you do it again, you'll be ejected. 

I think we need to look at it closely and identify what are true targeting, that's a strong word. I'm taking a cheap shot. If a guy is targeting another player, then I think we have to talk about immediate ejection. I think you have to be careful with that as an official and we have to really look at a way we define that. 

Q. Talk about Justin Thomas, the Georgia Tech quarterback. What do you like most about his play? 

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, I would say the thing I would like the most is the biggest problem you have with him is incredible speed. He operates their offense with incredible efficiency and speed. His personal speed, he can fly. He is amazingly poised. He's accurate with the ball, throwing the football. He is the epitome of a guy that can beat you in just about every single way a quarterback can beat you. He does it with his mind. He does it with his arm. He certainly can do it with his feet. 

Q. What is your philosophy on getting time for a second quarterback? Obviously a lot of quarterbacks have gone down due to injury. Not everybody has a proven backup behind him. 

COACH CUTCLIFFE: It's different in college football than the NFL. You're going to have a guy that's played somewhere along the way generally as a backup. But I like to get guys in the game situation. We hadn't done it much this year. We've been able to play our guy. Played significantly in our first two games because we won them handily. 

We will always have packages, particularly early in the season, I want to get them in the game, even if it's red zone, short yardage, meaningful parts of the game, because you can't ever predict losing a starter. Nothing worse than the first time a guy comes in the game for a season, the fourth or fifth game you lose a starter. 

We've tried to address it through the years and most years have done a good job with it. 

Q. What do you make of all the injuries in the ACC? You haven't had one. 

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Knock on wood. We've had them in the past. 

I do think all of us are running our quarterback a little bit more. There are going to be increased opportunities with contact. Now, if you'll watch, a lot of them occur in the passing game. You got big, strong, powerful people rushing the passer, et cetera. 

It's just a tough, tough game. You put a quarterback, he's not a defenseless players, but you put him in a lot of circumstances where he has his eyes downfield, totally focused on something else, takes a blow. 

But when we do run them, between the tackles which we're doing more than I want to do, they're in harm's way, no question. I've seen a number of injuries around the country this year that have occurred with the quarterbacks running the ball between the tackles. 

Q. I was looking at weather predictions. They're saying a good chance for rain Saturday. Whether it rains or not Saturday, can you talk about playing in inclement weather, and how does that impact your offense? How do you change your game plan if you walk out there and it's raining? 

COACH CUTCLIFFE: I've lived through that through the years. Sometimes that depends on your quarterback and how comfortable he is with a wet ball. 

There's times that you have a quarterback that loves throwing the ball even when it's wet. I think you get more open. I think footing for DBs is more difficult. They don't know where a receiver's going. Kind of works to a little different timing for the quarterback. 

We do wet ball drills, catching them and throwing them. We just try to do that consistently. We do it in spring. We do it in camp. We do it all season long. 

But you get into circumstances where a guy is not comfortable with that, you have to have kind of Plan B. We always talk about that. We always have that written on what we call our answer sheets, if this, if that. The 'what ifs' are always going to exist in football. 

I'll meet with all the coordinators. Special teams are affected a great deal, as well. But I'll meet with all our coordinators every Friday. We have the weather forecast. If it's rain, we'll get into a pretty extensive conversation about it. 

It's a good question. I don't know if I've ever been asked that, but that's how we deal with it. If some other coach wants to answer it, I'd love to know how they deal with it. 

Q. A year ago you lined up and were very effective running it kind of right down their throat. They have most of the same people back in their defensive front but a little older this year. Will it be harder to do that again this year? 

COACH CUTCLIFFE: We're built a little different. We ran the ball at times well. At times we didn't against them. I think they're better than they were, there's no question about that. Right now we can't say that. With the performance we had against Northwestern... 

Whatever it is we do, we've got to execute better than what we did last week against Northwestern. Georgia Tech is every bit as good as Northwestern's defense. Northwestern's defense is really good. Georgia Tech tackles well themselves. 

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