Things didn't go well this past Saturday, but the season isn't over yet (I know, you may have received the impression that it was from myself and others). Syracuse is still *technically* in the running for a postseason game... that is, if they can win their final three contests of the year. First up is Duke, who's somehow ranked in the top 25 and has a beeline for the College Football Playoff right now. 2014: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Below, Julian King (who you should follow on Twitter) from SB Nation's Duke blog, Duke Basketball Report, stops by to chat all about Blue Devils football. On top of his responses here, you can also check out ours over there to tell Duke fans everything they need to know about Syracuse.
Duke's managed to win in a number of different ways this season. Is that just perception, or is there a consistent thing or two that's always part of a Blue Devils victory?
Duke got lucky when they hired David Cutcliffe. I'll be honest - I wasn't sold at first. But it didn't take long to realize that he is an exceptional man. People say that about coaches all the time, but Cutcliffe, from all indications, is a man of absolute sterling character.
He made huge changes as soon as he got here. Right off the bat, he challenged the team to lose 1,000 pounds. He had them out picking up litter on campus to remind them that they were part of the university and should help to care for it. The culture changed very, very quickly, and when you think about where Duke football was, that's remarkable.
Duke's winning because it's playing really smart, sound football. You have to beat them. They won't do it to themselves.
Has this whole "winning a lot" thing become old hat for Duke fans yet, or is it still like a brand new, weird car down in Durham?
No, it's still new and cool as hell. We were doing 0-fers for a while. This is way cool. Honestly I've never experienced it. It's fun, it really is.
What's changed in the running game this season? Past Blue Devils teams have seemingly relied a ton on the pass, but this one seems to be running the ball very well. Is it a scheme change, or a certain player that's helping this shift?
I'll remind you here that we basically do basketball and football is not our forte. That said, a couple of things have changed. The line has matured and the quarterbacks are probably not as good at passing as they have been the past few years. And the backs are better too. So it's a logical adjustment.
How does Duke overcome an apparent lack of size on the defensive line? It seems that your front has done just fine in most games despite a smaller group there.
A couple of things. An emphasis on speed and conditioning, on sound fundamental football and the culture. Well, and Duke's recruiting has really improved. Some of the younger guys are older now and there's more depth than we've ever had.
Is there an unsung Duke player that Syracuse fans should really keep an eye on during Saturday's game?
Not so much a player as this: Duke has really kept mistakes to a minimum. Turnovers and fumbles are pretty uncommon. Guys do their jobs.
Okay, one unsung. Our kicker hasn't missed anything this year. He's perfect.
What player/element of this Orange team has you most worried for Saturday's matchup?
Honestly for me, I don't know enough of Syracuse. I'm not trying to slight anyone, but we don't follow all the opponents in football that closely. Our emphasis is on basketball. I am very aware of Syracuse's football tradition though. There's a lot to be proud of. Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Greg Paulus...just kidding, sort of. You guys have probably figured out that Paulus is going to be a great coach someday.
Okay, have to ask: Are you guys ready for college basketball season yet, or are fans keeping focus on football for now?
We never stop thinking about basketball. I think it's pretty similar up there isn't it? To me that's the great thing about having Syracuse in the ACC. You guys live and breathe basketball. I love the fact that the paper there talks about basketball constantly.
I appreciate football, and I love what Duke is doing, but basketball is the coolest game in the world. People give Duke a hard time and all, but there are reasons why Duke wins so much. They play the game the right way, every time. Watching games in Cameron is a great privilege. That team always plays hard. Always. So as soon as it ends, we're ready to crank back up again. I'm sure you can relate.
Predictions for Saturday: Who wins, and how do they accomplish that?
Although you guys have a poor record, I notice the losses aren't that bad and mostly to really good teams. Still, I think Duke will win. Aside from solid fundamental football and minimum mistakes, Duke tends to get stronger in the second half. It's pretty remarkable really. I think Duke has learned how to win and expects to. David Cutcliffe has really threaded a needle. What he's accomplished in Durham is beyond belief.
Thanks again for taking the time out for these, Julian! And again, everyone: Be sure to follow him on Twitter and head over to Duke Basketball Report for all of the Duke information you could ask for.