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Duke limping into Week 4 matchup with Virginia Tech

dukeThe Ls are starting to wear on Duke football coach David Cutcliffe.

“It does become a groundhog (day) thing when you step up every Monday after a loss talking about getting better,” said Cutcliffe, whose Blue Devils (0-3) host Virginia Tech (1-0) on Saturday.

The Hokies are 10.5-point favorites after blowing out NC State, 45-24, in their home opener over the weekend.

Duke ran out of steam at Virginia, losing 38-20 after taking a 20-17 lead into the fourth quarter.

Conditioning seemed to be an issue for the Blue Devils. Even UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall noticed that Duke seemed to be tiring in the fourth quarter.

Cutcliffe noted conditioning as his “biggest off-the-field concern.”

“We’ve done some running-conditioning, but what I’ve told our coaches is that we have to condition every minute, every drill at practice and to do that, we’ve got to make sure that we’re resting well, and getting enough sleep,” Cutcliffe said.

“These guys are college students, even though they’re not doing anything,” Cutcliffe said. “You’ve got to hydrate well, you’ve got to eat well. So, every aspect. I mean, we’re at a point where winning is an all the time thing. At this point, to condition in practice like we need to play. We’ve got to take measures that the players contribute their portion and then we’re coaching every minute out there. Coaching on the run is what I like to call it, to where the energy level is at its highest peak and we can play four quarters of football at a level that we’re capable of playing.”

On the field, it’s a lot of little things. From watching tape, Cutcliffe feels his team is “close,” but what it comes down to is, finishing.

“You have to finish. You have to finish every route. You have to finish every detail as a quarterback. Finish every detail in running the ball. Every detail in every block. That’s my job. My job is to put us in position to do those things. And so every part of our game, running the ball, throwing, catching, taking care of the ball is going to be better,” Cutcliffe said.

The biggest issue in the loss at UVA was turnovers. Duke committed seven of them, five of them interceptions, four from starting quarterback Chase Brice.

The ground game struggled as well, gaining just 56 yards on 38 attempts.

It’s almost a back-to-the-drawing board kind of thing for Cutcliffe.

“It’s a couple of things. Number one is just flawless in the run game. The mechanics of everything we’re doing in the run game. We’ve got to make great exchanges, great fakes. Put ourselves in position to be successful,” Cutcliffe said.

“Secondly, in the passing game, is be true to our progression reads,” Cutcliffe said. “If you read progression, and you get into the progression you’re going to have a lot of times the ball’s going to get out of your hand, and you throw the ball to an open receiver before you get into trouble. So just throwing the ball on time and going through our progression reads will prevent late throws or some form of force or taking risk with the football.

“We’ve got to play faster. We’ve got to play within our system. And if we do those things, we will reap the benefits of a really good offensive team,” Cutcliffe said.

The defense got gashed a bit, on its side – giving up 450 total yards to the ‘Hoos, 150 of those coming in the fourth quarter, with UVA quarterback Brennan Armstrong, in his first career start, going 8-of-9 for 144 yards and two TDs through the air in the fourth.

“If you go look in the fourth quarter where a lot of the issues come, we didn’t tackle nearly as well. We didn’t tackle nearly as well in the second quarter. So again, we have to find a way to compete 60 minutes in all areas of the game,” Cutcliffe said.

Story by Chris Graham