Cutcliffe taking Duke to MTSU for non-conference road test
Duke coach David Cutcliffe has known Rick Stockstill for a long time, though that’s not why he’s taking the Blue Devils on the road to visit Middle Tennessee.
Scheduling games is getting harder than ever, and Cutcliffe is looking for home-and-home games with teams that will better prepare Duke for the Atlantic Coast Conference portion of the season.
“One of the better things to do is find good opponents that have a quality place, a football reputation and you do a home and home (deal), and I think you’re going to see more and more of that,” Cutcliffe said. “Middle is a really good football program with a great support system and Murfreesboro is a great town.”
Scheduling a Group of Five team requires a close airport and quality hotel. The Blue Devils (1-1) will stay in Nashville before Saturday night’s game with Middle Tennessee (1-1) from Conference USA. The Blue Raiders will repay the contract by helping Duke kick off the 2020 season in Durham.
“It’s a big part of what we’re going to be doing,” Cutcliffe said.
Middle Tennessee offers a good test because the Blue Raiders have five wins over Power Five teams under Stockstill. These Blue Raiders got their first win last week 45-26 over Tennessee State after opening the season with a loss at Michigan.
Stockstill respects what Cutcliffe has done at Duke. The Blue Devils opened the season with a loss to No. 2 Alabama and beat North Carolina A&T 45-13 last week.
“We have all the respect in the world for Duke and their program, and it starts with him,” Stockstill said. “They’ve got a lot of good players, and that’s a great team coming in.”
Some other things to know about Duke’s visit to Middle Tennessee:
Cutcliffe had to replace his quarterback Daniel Jones, drafted by the New York Giants at No. 6 overall in April, and redshirt senior Quentin Harris is coming off his best game yet. Harris threw four touchdown passes last week, all covering at least 20 yards, and 345 yards while also running for another TD. Asher O’Hara replaced Brent Stockstill as Middle Tennessee’s quarterback, and he is averaging 292 yards passing and has six TD passes with two interceptions this season.
Duke, one of the nation’s least-penalized teams in 2018, is averaging 8.5 flags and 74.5 yards stepped off. The Blue Devils averaged 4.2 penalties for 34.8 yards a year ago. “A lot of it, I think, comes back to discipline,” Harris said. “Especially the pre- and post-snap penalties. We just can’t lose our cool on unsportsmanlike calls and personal fouls, and obviously have got to listen to the snap count and me being demonstrative with my cadence as well and enunciating, that will help the line as well.”
Middle Tennessee has the NCAA’s active leader in career receptions in senior Ty Lee. He has 222 catches and has caught at least one pass in 42 straight games, second all-time at Middle Tennessee and two shy of Kendall Newsom’s record. Lee had five catches for 64 yards last week.
Third-string running back Mataeo Durant wound up playing a bigger role for the Blue Devils with co-starter Brittain Brown suffering an apparent upper body injury against North Carolina A&T. The sophomore set career highs with nine carries and three receptions, and scored his first two collegiate touchdowns, catching a 22-yard TD pass from Harris in the second quarter and finishing the scoring with a 1-yard run. The QB praised Durant for being a quick study. “When you’ve got guys who can take a 10-yard route into a 20-yard touchdown,” Harris said, “that makes the quarterback’s life pretty easy.”
Middle Tennessee is 4-10 against ACC teams under Stockstill. Their last win over an ACC team came when Middle Tennessee won at Syracuse in 2017, and the Blue Raiders upset then-ACC member Maryland in 2008 after luring the Terrapins to town.