A: The defensive secondary was hit hard. Mark Gilbert, a first-team all-ACC cornerback, dislocated his hip against Northwestern on Sept. 8. He's out for the season. That means Josh Blackwell, a redshirt freshman, is now starting. Michael Carter, a sophomore cornerback, sprained a knee against Baylor on Sept. 15 and hasn't played since. Myles Hudzick has played cornerback the last two games. Virginia Tech found success beating Duke's corners.
Q: Aside from quarterback Daniel Jones, who on Duke’s offense could give Georgia Tech a lot of trouble?
A: Running back Brittain Brown, when healthy, is the best back Duke has had since I've been on the beat (starting in 2010). He's big, quick and shifty. But he's been slowed by a number of ailments. Banged-up, as the coaches say. Sophomore Deon Jackson has filled in and is a good player, too. Wide receiver Johnathan Lloyd has become Jones' top target. Elsewhere, keep an eye on tight end Noah Gray. He's a sophomore who often lines up as a wideout. He's a playmaker.
Q: Duke has obviously made a ton of progress in Cutcliffe’s 11 seasons. Like any coach, though, I’m sure he wants more. What’s his competitive vision for what Duke can be?
A: His goal early on was to get Duke back to respectability. That's been accomplished. He's turned Duke into a team that should make a bowl every year and, if not, be very close. Now the goal is to make the Blue Devils Coastal Division contenders. That means losing to Virginia Tech at home, when the Hokies should have been vulnerable, can't happen. Also, Duke has only defeated Miami once in ACC play. So there's work to do.
Q: Do you think the scheduling of Army and Navy has had anything to do with Georgia Tech (as they run similar offenses)?
A: It's not the main driver, but it does enter in to the thinking. The service academy teams have regularly been part of Duke's scheduling even prior to Cutcliffe. Army's current athletic director, Boo Corrigan, came from Duke in 2011 so there is a relationship there that leads to games.
Whenever it comes time to play an option team, Cutcliffe always mentions all the games his staff has coached against Army, Navy and Georgia Tech and says it's a strength. As we saw last weekend at Louisville, a staff that's not as familiar coaching against the option can be exploited and made to look very bad. Duke won't be in that situation.