To get BC fans ready for Saturday's matchup, BCI was fortunate enough to talk with Ben Swain, the News Director for SportsChannel 8 in North Carolina. Check out his work here.
BC Interruption: David Cutcliffe has done a marvelous job turning around a football program that was once the door mat of the ACC. Why has he been so successful? Do Duke fans worry that he will be poached?
Ben Swaim: He's an incredible coach and has hired a staff that's done a remarkable job of identifying some key under-the-radar guys. For example, Duke was safety DeVon Edwards' only FBS offer and he's an All-American. That's the kind of guy his built his foundation around, and now he's starting to bring in a higher quality recruit to complement the diamonds in the rough. When he came in, he promised to fix the kicking game, recruit speed, and build depth, and he's definitely followed through on all three fronts. It's foolish not to recognize the massive improvement in financial support he's received from the Duke administration because, being honest, the previous few coaches were very much set up to fail.
It's generous to call Duke the doormat of the ACC, they were the worst program in college football. Barring catastrophe, he's in the middle of his third season in a row where he'll win seven or more games, and the previous two coaches combined to win 7 games over a span of 8 years. It's almost impossible to explain how bad Duke was in every aspect of football, and while Cutcliffe definitely deserves to be the face of that transformation, everyone from the sideline to the equipment staff to the marketing department deserves recognition for that.
I don't think we'll go through an off-season where Cutcliffe's name isn't linked with some vacancy somewhere because it's difficult for people to understand why he'd stay at Duke. For Duke fans, though, there's no real fear because Cutcliffe was all but packed for Tennessee a few years ago when he decided to stay at Duke. There's not much out there to pull him away from Duke. He was SEC coach of the year, he's won a national championship, and there's just not really an experience in college football that's better for him than what he has at Duke. Now I think if you put any coach other than David Cutcliffe in that position, they're gone. Duke just got incredibly fortunate to hire a great coach capable of building a program without the flight risk. They basically hired a unicorn.
BC Interruption: Duke like Boston College has a new signal caller this year. Tell us a little about Thomas Sirk and what style of QB we should be expecting.
Ben Swaim: Who knows? Sirk was strictly a runner last season in special packages behind starter Anthony Boone, so we've only been able to watch him play for four games with mixed reviews. He's more accurate than Boone and way more mobile, but he's struggled to connect on deep balls and his decision-making has been questionable the past two weeks. He was so concerned about avoiding a mistake against Northwestern that he checked down to a running back at every opportunity, and he forced two interceptions downfield against Georgia Tech by seemingly overcompensating with risky passes. I think he's in his own head right now and will be a capable quarterback when his confidence comes back, but Boston College isn't exactly the defense you want to see when you need to build confidence. I'd guess that Sirk will run a lot, and I'd expect a lot of swing passes to try to get to the outside where Duke feels like they have a speed advantage. I definitely expect Boston College to load the box to counter that.
BC Interruption: Duke strangled GT's rushing offense, and the run is all BC has right now. Who are some of the stars of this Top 10 defense?
Ben Swaim: Jeremy Cash is the national defensive player of the week and could be Duke's 2nd consecutive first round draft pick at year's end. He'll definitely be the name you'll hear most on TV. Outside of Cash, this is by far the best defense Duke has had in my entire lifetime. The defensive line doesn't have any stars but they've exceeded all expectations, especially AJ Wolf. Duke switched up the formation a bit last weekend to counter Paul Johnson's "don't call it a triple option" triple option, but the constants at linebacker were freshman Tinashe Bere and converted-safety Dwayne Norman. With all due respect to Virginia Tech, Duke's secondary might be the ACC's best with Cash, Edwards, Breon Borders, and Deondre Singleton. Sophomore Alonso Saxton is a bit suspect in pass coverage so far, but he's another big defensive back recruited to help against the run-heavy Coastal Division. These two defenses are both so good. Whatever Vegas has the under as, it's definitely a heavy favorite.
BC Interruption: Hearing that Saturday's weather is going to be sloppy. How do you think Duke's offense will do in messy conditions?
Ben Swaim: It's been raining for two weeks here in Durham, including during last week's game against Georgia Tech where the offense started great and then slowed to a complete halt. It's funny, you think Cutcliffe and you think offense, but this year's offense is almost designed to just run clock until the defense or special teams flips the field enough for a scoring drive. I'm not exaggerating when I say Duke now has the best natural grass football field in North America, so footing won't be an issue regardless of how much it rains. Passing, catching, and handing the ball off is a different story, and Duke did have two bad snaps/holds on extra points last week. I think a wet football would be the only factor, but the field will be perfect.
BC Interruption: Finally, prediction time. Who you got?
Ben Swaim: Knowing Cutcliffe and having met Addazio at ACC media days, I don't see either one of them getting caught by the cameras celebrating when it's 0-0 at the end of regulation.