COACH CUTCLIFFE: It's a good time for an open date coming off some really physical football games. We got pretty beat up at Army last week. So we've got a combination of trying to get people better physically, done some of that, and trying to also -- we need a lot of work and a lot of things to try to become a good football team. So we've had three good days of work, and now we're going to give them a few days off where coaches can go recruit.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Q. Just looking at Parker Boehme and integrating him into the offense and the different pieces you've been able to put him in, just how you've seen him come along and what you've taken away from him at this point going into the bye week.
COACH CUTCLIFFE: We were really pleased with Parker up at Army. He's a very gifted runner. He's got a quick motion and a strong arm. I think he's going to play a role for us down the stretch that will be important. Whether it's red zone, short yardage, goal line, or even open field, he's a talented youngster with outstanding speed. So he's got a lot of skill sets I think can help us win games.
Q. And when you look at kind of the dynamic between him and Thomas Sirk, how have you seen them play off each other? And then in practice, how they've been able to lead this team together going forward? Obviously, both of them are going to have a place as you go ahead.
COACH CUTCLIFFE: They are best friends, and they are certainly focused on our team although I promise you they compete every day on the practice field, which I love, which is making us better. Trying to take that intensity level, not just at the quarterback position, but transfer across the board, I think it's going to help us.
We've got to get better offensively as we go down the stretch to the toughest part of our season. I think it's good that they're out there competing. As you mentioned, it's going to kind of play off each other. Thomas is definitely our starter, and Parker is a guy that we feel very comfortable with playing.
Q. David, you lost a lot of key players from last year's team, and I'm just wondering how you've seen the leadership develop from some of the guys like Matt and Jeremy to take ownership of the group you have this year?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: I think we were really fortunate on the defensive side that Jeremy is a returning captain and a very vocal returning captain. Although Kelby Brown has been injured and unable to play this year, he is a former captain and a tremendous speaker. So it's kind of in place, and Carlos Wray and some other seniors have really stepped up in that regard.
Offensively, Matt Skura has just been a stalwart. As your center, you want him to be that kind of guy. He can not only direct the offensive line, but he is a vocal leader as well. Really understands the game. He leads just from a pure football standpoint.
This team is really close, a great group of young people. So they respond to the leadership well. We lost some really good leaders and really good players, a bunch of guys who are in the NFL, and that's not easy for Duke to take a hit like that still. We're still trying to build our program, but I'm really pleased with these seniors and what they've tried to do in their leadership role.
Q. It must say something about them that, as you mentioned, you did lose guys to the NFL, and you keep on rolling along.
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, Jeremy Cash is a great football player. Just a great -- I don't have any problem using that adjective, and I don't use it very often, but he is. That impacts your entire team. Matt Skura is as good a center as I've ever seen. That impacts the team. Those guys are going to go on and be successful in football in my opinion and that puts a premium on performance, and practice. The best part is Jeremy Cash is getting ready to get his graduate degree in December. It will be his second Duke degree. Matt is the same way. They're incredibly good people. When they do it academically, socially, and athletically, that's going to impact your team. I think our freshmen -- and I tell our freshmen class, take advantage of being around this group of seniors, guys like this, because it's going to be invaluable to you as you move forward.
Q. Coach, obviously, you have a reputation over the years as something of an offensive guru with the relationship with the Mannings and all that. We've also heard you talk with a lot of passion about special teams and the kicking game. Was there a point in your career, or was there an influence that kind of turned on that light for you?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, I have always loved the kicking game, and I'll tell you, this is a simple statement but it's not -- I love to win. I love to win. I don't want to win at all costs, but I love to win, and I think any coach that's been in the business or raised right in the business will tell you that the kicking game is going to win minimally two to three games a year for you if you commit to it.
I would say that the greatest influence I had in the kicking game was Johnny Majors. Tennessee football was built on the kicking game, kicking in Neyland, and I thought Coach Majors was the most knowledgeable person I'd ever been around when it came to the totality of the kicking game -- the specialists, snappers, every phase of the kicking game, and his attention to detail was incredible. That has a lasting influence on me.
Q.I know it was a while back, but I want to ask a question about Georgia Tech. Obviously, you guys, when you played them, you gave their offense all sorts of problems, and they've continued to struggle on that side. I'm curious as to what your impressions were when you played them of just who they had on the field and what they were doing.
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, they're always difficult to play against. I think Justin Thomas is a great player. I don't know of a coach that knows a system better than Paul Johnson knows the system. Sometimes, if we're fortunate, we make plays and Jeremy Cash makes plays and guys just make plays. I haven't watched him or been able to see him since, so I couldn't comment on any of that.
But playing them, we looked at what they were accomplished on the field. That's as much as I can tell you. I know they've had an injury or two, and none of us are very equipped for that. Nobody wants to play against them not because of what they run, but how well they run it. That's generally the way things are. I can't comment on what's happened recently because I haven't seen any of that.
Q. Dave, considering the way your offense has kind of scuffled a little the three weeks before Army, how important was it to put No. 44 up there from a confidence standpoint and maybe getting a little rhythm back?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, we played cleaner, and what I mean by cleaner was not just -- had two games in a row where we hadn't turned it over. That's part of it. But from an assignment standpoint, from a technique standpoint, just cleaner.
We were at a mode where it was just kind of a difficult time getting out of it. Even though we were playing good defenses, it wasn't always that. We would have nine or ten people doing exactly what we want in the timing frame that we want, and then the one or two that didn't or maybe it was three that didn't, just didn't give you a chance to be successful.
So we worked really hard in practice of being just as clean every snap as we can. We've taken that theme again this week, and we're going to have to. We're going to have to execute. We've got enough good players to get it done if we will execute at a high level. We've just got to continue to focus on that, and we're getting ready to play some of the better defensive teams and most balanced teams both sides of the ball that we're going to play this season. So we're going to have to be good in that regard offensively.
Q. Steve Spurrier has always had a soft spot in his heart for Duke. I was kind of wondering, both when you were in the SEC and since you've been at Duke, what kind of relationship have you had with him?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, I have great respect for Coach Spurrier. My brother was a teammate of his at University of Florida. So I was exposed to Steve long, long ago. The sad part for me is I think college football certainly lost one of its very greatest the business has ever seen. I'm telling you, as an offensive coordinator in that league, when he was a head coach in the SEC, I just admired what they did and how they did it and how consistently he did it, and it didn't matter where he was or what he was doing.
So my only emotion is the sadness of it. I kind of like having him -- he helped me raise the bar. That was something you wanted to try to reach, the kind of consistency that Steve Spurrier reached in his career. So just a little saddened, but I'm happy he's hopefully doing what he wants to do, whatever that is. I haven't talked with him, but, again, I just think college football lost one of the best of all time.
Q. Has his love for Duke kind of manifested itself while you were there? Have you seen any examples of that?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Oh, yeah. We've had him in. We had a 25-year celebration of their ACC Championship team, and we had him come in. I had him visit briefly with our team. I talked with him prior to taking this job, and you could sense and hear his respect and passion for the university. There's no question that he has a fond spot in his heart for Duke. Not only was he a head coach here, he was a successful offensive coordinator here, which preceded any head coaching job he had.
So he actually had two stints at Duke. So he knows the place very, very well, and, again, I think he certainly has great respect for the university and every aspect of it.