Duke football head coach David Cutcliffe held his weekly press conference today, addressing Duke’s upcoming appearance in the Belk Bowl. Here are some highlights from his 30-minute question-and-answer session. The Blue Devils (6-6) face Cincinnati (9-3) at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. Dec. 27 at 6:30 p.m.
“It’s something that gives us some options to look at and there will be others when we go forward and start to look at the 2013 team.”—Cutcliffe
Cutcliffe has always been one to shake things up, and his team’s preparation for the Belk Bowl against Cincinnati is no exception. Duke’s head coach announced four position changes that could provide the Blue Devil lineup with a major shake-up heading into the team’s first postseason appearance since 1994.
Redshirt sophomore Nick Sink, who started the final seven games of the season for Duke at defensive tackle and recorded 19 tackles on the season, will make the shift to tight end. Sink’s transition to the offensive side of the ball will be an interesting one—he is listed at 6-foot-5 and 285 pounds. Britton Grier, formerly a sophomore linebacker, will move up front and try his hand at the defensive end spot.
As expected, Cutcliffe’s other position changes served to fill holes in the Blue Devil secondary. Redshirt freshman Nick Hill, formerly a wide receiver, will follow in Brandon Braxton’s footsteps and transition to the safety spot. But the most interesting move of the day was that of freshman Shaquille Powell, who was a highly regarded recruit as a running back out of high school. Powell will give the safety position a shot as well, according to Cutcliffe.
The Blue Devils have lost safeties Taylor Sowell and Corbin McCarthy for the season due to injury as well as cornerback Lee Butler, who also took snaps at the safety position as well. Ohio State-transfer Jeremy Cash is ineligible for this season and both August Campbell and Chris Tavarez have left the team for personal reasons.
“We have had, as you know, a bunch of injuries at the safety position and in the secondary, as well as some circumstances in other areas in the secondary that we’re thin there going into this game,” Cutcliffe said.
“In reference to Cincinnati, everybody is aware of their coaching change. They’ve been a really good football team. That’s one of the reasons their coach had a lot of options and opportunities that came toward him.”—Cutcliffe
One of the many subplots to this year’s Belk Bowl has been a tale of two coaches. Cutcliffe, the ACC’s Coach of the Year, responded to rumors that he would be highly sought after by a number of programs looking for head coaches by singing a contract extension with Duke through 2019. The Bearcats Butch Jones, however, had other ideas, turning down the head coaching job at Colorado before unexpectedly taking the job at Tennessee. Cincinnati wasted no time in finding his replacement, signing Texas Tech’s Tommy Tuberville the very next day to a five-year contract. Neither Jones nor Tuberville will be on the sidelines for the Bearcats in the Belk Bowl.
“If somebody had to ask me to describe them in one word, I would say athletic. A very athletic team that plays really hard. When you get that combination, they just play good football. They don’t give up sacks, they don’t turn it over, they don’t give up third downs—they do what wins games.”—Cutcliffe
Boasting a 9-3 record and a share of the Big East Championship in 2012, Cincinnati poses a sizable challenge for Duke in the Belk Bowl. Redshirt senior running back George Winn paces the attack for the Bearcats, accumulating 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground for Cincinnati. Defensively, the Bearcats are no slouches either, ranking 12th in the FBS after allowing just 17.2 points per game in 2012.
“When you get into bowl practices the worst thing you can do is just practice to be practicing and practice a mistake. “—Cutcliffe
Without a single player on his roster with bowl experience, one of Cutcliffe’s greatest challenges has been to acclimate his team to the process of playing postseason football. After going its first 10 weeks of the season without an open date in its schedule, Duke had more than a month to prepare for the Belk Bowl. Cutcliffe added that to prevent further injuries and make sure his team is fresh, he has actually shortened practice times during his bowl preparations.
“We’ve talked a lot about how you approach bowl games,” Cutcliffe said. “The fundamentals that are involved about winning bowl games. Mentally, physically and emotionally every aspect of it is different.”