Football notebook: Duke win comes with lots of questions

Matt Forman

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Durham, N.C. – Despite leaving here with a win, the Cats return home with questions that have to be answered.

NU got off to a sluggish start both offensively and defensively. Duke went 72 yards on 11 plays on its opening drive, putting NU in an early 7-0 hole. The offense did not respond until its third drive of the game when running back Tyrell Sutton rushed 18 yards off left tackle.

“We’ve just got to come out and get the fight started,” Sutton said. “It was like we were waiting for something to happen instead of making something happy. We need to come out with more energy and focus and concentration.”

While the Cats offense runs a fast-paced attack in practice, the defense had trouble handling that same offense with different personnel in Saturday’s game. Duke moved down the field with ease, amassing 472 total yards of offense. Redshirt freshman cornerback Jordan Mabin said the key to containing the no-huddle offense is communication.

“You have to communicate, especially when it comes down to crunch time,” Mabin said. “And running to the ball. They got some extra yards on missed tackles.”

Coach Pat Fitzgerald said the Cats were not concerned with avenging last year’s loss. But the third-year coach said the coaching staff looks at change over time.

“We focus on improvement,” he said. “I think in some areas we did improve and in some areas we’ve got a lot of work to do. That’s why they call me coach.”

CUTCLIFFE CHANGING DUKE’S CULTURE

A renowned quarterbacks guru who coached both Peyton and Eli Manning, David Cutcliffe brought something to Duke that no recent coach had – a winning track record.

Cutcliffe compiled a 44-29 record at Ole Miss. Two games into his first season with the Blue Devils, Fitzgerald sees their program moving in that same positive direction.

“He’s well-respected in the coaching community, and he’s changing an attitude here,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s extremely passionate.”

While Duke returned 19 starters from a team that went 1-11 last season, Sutton said Duke’s defensive intensity contributed to some of the early struggles.

“This was a different defense,” Sutton said. “They have a lot of swagger and a lot of confidence. They came out with a lot of energy and ready to fight.”

Besides the attitude difference, some members of the Cats’ secondary said they were not prepared for schemes that Duke ran.

“We knew Duke was going to come out with the spread, but the quarterback scrambled a little more than we thought,” Mabin said. “That kind of threw us off guard a little bit.”

Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis rushed 12 times for 38 yards and one touchdown, including a 16-yard rush that gave Duke a 20-17 lead with 12 minutes remaining in the final quarter.

Just a week after the senior running back caught four passes for 41 yards, Sutton was absent from the Cats’ passing attack against Duke, largely because of the Blue Devils’ scheme.

“They were playing a lot of man-to-man on the outside,” quarterback C.J. Bachér said. “We thought they would drop back into two safeties against us. Football is a game of inches, and I missed Tyrell (Sutton) a few times. He’ll be back in the passing game next week against Southern Illinois.”

OPENING UP THE PLAYBOOK

With another game under his belt, new Wildcats offensive coordinator Mick McCall showed no hesitation in opening up the playbook for new his no-huddle offense Saturday.

And while Northwestern’s trick plays in Durham will not be remembered like Boise State’s Statue of Liberty play two years ago in the Fiesta Bowl, the creativity led to the Cats’ most memorable plays in their first road test of the season.

With the game tied at seven early in the second quarter, NU’s defense forced Duke’s offense into a three-and-out. On fourth down, Blue Devils punter Kevin Jones botched the snap, retreated to the Duke 30-yard line to recover and punted out of bounds for a loss of 22 yards.

After the miscue, McCall called for the wide receiver reverse pass.

“Eric (Peterman) made a nice throw,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s nice having three quarterbacks on the field on almost every play. It was a good call at the right time.”

Both Peterman and fellow wide receiver Andrew Brewer played quarterback in high school.

From the backfield, Sutton watched the play develop, and saw the opening.

“I was on the field telling him to just hurry up and throw the ball so he didn’t get sacked,” Sutton said. “I was just like ‘Throw the ball Eric!’ I told C.J. ‘Thanks for falling down on the three-yard-line and giving me the touchdown.'”

On the following play, Sutton ran in from four yards out for his second score of the day. But it was not a typical play. Sutton lined up at quarterback and took the direct snap from center Ben Burkett, the play similar to the Wildcat offense displayed by Arkansas and running back Darren McFadden.

“The snap almost went over my head; I’m about 5-foot-2,” Sutton said. “It was good to get back there and see what C.J. sees for a play or two. It was a great change of pace to get behind center and call the play.”

And while Sutton knows what it’s like to be behind center, Bachér now knows what it’s like to line up outside.

“Now I know what it’s like to be a receiver when you’re waiting there and the ball is hanging up there,” he said. “It felt like it took forever.”

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