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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Blue Devils grab attention with upset; will momentum hold through November?

Posted by on Sun, Oct 11, 2009 at 7:28 PM

click to enlarge Duke Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, #9, scores a touchdown in Saturday's Blue Devil victory over the N.C. State Wolfpack. (Photo by Rob Rowe.)
  • Duke Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, #9, scores a touchdown in Saturday's Blue Devil victory over the N.C. State Wolfpack. (Photo by Rob Rowe.)

click to enlarge unknown.jpg
It's been an awfully long time since Duke won such a big football game.

But after the Blue Devils' 49-28 shocker over N.C. State on Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium, it took a while for the echoes of the celebration of the few thousand Duke fans on hand to leave the arena.

The victory was Duke's first in Raleigh since 1984 - yes, before any current Duke player was even born - and the Blue Devils' first ACC road win since they brought the Victory Bell back from Chapel Hill in 2003.

Maybe Duke football hasn't quite arrived yet, but at 3-3 with such an impressive win under their belts the Blue Devils are certainly back. And that bowl talk from Coach David Cutcliffe (pictured) that so many might have thought silly early in the season is suddenly being taken seriously.

Cutcliffe, who mentored both of the NFL's Manning brothers during their time in the Southeastern Conference, said the performance of Duke's signal-caller Thaddeus Lewis was the best from any quarterback he had ever coached.

Lewis was 40-for-50 for 459 yards and five touchdowns without an interception and ran for another touchdown on the ground. The six touchdowns tied the school single-game record, his five TD passes tied his career high, the 40 completions broke the school record and - by the way - his 59 career touchdown passes broke the legendary Ben Bennett's record set way back in 1983.

No wonder the Walter Camp Foundation named him its national offensive player of the week.

"I'm real happy for Thad," Cutcliffe, whose team heads into an open date before hosting Maryland on Oct. 24, said during his weekly teleconference earlier today. "Watching the tape, he was better than he was in person. (And) his receivers were ready for him."

Cutcliffe said 80 percent passing - particularly on a day when Lewis let fly 50 times - is a feat that's nearly unheard-of.

But perhaps the best thing for Duke was that the quarterback wasn't the whole show.

Facing a high-powered Wolfpack offense led by Russell Wilson, who was ACC rookie of the year last season and the preseason all-conference quarterback, the rest of the Duke team came together well after the teams were tied 21-21 following the game's first six possessions.

The only other Wolfpack points were on a 93-yard kickoff return.

The Blue Devils intercepted Wilson twice and sacked him four times, and scored not one but two touchdowns as a direct result of huge NCSU mistakes in its punt-return game. Lewis will be the ACC's offensive player of the week, and it will be a shocker if there aren't a few other Duke names on the list when the conference's weekly honors come out.

Cutcliffe, who is 51- 40 as a head coach including his seven seasons at Mississippi, said there's no such thing as a perfect football game but he couldn't remember one of his Ole Miss or Duke teams being that close.

"We've had some big games," Cutcliffe said. "We went to Florida and beat Florida, and we beat Oklahoma and Nebraska in some big games. But the way the defense played in the second half against such an outstanding offensive team and the way the offense played all day it would be hard to top that. That's for certain."

Cutcliffe said he'll have a ball from the victory decorated and displayed in his office. That will join two other Blue Devil game balls, one from his first victory at the helm last season against James Madison and the other from his first ACC win last year against Virginia.

He said Duke's main objective this week will be to make Duke better. But Saturday's win certainly left a good taste in the mouths of everyone around the program, and suddenly the prospect of the team winning at least four of its last six games and getting an extra game after the regular-season finale with Wake Forest no longer seems like just so much wishful thinking.

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