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VETERAN COACH PREPARES HOKIES FOR RESURGENT BLUE DEVILS
Duke heads to Saturday’s game at Virginia Tech needing one more win to achieve bowl eligibility for a second straight year.
Two straight bowl game appearances would be a program first for the Blue Devils, but after last year’s success and the fast start to this season, fewer observers are surprised to find Duke (5-2) in the mix for weekly wins or postseason play.
Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer has never lost to the Blue Devils as a head coach, but past history doesn’t mean a lot to him as he preps the Hokies for Saturday.
“I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, but this is not the same Duke program that we faced four or five years ago,” Beamer said. “These guys play well. They are probably the most efficient offense we’ve faced since Alabama (in the season opener).
“They’ve got talent. They are well coached. Defensively, I think they play really hard and don’t make too many mistakes. They are a very solid football team. They average about 36 points a game. It’s another tough conference game on our side of the ACC.”
The Blue Devils have been a continual positive progression during head coach David Cutcliffe’s six-year tenure, as the Hokies saw last season when they had to overcome a 20-0 deficit to win in Blacksburg. Duke enjoyed being on the other side of the comeback ledger last Saturday, when it spotted Virginia a 22-0 lead but stormed back to win 35-22 with five unanswered touchdowns.
Duke awakened from the doldrums in the second half of the Virginia game with a revved-up offensive approach that saw the Blue Devils convert on four plays on fourth down.
“I’ve always been a believer in it,” Cutcliffe said of the aggressive play-calling. “We’ve done it a lot since we’ve been here. Some of that is match up or ebb and flow of the game. I have numbers in my mind, always, with yard lines and distances that I change a little every week. At half time of the Virginia game, after being as stale as we were, I changed all of those numbers. It’s week-to-week. Anything that’s over a 50% risk is a great risk opportunity. That’s how I think about it.”
The Duke defense also got into the act last weekend, forcing Virginia into five straight three-and-outs.
“I think if you look at the last two weeks, they’ve only allowed seven points in the second half and they have scored about 30,” Beamer said. “These past few weeks ,they’ve been a really good second-half team. Once kids get that in their mind, it gives them something to build on.
“Coach Cutcliffe has done a really good job. They’ve got playmakers and kids that can really do things for them. Over the last 20 games they have a winning record, so this is a very good football team that certainly deserves everyone’s respect.”
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Vincent, Corey, Kyle and now Kendall.
Those who follow Virginia Tech football would probably think they were in the wrong stadium if a member of the Fuller family weren’t on the field and impacting the game.
In seven games – all starts – true freshman cornerback Kendall Fuller ranks seventh on the squad in total tackles with 28 and is tied with three players (including older brother Kyle) for second on the team in interceptions with two. Combined, Kendall and Kyle Fulller have amassed 52 tackles, broken up 15 passes and forced three quarterback hurries.
“We certainly knew he had great talent,” Beamer said of Kendall Fuller. “I think corner is one of those positions you can play quickly if you do have talent. It’s not like an offensive lineman where you have to work with the guy next to you. I think the position allows him to use his natural athletic ability.”
Having two brothers who have played in the NFL and a third who aspires to do the same indicates that football talent runs in the family, but Beamer said Kendall Fuller has something more.
“I think the thing that is special about him is that he’s very smart,” Beamer said. “Football makes sense to him. Some guys that can run really fast don’t make good defensive players because the game doesn’t make sense to them. He’s really good because he has confidence. He has the whole package really. That whole family does.”
The legendary Bobby Bowden is set to make a triumphant return to Doak Campbell Stadium when the third-ranked Seminoles play host to NC State on Saturday, and current head coach Jimbo Fisher could not be happier.
“It’s what’s right about the world,” Fisher said. “He made Florida State. He was Florida State. That’s why we have this stadium, the facilities … that’s why we have academics, that’s why we have the school. That’s why we have everything.
“Coach Bowden allowed Florida State to open the doors and raise money and be great to come to Florida State, not just athletically, but academically. I think it’s what’s right about the world. It’s what’s right for Florida State and it’s great for college football. I’m extremely excited because he was my hero too.”
Fisher learned many things during his three years as Bowden’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, most of which transcended the Xs and Os.
“Coach Bowden was himself; he didn’t try to be anybody,” Fisher said. “He was himself and he treated people well. Kids loved him – he was tough on them. What you don’t see, that guy was tougher than you give him credit for. Extremely hard-nosed and tough and you don’t realize it. It’s unbelievable. But, the way he conducts himself, he was great example to watch. A lot of my beliefs and philosophies of football still come from Coach Bowden.”
WALL OF SOUND
When NC State takes the field at Florida State, Brandon Mitchell will be starting under center for the first time since suffering a broken bone in his left foot just minutes into his first start for the Wolfpack on August 31 versus Louisiana State.
“He had a live arm and is throwing the ball real well,” head coach Dave Doeren reported earlier this week. “There is obviously going to be rust, he’s played in just one quarter of football this year.”
During last Sunday’s practice, Doeren had his staff turn up the volume on the piped in “crowd noise” to simulate what Mitchell can expect from most of the 82,300 in attendance at Tallahassee.
“We got it turned up as loud as we could get it,” Doeren said. “I know a bunch of people from the State Fair (across the street from the NC State practice field) came over and were looking through the fence trying to figure out what we were doing. That’s why he came here, to play in games like this. I know he’s looking forward to it.”
RECORDS ARE MADE, BUT …
With 77 wins in is 13 years at Wake Forest, head coach Jim Grobe has tied “Peahead” Walker as the winningest coach in program history. Grobe’s mind, however, was clearly on this weekend’s tough road task at No. 6 Miami when he was asked to elaborate.
“Personally, you’re wrapped up in your players and school and you just need to win games,” Grobe said. “What we’ve done in the past really means little as far as the future is concerned. To be honest with you, I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished at Wake Forest but for me personally, I much would rather win the next five (this season).”
Wake Forest wide receiver Michael Campanaro recently worked his way to the top of a school-record chart as well, as his 217th career reception in last weekend’s win over Maryland marked the most ever by a Demon Deacon. That, said Grobe, means a bit more. But just a bit more at this point in the season.
“I think it said in the paper that I was quoted as saying that I didn’t care about Mike’s record; that sounds a little bit cold-hearted,” Grobe said. “In reality, I’m really tickled for him. I think it’s a great accomplishment, and I’m really excited for Mike. But I think Mike’s focused on the next five, as I am. Really and truly, what you did in the past doesn’t matter right now. It will be great to look back on things, but right now we’re looking at Miami.”
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Though last week’s disappointing loss to Florida State dealt a major blow to ninth-ranked Clemson’s hopes of winning a national championship, head coach Dabo Swinney liked squaring off with the Seminoles in the much-hyped, high stakes game.
“I think that is what makes college football great,” Swinney said. “I have never been a playoff guy. I know we have a lot of coaches out there that want to go to a NFL-style playoff. I have never been for that because I think it changes the mentally – ‘Well, we lost a game. That¹s all right, we will just get it next week. We are trying to get in to the playoffs’ – I hate that. I like it when every game matters.”
NEXT MEN UP
The injury bug has bitten Maryland hard the past two seasons, and it bit doubly hard in last Saturday’s road loss at Wake Forest when standout wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long both went down with season-ending injuries.
But as Maryland coach Randy Edsall refuses to spend time on self-pity as he prepares his team for this Saturday’s homecoming game against Clemson.
“All I can say is that it’s football,” Edsall said. “This sport is pretty much 100 percent guaranteed that you’re going to get hurt playing this game. I don’t think there’s anyone that has gone through his career without getting hurt. It’s unfortunate that we’ve had the injuries that we have, but there’s nothing that we can do about it. I think that our guys will step up and do a good job.”
Redshirt freshman Amba Etta leads a group of several receivers in line for more playing time. But even at 5-2 and needing one win for bowl eligibility, Edsall said he and his staff won’t compromise the bigger picture.
“The one thing that we won’t do is burn a redshirt (of a player) that hasn’t (yet) played,” Edsall said. “That wouldn’t be fair to the young man. Everybody has got to step their game up. We’ve got to deal with it.”
Boston College had a bye week following their competitive road game at Clemson on Oct. 12. The Eagles (3-3) head to North Carolina on Saturday to begin a second half they hope will lead to a winning season.
“We have to go on the road and win an ACC road game right now,” first-year head coach Steve Addazio said. “We haven’t done that. We need to go do that. That has to happen. You talk about the journey we’re on, if you will. Part of that to me is to go on the road and win a road game.
“Our team needs to go do that and continue to play really hard, and battle really hard, and be really physical, and make plays and have energy. I just want to see that. If that formula can stay intact, we’ll win our share.”
DOWN BUT NOT OUT
Despite a gut-wrenching loss to Miami eight days ago and five losses in the first six games, North Carolina’s Larry Fedora says this season is not necessarily the toughest he has faced in his coaching career.
“I can’t say that,” Fedora said. “Any time you’re struggling, it’s tough. But I’ll be honest with you, when things are going good I’m not sleeping. That’s just who I am. I fear a lack of preparation, really. I want to be over-prepared for everything that happens and anything that can happen. So I’m always worried like that for our football team.
“I wouldn’t say it’s any tougher. I can say that I’m able to draw some of those things that have happened in the past and have faith and know that what we’re doing is the right thing and know that eventually it’s going to happen, it’s going to click, and it’s going to be much better.”
After enduring a three-game losing streak, Georgia Tech regrouped last Saturday for perhaps its most complete game of the season with a 56-0 shutout of Syracuse. Now the Yellow Jackets (4-3, 3-2) seek to maintain the momentum during this weekend’s road trip to Virginia.
“We talked after the BYU game (the third straight loss on Oct. 12) about where we were and that how we had backed ourselves into a hole where there isn’t a lot of margin for error,” head coach Paul Johnson said. “So we said, ‘it’s time bow your back and fight back.’ “
But this week, Johnson and his staff are simply stressing the immediate task at hand.
“We talk about the next game and playing Virginia,” Johnson said. “On Monday, I pointed out that there’s a huge difference between 5-3 and 4-4. It’s a conference game and nobody knows what’s going to happen. We didn’t know we would be in the conference championship game a year ago, and lo and behold there we were. You just keep plugging and keep playing and let that take care of itself … It’ll work itself out.”
FOUR INSPIRED QUARTERS
All football coaches talk about the need to “play four quarters.” But as Virginia tries to break a four-game losing streak against Georgia Tech, head coach Mike London says his team needs to take a step further and play four quarters with enthusiasm. That is a particular point of emphasis, London said, after the Cavaliers squandered a 22-point second-quarter lead in last Saturday’s loss to Duke.
“Coming out fast and playing with enthusiasm and passion – those things are critically important,” London said. “And then sustaining it for four quarters … It’s not just about two quarters or three-and-a-half quarters. (We need to) talk about it and bring it to the players' attention and bring it to the leadership's attention about, ‘Hey, listen, we need that energy.’
“We can only do so much from the sideline looking out there. A lot of it has to be self-motivated and has to permeate throughout the team.”
When Pitt travels to Navy on Saturday afternoon for its second straight nonconference game, the Panthers’ Paul Chryst will be coaching against a service academy team for the first time.
“I haven’t been a part of that — this will be my first time playing them,” Chryst said. “My brother (Rick) actually worked at the Naval Academy for three years (in sports information).
Almost all who has attended a football game at Army or Navy has come away impressed with the pageantry and atmosphere that ranks among the most spectacular in college football. Chryst wants his team to get a taste of that – but maybe a small taste.
“I think you appreciate all that, and yet you have to make sure you understand you’re playing a game this week,” Chryst said. “It doesn’t equate to how much you appreciate all they do and what those places are. I’ve never been a part of it, never been to a game. My dad went to an Army-Navy game. and if you’re a fan of football, the service academies have certainly earned their right in the history of college football.”