"We're excited about the opportunity to play Duke. Obviously a big rival for us eight miles down the road. It's always been a tough game. Always been a physical game. Always been one of those games that comes down to the fourth quarter, and our kids are excited about that opportunity. Excited about the opportunity to possibly be 7 5 at the end, and prepare after that for a bowl game.
"We're excited about the chance to play Duke. We think Duke's a good football team that doesn't have a good record. We feel like those guys have really improved. Coach Cutcliffe has done a great job with the program. We feel they're a better football team than their record shows."
Coach, what do you see in Duke's offense that really concerns you in terms of the different weapons they have at their disposal?
"Well, I think they do a great job with their passing game. Let me go back. I really believe they're so much improved in the offensive line. Their rushing totals don't show it all, but I think they have the ability to run the football, which obviously affects their ability to throw the football.
"They've got two really talented receivers that I think do a great job of getting in their routes and knowing where to be. The quarterback, I think is one of the best in this conference I think, for what they ask him to do. It's a matter for them they're one of the top teams in this conference in time of possession, and it's because I think they have such good control passing game and a running game that is respectable. Those are the things that concern you when you play them."
The second question is about Giovani Bernard. He's had a terrific season for you. What qualities make him so good and allow him to be successful in your system?
"Well, he's such a natural runner. He's one of those guys that knows where the holes are. He's not just a perimeter runner. He can run inside. He catches the ball well. He understands protections. He's a smart kid. He's a very conscientious kid. He cares about winning. He cares about his teammates. There are a lot of qualities that are outside of just being a good football player that make Giovani such a talented person, and not just a football player, but a talented person."
Has Gio been cleared for full contact yet?
"Yeah, Gio actually practiced Sunday. He had his test Saturday, and he had another one on Monday. He's ready to go today in practice, so we expect him for Saturday."
And Jones went over the thousand yard mark receiving on Saturday, which gives you for the first time in school history a 1,000 yard rusher, and a thousand yard receiver on the same team. How big a deal is that?
"Well, I think any time you have something that hasn't been done at your university. I think it's a big deal. Obviously wins and losses are the most important thing, but I think it's great individual accomplishments. It's really a testament to our offense and what we've been able to do. Those are two talented players and they've stepped up. We've asked those two guys to step up this year and be big players for us and they have. It's a testament to them as players."
Erik Highsmith has been kind of validated this year. What has he done differently?
"Mookie hadn't been healthy most of the year. I think the bye week was one of the things that helped a number of our players, but it probably helped Mookie as much as anybody. He's been nagged all year long, the last six, seven weeks with a high ankle sprain. He's been limited in practice. We've had to cut back reps in practice and now he's as close to a hundred percent as you can be in game 12 of the year I think it's maybe a little bit of Dwight getting some attention, but also the fact that he's healthier."
On Dwight Jones there are a number of excellent receivers in this league. What in your mind makes him stand out?
"Besides all the physical attributes, here's a guy that's close to 6'4", over 220 plus pounds that can run. He's got great hands and great ability to adjust to the ball. Just his competitive nature. You've seen this guy just grow and mature each year that he's been here. He has really become one of the leaders on our football team. I truly think when you go back and when Dwight first got here, we all knew he had the ability, but he just didn't have initially that drive and that competitiveness and all that stuff that came out in practice or in games, and now you see it.
"Now you see him. He's just grown up into that guy that wants to win. He wants to be a team player. He competes every day in practice. Those are the things that you see now that make him a special player, I think."
Was there a point that you could really see that emerge in him? That maturity that's led to this success?
"Well, I don't look at the success on the field. I look at the success that he's had in growing up as a student athlete totally. In the classroom, doing the things he needs to do academically. You look at those things and sometimes as a coach, you can gauge a guy's growth when you start looking at him and how he handles his stuff when he's away from football. And that's what I've seen. I've seen the growth in Dwight off the field maybe more so than on the field, and I think it's helped his on the field production."