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October 10, 2012

David Cutcliffe

COACH CUTCLIFFE:  This is a huge challenge for us.  Any time we've gone to Blacksburg, it's been hard for us.  They are a physical team.  I think it's one of the better programs in the country I've said it time and time again that Coach Beamer is the top football coach in the country.  He has all of our respect, and they have got weapons, they've got physical strength.  You better strap it on when you play a Virginia Tech football team.  I'm glad we've got a few guys on our team that have been up there.  They understand Virginia Tech football, and they understand the challenge it's going to be.  But I know we're‑‑ I'm sure we're looking forward to it, but we're very realistic in knowing how big a challenge this is to match up with them physically.

Q.  The fact that you guys have multiple quarterbacks in the game plan and in the fold, how much pressure do you think that puts on Tech defensively during the week as they prepare?
COACH CUTCLIFFE:  I don't know that we're really much different with the two guys.  We're still trying to work through this thing to figure out is Sean healthy enough and how he's responded.  He's practicing more than he did last week, but we're going to have to let the week play itself out.
But we're really not very different.  We're having to work with both of them, and we can't teach two different offenses for everybody else.  It's not that much difference, I don't think, for them.

Q.  When you look at Virginia Tech on film defensively, obviously they still have the athletes to be good there, but the numbers aren't there.  They haven't been a great defense this season.  What do you see when you watch them?  Do you feel like it's a group that will get it together?
COACH CUTCLIFFE:  Yeah, I think they're outstanding athletically.  They've got a few new faces in the secondary, and there's always some growing pains with that.  They've got a tremendous front.  They play hard, like they always do.  They make you execute.  They've run into a couple of hornet's nests.
NorthCarolina can score points on anyone.  When Bernard's healthy, and that offensive front they have, that's difficult.  That's going to be difficult for anybody, difficult for us.
Cincinnati is a really good football team.  No doubts about that.  So you just kind of look at every circumstance.  What I do know is Virginia Tech is undefeated at home.  They have good football players, a great deal of pride in their program, and nobody will play harder.  So we expect to fight like crazy to be in it, and that's kind of the way it's always been with us and Virginia Tech.

Q.  You guys have gotten a lot of publicity for the hot start and being in contention for a Bowl game.  What would a win on the road over Virginia Tech mean for your program?
COACH CUTCLIFFE:  Well, obviously to these kids and I've said this here all week, you can't hide the fact that they're hungry for postseason play.  Why wouldn't they be.  It's one of the dreams of a college player so that would impact them in a big way.  They would be excited about that.  I'd be excited about another ACC win.  And an ACC road win doesn't come easy.  So there are a lot of carrots out there to be earned, and we'll have to play really well to reach that point.

Q.  As you built this team from '08 on, what did you try to get better at?  What areas did you target, whether stronger, faster, bigger?
COACH CUTCLIFFE:  Kind of all of them to be honest with you.  I am a big believer that people have to move their feet to play football.  So ours was quickness, athleticism, certainly speed.  I stated that the day I got the job.  That is my background.  I don't like linemen that can't move their feet.  We've got some pretty athletic linemen.  We've had to take into effect, and we've really worked hard at getting stronger and changed our approach this summer with those linemen.  I think that helped us.  They got a lot stronger and ran a little less.  They're real good athletes for the most part.  It was a combination.
After we came in here, the biggest challenge we thought we faced was the level of conditioning.  We've worked really hard at that.  That's not an overnight process.  Our team now can play 60 minutes.  We feel like we've gotten our guys in a program and a mode where we're conditioned enough to have a chance to play 60 minutes, which to be honest with you, it's one of the bigger things with me because we have to be a team to play 60 minutes to win.  We're not going to be good enough to not do it any other way.

Q.  I know three years ago this team got to 5‑3 and was one win away from that sixth win and lost out.  Do the players on the team that were on that team kind of have that in their minds now that you guys are in the same position again?  How has that factored with them?
COACH CUTCLIFFE:  No, not really.  That was a disappointing year.  To end up 5‑7, we had a good team.  That is a distant memory for these guys.  I think their approach right now is they're liking competing and believing they have a chance to compete.  I don't think anybody's looking back behind us at all.

Q.  Can you just talk a little bit about Conner Vernon and what he was like in high school and what he's accomplished at Duke over the past four years?
COACH CUTCLIFFE:  Well, Conner was a big‑time play maker in high school we had him in camp.  I think the thing that shocked me was not only how fast he was, but his ability to accelerate.  He can change gears well and quickly and go get a ball.  Even on his digs in the middle of the field, he can accelerate and go get a football, and his strength level is good as a high school player.  All of that has improved.  Because of that, he ends up the leading receiver in the history of this league.
His ratio ‑‑ when he gets an opportunity, he catches it.  He doesn't miss many opportunities, so that ratio is really high you throw it in his direction, and generally he has a good chance of a completion.  He's a very, very bright young man.  He uses his mind as well as his body.  He is just a super young man, and we couldn't be more proud of someone being a record holder.  He's the kind of guy that you want in a conference holding one of your records.  He is a great student‑athlete, and a great person.

Q.  When you look the job five years ago, what was the initial obstacle you ran into in terms of enacting a culture change in a program that hadn't won in a while?  What was the biggest challenge at first?
COACH CUTCLIFFE:  Well, just creating any kind of expectation of success.  That wasn't just on the field.  Everything.  Everything that a Duke football player had to be done was with excellence.  Our foundation became quickly disciplined in conditioning.
You're not going to believe this number, but this is a fact.  As a team, I thought we were the softest, baddest football team I'd ever seen.  Collectively, that team from January to reporting day lost 497 pounds.  Just a work ethic, just a mentality.  My roots are if you're going to play football, you're going to play it one way.  That's just a way of life where I come from, and it just didn't exist.
I want them to do everything well.  We've improved our grade point average and that's at Duke.  We've done all of those things, but football wasn't important enough to us.  If you're a major college football player, you're going to make some sacrifices.  And I think we're there now because these guys know no other way.  These guys we have here now know our way.  We are a fairly well conditioned, strong football team, which gives us a chance each week.

Q.  In terms of I was talking to a few players this week that said on campus, more people are noticing what you guys are doing.  Is there a sense of where you guys have been or are you welcoming all newcomers who are noticing Duke for the first time in a while on the football field?
COACH CUTCLIFFE:  I love them.  We're embracing all of our students and all of our people.  I can't blame them for disappearing from the history that we have.  There have been a lot classes graduating here that may not have seen but one or two home victories while they were in school.  When we came in the previous‑‑ we started in the 2008 season, the last home victory was in September of 2005.
People don't understand where it was, so I don't blame those people.  What I did tell the players yesterday is that right now is not a great time to be listening to your friends, especially the new ones.  You better listen more to what your enemies have to say about you, because you're going to probably find more reality in that and what you do than what your friends tell you are.
We're the same hard‑working group of people that have to prove ourselves each week.  We really don't have them.  It's not going to change.  We're not going to have any other avenue or path to take.  So I love it.  Our crowd Saturday was a great crowd.  They were a football crowd.  They knew when and how to cheer.  They were into it.  They made a difference in the second half, and I felt it I've been around that kind of crowd all my life, and I was very appreciative.  I've said that numerous times since that game, they've made a significant difference, and it makes you look forward‑‑ I know the players are looking forward to getting back to Wallace Way, and it hadn't been that way, so that's a great thing.  We welcome all newcomers.

Q.  I was impressed with your game this past Saturday at the restraint your kickoff return guys were showing, not taking the ball out of the end zone when every week you see players taking it one or two yards deep and getting tackled inside the 20.  What is your rule of thumb there?  When you heard the new rules that you tried to take advantage of, did you think it might provide an advantage for you?
COACH CUTCLIFFE:  Yeah, I've paid a lot of attention to the new rule, and we did a lot of work on this in spring practice and in camp.  Really I go into every game with a plan and if I see a kicker that has hang time and a unit that can run, we're not bringing anything out of the end zone.  I see the same thing you see, and I'm seeing it on tape.
I'm seeing knuckleheads coming out three yards back in the end zone and getting tackled at the 12.  It's not ideal.  What we ideally like to do is we've got a freshman kicker, and he's going to get better and better at putting it where we want it.  If we can put the ball where we want it, and put it at the 1, or 2 or 3‑yard line, we think we can tackle you inside the 20.  Why would we give you the ball on the 25‑yard line?
So we work very hard at that point of the game, because when you're kicking off, it's either at the beginning of either half or you've just scored.  How great an advantage is it to go back‑to‑back if you can pin somebody at the 12‑yard line, go out there, play great defense, go three‑and‑out and put a score back on top of that.  You can take a team out of a game.
So I think it's a big rule.  We made a big, big deal about it.  But our return men have strict orders one way or the other.  I don't even like them catching it if they know it's deep, because there is no reason.  The only thing that can happen if you catch one in the end zone and drop it, it's a live ball.  People don't know that.  So if I put them in a spot and it's over their head, just leave it alone and leave it at that.

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