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November 5, 2014

David Cutcliffe

THE MODERATOR:  We found out just a few moments ago that Duke offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson was nominated for the Orange Bowl Football Writers Association of America Courage Award.  Laken becomes the fifth player from the ACC to be nominated for that award this year.
DAVID CUTCLIFFE:  First I'd just comment on Laken, that no one's more deserving for doing the right things.  He does right things on the field, and he does exceptional things off the field.  He's a great model for what we want as a student‑athlete at Duke and I think certainly in college football, and a great player on top of that.
We're back on the road again this week and playing a really very similar football team in Syracuse as was Pitt.  Big, physical team on the offensive line.  A team that has balance on the offense, one that I think has just continued to get better with all of the change that they've had to go through at quarterback, but you just see every game, every play their young quarterback has continued to get better, and he's courageous and a good football player.  So he is extremely dangerous, and the weapons he has around him are outstanding.
Defensively, they're a very experienced, very physical football team, a lot like Pittsburgh in that regard.  They give you a lot of problems, a lot of pressures.  So we have really had to focus hard this week and have a great week of preparation.  In preparation, we're headed up to Syracuse.  With that, I'll take your questions.

Q.  I know that you went in a little bit to Syracuse's quarterback A.J. Long.  Obviously, you have trained many of the great quarterbacks in this country, and you had positive things to say about A.J.  What has made you come to that conclusion of looking at him the way you do from what you've been able to see on film?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE:  He's got an exceptionally quick release.  He's got great hands.  He's extremely tough.  He keeps his eyes downfield, and he faced a pretty outstanding rush last week in North Carolina State, and he's accurate.  He's accurate with the ball deep.  He's accurate on curls and ops.  I just think he's a terrific young football player.

Q.  When you look at a game like this for Syracuse, obviously, they need the next three games to be eligible.  You're in a different situation.  You've always had respect for your opponent.  You talked about positives on offense and defense, a little bit broad scope, for Syracuse.  What are some of the things you've seen from them offensively when you talk about the weapons and, second part, defensively from the veterans they have?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE:  Let me first say this.  I've watched them‑‑ you know, you get to see our people in the league on tape.  We didn't play them a year ago.  I saw them a lot on tape a year ago with common opponents.
One of the things that they give you a problem with is that Coach Shafer does a great job of discipline and competing hard and playing every down.  So you'd better strap it on and be ready to play.  That's just who they are.  They have experience on both sides of the ball.  They just are extremely experienced on defense, even in regards to some of their backups.
I think what I see on offense is they've got some speed and weapons.  They've got good backs.  Their backs break tackles.  They're quick.  They're strong.  I've already mentioned the quarterback.  I think their tight ends are big and effective.  I think their receivers are terrific at catching balls under duress or when they are contested.  They seem to win the battle all the time, and that's the sign of a good receiver.  I think they're playing their best football right now.

Q.  Just want to go into that spectacular catch that Jamison made and just go into just what it‑‑ just the meaning of just coaching him the past few years.  I mean, what he's meant to this Duke program.
DAVID CUTCLIFFE:  Sure.  He's another one of our guys that's a special person.  I enjoy seeing him every morning before we ever even get to the practice field and visiting a little bit.  He's an exceptional family person.  His family's a great group of folks, and I'm going to miss him in that regard.
Certainly on the field, I'll miss Jamison Crowder.  I'll say two things when I think of Jamison and why I think he's so capable.  His short area quickness, just you can't match it.  I saw it on a basketball court when he was in high school.  You just can't match him, and you get into a small area, he can separate from you in a heartbeat.
The other part of it is he has what I see a lot of great athletes have.  He has unbelievable body control.  Right there before the half when he caught that ball, when you put it in slow motion, he's able to be in the air, catch the football, look to the ground, get his left foot down, his right foot right at down inbounds, and it's just uncanny.  He kind of hangs in the air and then can do whatever he wants to do.  So he's got that rare talent, and he's just‑‑ he's gifted.  He's got great ball skills to go with it.
I haven't been around one better, I can tell you that.

Q.  Are you playing your best offensive ball of the season right now?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE:  I think we're playing at a higher level, yes.  We've been a little erratic at times.  Some of that you get‑‑ every team gets beat up, and it affects you a little bit more than what people might think, but you've got to realize we had two open dates.  We've only played three games in five weeks.  So we got healthier, and I think that helped us a lot because really on the offensive side we were‑‑ had people playing but playing hurt, and I think that's helped our consistency.  The thing we've got to challenge our team to do is not stay as consistent.  We've got to continue to try to get better and work as hard as we can possibly work at that.
I just watched the practice tape just minutes ago from this morning, and I thought there was a hunger there that made me happy.  I hope we can continue that.

Q.  Coach, I wanted to ask you about Matt Skura.  We talked about it yesterday.  You're giving up less sacks than anybody in college football.  How much does he contribute, both as the guy that calls the blocking schemes and center's a pretty important guy in pass protection.
DAVID CUTCLIFFE:  He's tremendously important.  Even when he's isolated, some people do a good job of isolating your center to where he has to snap the ball and do a one‑on‑one pass protection.  Oftentimes versus a four‑man rush, he's able to have body presence and have his eyes and help on twist.
Matt's really, really smart.  So he understands all of those concepts.  He knows, and he's in there talking when he's going to end up being one‑on‑one based on pressures or a front.  So he's a big part of it.  John Latina and myself and Scottie were talking early this week that Matt is really right now playing at a very high level, period.  I mean, for anybody, not to Matt.  He's playing at an extremely high level, and it's making a big difference not only in the pass game but in the run game also.

Q.  I was going to ask you, in the two short touchdown runs, Thomas Sirk's two touchdown runs, it looked like he was really a physical force.  Both of those plays were right up his butt.
DAVID CUTCLIFFE:  Absolutely.  And the second one, I had to run back and check it just because I wanted to watch it.  I had to run it back three or four times when I first looked at it after the game just enjoying watching Matt compete.  I think that's one of the things that young players‑‑ and I've told our young players, you want a lesson from Matt, watch him compete.  He competes at a high level.  That's the magic.
You're not always going to out match an opponent physically, and particularly in Matt's role when he's in there with a bunch of giants, but you'll never see him back away from a fight.

Q.  Just wanted to ask you about the difficulty you guys might have had in trying to tackle James Conner on Saturday.  Did you guys come out of that game physically beat up a little bit from all those collisions?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE:  Yeah, he beats up a lot of people.  We had a couple of DBs that came out of the game early in that game after tackling him, or maybe a better word would be attempting to tackle him.  He's a terrific player.  I can't take anything away from him.
When I saw the tape‑‑ during the game, like any football coach, let's tackle better, let's do this.  I thought looking at it Sunday morning, I really looked at our defense, and he was tremendous, and our guys played hard, and they hit him.  He got hit some licks.  Not only are we sore, I bet he was a little sore, but I think he has a great football game, and he certainly has played at a high level for them all year.  All you've got to do is look at his numbers, and he's playing as well as any running back in the country. 

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