If you consult Saturday’s 46-26 drubbing of Florida International, then, yes. Worried about a quick and aggressive defense on the FIU side, pundits seemed to believe Duke was bound to struggle. Instead, a huge second quarter virtually put the game away before halftime, and the Blue Devils coasted to a big victory in their opener. So while they’re not out of the woods yet, one of the team’s more impressive showings in a decade all traces back to their coach’s emphasis on culture change:
“Guys that have invested a lot in our program,” Cutcliffe told the Durham Herald-Sun afterward. “From the beginning of their careers, they have truly bought into our way of doing things. The demands that we have. The discipline on and off the field. They’ve done a great job of indoctrinating those aspects into our team.”
But now, if they’ve truly turned it around, they’ll need to refocus quickly on their next opponent. The Stanford Cardinal, who went 11-2 last season, will be awaiting Duke over in Palo Alto, Calif. However, they’re not the same team that beat the Blue Devils 44-14 last season, either. With first-overall pick Andrew Luck gone, the Cardinal figured they’d have to regroup a bit. After last week’s meek 20-17 effort over San Jose State, suddenly there’s some cause for alarm. Could Duke score a huge non-conference victory over a top-25 team this weekend?
The Cardinal looked hapless on offense, scoring just three points in the second half. As Sunday Morning QB’s Matt Hinton aptly points out (see link in previous paragraph), the numbers they assembled were worse than any game of the Luck era. Against SAN JOSE STATE! And Stanford’s apparent defensive weakness – the passing game – plays precisely to Duke’s strengths. Third-year starter Sean Renfree put up his typically impressive figures (290 yards), which have become so run-of-the-mill for the senior, that we end up looking right over them. Senior receiver Conner Vernon, another ambassador for the program under Cutcliffe, received player of the week honors from the ACC, after a hugely impressive 10-catch day. Stanford gave up nearly 300 passing yards to San Jose State’s David Fales last week. In his first game as a collegiate. As in, he’s never thrown a college pass before…
Now of course, this could all be wild conjecture in the lead-up to another big Duke loss. Stanford head coach David Shaw obviously knows what he’s doing, and sometimes it takes a game for teams to shake the rust off. While his team was shaky against the pass, they played well against the run and turned the Spartans into a one-dimensional team for most of the night. Then again, San Jose State also allowed 20 points or less just twice last season, and fell to Stanford 57-3 to start 2011.
So, no, Duke is not guaranteed a win against Stanford. One game cannot determine your season, whether positively or negatively. But after watching Duke demolish FIU, I’d contend that the Blue Devils are a much better team than the Spartans. And after this coming Saturday, there’s an increasing chance we’ll find out that Duke’s a better team than Stanford, too.