It was a huge win – a program-defining win, according to national media members taking notice of Duke football for the first time in a generation.
The players celebrated the end of a long drought, a win on the road against a ranked team, their sixth win of the season, and bowl eligibility by dousing their coach, David Cutcliffe, in Gatorade as the clock ran down.
“I like it,” Cutcliffe said of his shower in Blacksburg. “The colder the weather, the better the bath. That means it happens later in the season.”
That’s true, but Coach Cut’s bath took place at exactly the same point as it was last season. For the second straight year, Duke has a bowl bid wrapped up, four games left on the schedule, and sport drink drying on their coach, with November looming on the calendar.
Last year, the high point—a win over archrival North Carolina, Duke’s first over the Heels in a decade—was the last win of the season for the Blue Devils. The team lost to Florida State by 41 points four days before the start of November, the opened the month with losses by 36 against Clemson and 18 to Georgia Tech. A close loss to Miami closed the regular season, followed by a loss to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl.
The late-season tailspin was nothing new for the Blue Devils under Cutcliffe. “We all know that we haven’t won in November—I don’t think—since Coach Cut has been here,” said quarterback Anthony Boone.
He’s almost right. Duke has lost 10 straight November games, since a 55-48 win over Virginia on November 6, 2010. Under Coach Cut, the Blue Devils are 1-19 in the last month of the regular season.
“That’s always what you focus on,” said tight end Braxton Deaver, “your next win. You obviously want to keep winning, but we’ve had a little drought here in November the last couple years under Coach Cut.”
It’s tough to finish the year on a roll without a November win. In Cut’s five years at the helm, Duke has closed the regular season with losing streaks of 4, 7, 3, 4, and 5 games.
So, if the start of this season has been eerily similar to last year, why will the ending be any different for the Blue Devils?
“It’s a big difference when you’ve been there,” Cutcliffe said. “We all know a year ago, it was almost like, ‘Okay. We’ve done it. We’re a bowl tm.’ These guys, because they hadn’t been, were like ‘What’s it going to be like? What’ll we do? We had meetings all over campus about it. We’ve got to have a meeting about a bowl. We’ve got to have a bowl committee. Hey, let’s slow down a little bit.”
With their first bowl since 1994 under their belts, the Blue Devils aren’t going to be happy with just getting eligible again.
“We’re very hungry,” Boone said. “The six-win mark wasn’t what we pressed for. We pressed that our biggest goal was to end up in Charlotte for the ACC Championship Game, which is still in our reach.”
“Absolutely,” Deaver said when asked about the goals of a Coastal title and berth in the title game. “We’ve got four more games. These next four games are absolutely winnable. We are 100% going to try to win every single one of them.”
In other words, this year, the team knows their work isn’t over. It’s just beginning.
“It’s not supposed to be easy,” Cutcliffe said. “People are looking for easy? No offense to Staples, but there is no Easy Button.”
So Duke has a week off to celebrate their big win and the national attention.
“It was fun for our kids to be as happy as they were,” Cutcliffe said. “When I came into the locker room, I wouldn’t trade anything for the looks on their faces and the joy in their hearts. Nobody gave them anything on Saturday. They took it.”
And Duke has a week off to turn their attention toward the program’s coldest month of the year, and the prospect of giving Cutcliffe a bath in even chillier Gatorade.
“Keep pressing forward,” Boone said. “Don’t relax.”